When people think of The Ed Sullivan Show the biggest names come to mind, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jackson 5, Elvis Presley, The Mamas & The Papas and yes, ironically enough, Topo Gigio. The little mouse was just as complicated as he was cute. Topo’s creator Maria Perego, who worked alongside her husband Federico Caldura, came up with the 10-inch-tall Topo Gigio in the late 1950’s. Topo Gigio is described as a cross between a puppet and a marionette. Three puppeteers, hidden in a black background, moved its body parts with rods while Actor Peppino Mazullo gave Topo his squeaky voice.
On December 9, 1962, Topo made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Topo had the headlining slot of the show following acts such as Peggy Lee, Anthony Newly, George Matson, Jose Greco and The Four Seasons. Topo was initially booked on the show in an effort to make Sullivan more appealing to his viewers – especially kids. The producers wanted Sullivan to be a more interactive host that would allow the show to better compete with ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’, which had officially switched to Sunday nights in 1961.
As Topo quickly began to grow in popularity, the show needed some fresh new dialogue that Topo and Ed could joke around with. This is when comedian Joan Rivers stepped in and began scripting Topo’s acts. Topo quickly became a huge hit, revealing a side of Sullivan that audiences had never seen. In an interview with Andrew Solt of SOFA Entertainment, Rivers said “Topo Gigio paid for my car payments for 6 months. God bless that little lousy mouse.” Sullivan continued as Topo’s on stage sidekick for a total of 50 appearances.
The two developed a “long distance” friendship in which Topo would visit Ed on the show from Italy and talk about his travels and personal life. The sketch often ended with Topo saying, in his high pitched but thick Italian accent, “Eddie, kiss me goodnight.” Topo was definitely one of Ed’s favorite acts, not just because of the ingenuity of the sketch but because he really enjoyed having him on the show. On a 1967 episode of the show Sullivan stated that “I suppose in the 18-year history of our show we’ve never had any star who’s won such affectionate acceptance as our little Italian mouse, Topo Gigio.”
The Sullivan Show was just one chapter of Topo’s long-lived career in entertainment. Over the years there have been Topo Gigio cartoons, books, record albums, stage shows, films, restaurants and more than a few “life size” action figures. The little mouse was in many regards described as a global superstar, sweeping the world country by country.
On December 14, 1969, Topo Gigio made his final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Topo spoke with Ed about his Christmas list for Santa Claus. As Topo told Sullivan about his long list of toys and gadgets, Sullivan told him “Now that you receive something, I think you should give something to everyone.” Topo replied with “Ok Eddie, I give everybody the best present in the world, peace on earth and goodwill to man.” Those were Topo’s final words to Ed and his viewers. What a beautiful sentiment and an even better way to complete his iconic run on The Ed Sullivan Show.