She Saw (The Beatles) Standing There

 …again and again and again and again. Few fans ever saw The Beatles as many times and in as many special locales as did young Debbie Gendler. I recently read her new book I Saw Them Standing There…and I was gobsmacked! This girl truly moved in impressive circles.

It all began a full year before The Fab Four ever set foot on American soil: in April of 1963. Debbie Gendler’s babysitter’s parents took a trip to England and returned with a unique souvenir for the “little girl” (age thirteen), a “record album” called Please Please Me by four popular British boys known as The Beatles. Gendler recalls, “I took one fast glance at the cover, stopped, gasped, and shouted so loudly that my dog started barking, ‘These are the cutest four guys I’ve ever seen!’” And while that reaction may not have been so unusual in the months ahead, when uttered, it was rare indeed. Debbie’s next move proved even more remarkable. She immediately wrote a serious letter to The Beatles Fan Club at 13 Monmouth Street, London, expressing her desire to become a member.

When weeks passed without a response, Debbie purchased some postcards during summer camp in Maine and sent them along to The Beatles Fan Club, reminding them, “Remember me, Debbie Gendler…Oakland, New Jersey, USA?” She was determined and not one bit shy about speaking up.  An only child with extremely supportive parents, Debbie radiated confidence – an innate poise that always propelled her forward.

That self-assurance paid off when – on Halloween afternoon 1963 – Debbie returned from school to find a telegram waiting for her from a New York law office, requesting a meeting with her the following week – a meeting regarding The Beatles! When Debbie’s mother telephoned the law office to pin down particulars, she discovered that her daughter had been selected to show up at various American locations over the next few months, to “stir up excitement” about the rising Liverpool band.

A few weeks later, wearing “a John Meyer of Norwich plaid skirt, [and] a blouse with a Peter Pan collar, paired with my favorite circle pin,” Debbie’s father drove her into the city to meet Brian Epstein, Epstein’s New York lawyer Walter Hofer, and…[Brian’s friend] Geoffrey Ellis.” When Debbie explained her sincere devotion to The Beatles, Epstein mentioned that they very much needed someone to manage the American Fan Club office. Aghast, Debbie responded, “Mr. Epstein, I need to go to college!” Wry looks were exchanged amongst the principles. They smiled and promised young Miss Gendler a ticket to The Beatles’ upcoming appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show slated for 9 February 1964.

By February, of course, the rest of America had caught on to what Debbie had known all along: The Beatles were FAB!!! Debbie stood outside the Plaza Hotel – where the boys were lodged – and was surrounded by thousands of like-minded young people. But two days later, Debbie was singular. She was one of a few, select young people who held a ticket to the performance that would take place in Studio 50. Debbie was going to see The Beatles’ debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Her mother, who did not have a ticket, stood patiently outside the building in the cold New York night, waiting for Debbie to emerge. This pattern of love would repeat itself over and over and is one of the best parts of the book.

In the spring of 1964, Debbie was given the very private address of The Beatles’ New York Fan Club office and was told not to share it. She didn’t. “I wanted to share my experiences going to the club,” she writes in I Saw Them Standing There, “…but it never happened.” And the faith her guarded silence engendered only made Epstein and the Fan Club staff trust her more.

Debbie was asked by the New York office to appear frequently on television, talking about The Beatles, representing them. Debbie also founded and expanded Beatles Fan Club #28 in the New York suburbs, and daily, she answered growing requests for membership. She writes, “Correspondence became so overwhelming that the postman refused to deliver the bags of mail. I was ordered to rent a P.O. Box, which I happily did with my saved allowance.”

In the summer of 1964, 14-year-old Debbie Gendler began to volunteer “in the city” at the Beatles Fan Club office. She became an integral part of The Beatles’ community and in appreciation was given a complimentary ticket to the Beacon Theater for the New York screening of A Hard Day’s Night. After being part of the highly select group to first glimpse the film, Debbie was given yet another ticket by a WABC DJ she had befriended to see the movie again. Everywhere, the outstanding teen was making valuable connections. But the biggest events were yet to come.

As the time for The Beatles to return for their 1964 North American Tour drew nigh, Debbie was called upon to, once again, to gin up interest in the group. She was asked to appear on the popular Clay Cole Show on New York’s WPIX Channel 11 to talk about the new record “Ringo for President.” Wanting to help The Beatles in any way possible, Debbie agreed. But she made it clear that she had tickets to see The Beatles in Forest Hills that evening and really didn’t want to miss that “magic moment.”

Debbie’s “Clay Cole” premiere led to other television appearances, and the fact that she had risked her beloved Forest Hills concert to assist the Fan Club didn’t go unnoticed. A few days later, Debbie received a letter from Bernice Young at the Fan Club office informing her that she was going to be given something special. Debbie was being invited to a benefit concert for Cerebral Palsy starring The Beatles – an event to be held in late September. That invitation was the springboard for an ingenious idea by the enterprising teen.

Boldly, Debbie telephoned Cerebral Palsy Foundation Director Norman Kimball to ask if she might be able to personally present a check to The Beatles if she and her friends raised a significant amount of money for his charity. Kimball agreed. With only two weeks to make this long shot into a reality, Debbie organized and carried out a plan that would have stymied most adults. What happened next is something you have to read to believe. But nothing, not even this bump in the road, could stop bright-eyed, smart, and dedicated Debbie Gendler from moving forward.

“I don’t want to spoil the party” or er, the story…but let me assure you that these events are but introductory escapades. Debbie accomplished so much in the months and years ahead, including being invited to attend The Beatles’ New York City press conference on Friday, 13 August 1965, just prior to the Shea Stadium concert. She also received four VIP Tickets for herself (and her friends) to be front and center at Shea. And, as one might expect, she became well-acquainted with Shea’s brilliant promoter, Sid Bernstein.

As I Saw Them Standing There miraculously unfolded, page by page, I began to scribble out a list of qualities that empowered Debbie to accomplish what so many of us only dreamed of doing – including traveling to London to speak privately with Brian Epstein in his home and journeying to Liverpool to stay overnight with George Harrison’s family. Yes, sometimes luck played a role in Debbie’s success. For example, in mid-January of 1965, Debbie traveled into New York City to visit her grandmother, but on the spur of the moment, she decided to drop into the Beatles Fan Club, only to find Brian Epstein there, who “smiled and seemed very welcoming.” It was a fortuitous moment.

On the whole, however, Debbie Gendler achieved exceptional things because she was unusually confident, articulate, and courageous. When a popular New York DJ acted inappropriately during the Cerebral Palsy benefit, Debbie grabbed him by the hand and directed him to “do the right thing.” Gendler had no problem writing to Brian Epstein or to Bernice Young; she was polite, but she had no qualms about speaking her mind as an equal.

Some of what this remarkable young woman accomplished can be chalked up to parental support. Gendler writes, “I was too young to drive, had no money, and depended on my parents…They figure prominently in this story, albeit in the background, but I owe it all to them and never dismiss their contribution.” Gendler met The Beatles many times (yes, she did!), and her connections were impressive. However, she would be the first to admit that she had two devoted parents who helped her reach “the toppermost of the poppermost.”

I Saw Them Standing There surprised me on every page. Every time I thought Gendler had experienced “the best thing that could happen to a Beatles fan,” something better occurred. If you love The Beatles…if you ever dreamed of being on a first-name basis with Brian, Neil, Sid, or the lads, this book is for you.

It’s not a giddy teen love story. It’s a well-documented (down to the finest detail; Gendler kept copious notes) account of a fan’s journey through the 1960s and beyond. It is also an inspiration to those who imagine doing great things but think they might be too young or too parochial (Debbie hailed from a small, blue-collar town) to make a difference.

Gendler’s life story gets better as it goes along. She’s noticed and interviewed by Beatles Guru Mark Lewisohn; she’s asked to be part of The Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week, and was invited to speak at the Grammy Museum’s Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! Exhibit. Recently, I met Debbie at the New York Fest for Beatles Fans, and decades after her “Remember me, Debbie Gendler?” postcard, I can safely say that all who encounter her are instantly enchanted. Like the lads she still loves, Debbie is completely unforgettable.

-Jude Southerland Kessler

Fair use image of I Saw Them Standing There

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Jude Southerland Kessler is the leading expert on the life of John Lennon and the author of The John Lennon Series, a projected 9-volume expanded biography taking readers chronologically through John’s life. The first five volumes are out in print, plus a new audiobook version of "She Loves You" (Vol. 3). With a personal Lennon library of over 300 books, Kessler undertook seven trips to Liverpool, England to interview John Lennon’s childhood friends, early band members, art college mates, and business associates before embarking on writing the series, which is told in a narrative format and heavily documented. You can learn more about Jude's work at

2 comments on “She Saw (The Beatles) Standing There

  1. Barry Baddams

    Did she ever meet them though? I ran a fan club in Australia and met them (and sub drummer Jimmie Nicol) in 1964, along with Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall,Derek Taylor and Brian Epstein. I’ve also been interviewed for Vol 2 of Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles biography. Maybe I should write a book too!

  2. Keel Heisler

    “Gendler met The Beatles many times (yes, she did!)”

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