If you think there’s a lot of tattooing on television these days, you might find it interesting to know that one of the first times the American public got to get a glimpse of tattooing on tv was back on the Steve Allen Show in the mid-1950s.
Before he became the first host of the late-night talk show "The Tonight Show," Allen had his own variety show, one of the first of its kind. It was the competition for the Ed Sullivan Show. Many comedians got their first appearance on the show, musician Frank Zappa famously played a duet with Allen by making noises with bicycles, and because he wanted to be able say he was tattooed, Steve Allen featured that too.
The tattoo artist who appeared on the show and tattooed Allen live on the air was Lee Roy Minugh, who ran a shop on The Pike in Long Beach, CA. Minugh had learned how to tattoo working in a circus and was one of the first in a long line of tattoo shops when he opened his establishment in the 1930s. The Pike has famously been a home to tattoo parlors ever since, most-notably influencing a young Don Ed Hardy, now himself one of the most influential tattoo artists in the world.
Allen's tattooed turned out to be just four small dots, just so that he could honestly say to people that he had been tattooed. At the time, tattooing was extremely marginal, with the main consumers being criminals, sailors and circus performers. For a celebrity to get a tattoo was almost unthinkable. (It was pretty much the reverse of what seems to be happening just fifty years later.)
In addition to tattooing Steve Allen, Lee Roy Minugh also displayed some of his own tattoos on the show. Decorum of the time was such that he appeared wearing a suit and tie, and then took off his jacket and shirt to display the artwork on his upper body. At the time, this surely shocked and amazed the viewing audience. However, the publicity that it brought Minugh and his business were high-appreciated by the tattooist.