Robert Arthur, the music director for “The Ed Sullivan Show” from the 1950s through the ’70s, died on Jan. 21. He was 89.
A Long Island native, Arthur graduated from Colgate University with degrees in economics and Spanish, and began a career as an accompanist, conductor, and arranger. He was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War, where he served for two years as a bayonet instructor.
After returning from the war in 1952, Ray Bloch hired Arthur to be an assistant on “The Ed Sullivan Show” — then called “Toast of the Town” — and “The Jackie Gleason Show.” Arthur worked his way up until he was hired full-time as the musical director for “The Ed Sullivan Show,” arranging, supervising, composing, and working with guests.
One of Arthur’s most famous fixes was in the 1967 when the Rolling Stones guested on the show. CBS censors would not allow the lyrics to the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” so Arthur worked with Mick Jagger to come up with a solution. Rather than “let’s spend the night together,” Jagger would sing “let’s spend some time together.”
“The Stones wanted to capture America and it wouldn’t help them to challenge CBS, so it was a solution that made everyone happy,” Arthur said.
“Bob Arthur was the first one to talk Diana Ross into doing classics rather than just doing the pop stuff,” “Ed Sullivan Show” director John Moffitt recounted on the Ed Sullivan website. “He talked her into doing Rodgers and Hammerstein and other composers. He helped to diversify her material and her career.”
When the show ended in 1971, Arthur moved to California, where he started working for Dick Clark Productions on the American Music Awards. He wrote the script, the music, and produced special portions of the show. Arthur would go on to produce dozens of music awards shows over the next four decades, working with artists like Michael Jackson and Natalie Cole.
Since retiring, Arthur continued to compose music in the style of Cole Porter and the Gershwins.
“It if moves, fine. If it doesn’t, that’s OK, too,” he said. “Most of my pleasure comes from writing a great thing and enjoying listening to it. It’s almost like I didn’t have anything to do with it — the song just pops out.”