The following is an excerpt from Jude Southerland Kessler’s four-volume “historical narrative” series about John Lennon. In Should Have Known Better, Kessler offers a glimpse of the mania and the magic of 1964 as The Beatles perform in Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Aug. 1964. [Author footnotes have been removed for readability]
“This is it! This is what it’s all about!” Paul spoke for them all as the limo rolled leisurely through the streets of neon and flash – its after-theatre-and-late-night-dinner patrons strolling sleepily home, its fashionable clubbers moving from one hotspot to the next, its indefatigable tourists gaping at skyscrapers, its yellow taxis spinning ’round corners littered with hot dog wrappers. It was the middle of the night, and yet, New York’s pulse raced.
Up and down the AM radio dial, the boys found themselves singing with a grace they’d almost forgotten. “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “A Hard Day’s Night” and “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They turned the volume up and sang along.
The driver, who’d been instructed by Derek to drive slowly – to let the boys enjoy the city’s glitter for a spell – adjusted his rear-view mirror so that he could see their smiles and fingers pointing out this or that.
Wow, they’re just kids, he thought. Thrilled over a typical night in The Big Apple. Nice!
“This is Scottso with a free Beatles Fan Club Card for you from The Beatles American Radio Fan Club, WABC!”
Before they reached The Delmonico at Park and 59th, the boys heard them: the hundreds of fans jammed behind sawhorse barricades feebly isolating the legendary hotel from the street. The Plaza had refused to host the band again – recalling February’s madness – but with gentle persuasion from full-time resident, Ed Sullivan, The Delmonico had graciously opened its doors to The Fab Four. Now, the hotel staff watched and waited as fans were poised to spring.
Behind the boys, in the third limo, Larry Kane, Chris Hutchins, and Ivor Davis exchanged nervous glances when the historic, thirty-two-story hotel and its thick hurdle of teens rolled into view. In Denver, their car had been destroyed, and the three had barely escaped serious injury. Now, they were skittish. Larry clutched the door handle. Hutchins leaned forward, ready to move.
Deputy Police Inspector Thomas Renaghan, chief of Manhattan North Detectives, however, was at the ready. The sturdy Irish cop’s jaw was set, and his plan was already in motion. A hundred officers (including eighteen sturdy mounted police) had been recruited to encircle The Delmonico. And, an additional private security retinue of twelve had been discreetly placed around the hotel’s interior. Every possible safety measure was in force.
However, Renaghan hadn’t figured on sixteen-year-old Angie McGowan and her clique of three friends, who for hours had waited unobtrusively and patiently inside The Delmonico lobby. While the NYPD focused on getting “the four little fellas” (as Renaghan referred to The Beatles) out of their car and into the hotel without incident, they hadn’t anticipated an “attack” inside the staid and proper inn itself. The unexpected, however, was always to be expected in New York and in Beatlemania…and without warning, little Angie McGowan rushed Ringo, grabbing him by the lapel and shirt, lunging to plant a kiss on her “mad crush.”
Acting swiftly, a security guard shoved Angie and her crew firmly away from the boys. But, Angie’s steel grip refused to compromise, and unexpectedly, she came away with a bit of Ringo’s shirt and his St. Christopher’s medal. It was the memento of a lifetime! A treasure she would show her grandchildren with tearful pride. She gasped.
In a millisecond, The Beatles vanished – as they always did – as if by magic. Angie squealed, collapsed into her friends for support, and disappeared as well. But in her shaking hands, she clutched Ringo’s St. Christopher! It was a modern-day miracle!
Ringo, on the other hand, was devastated. Terrified and depressed, he muttered and moped. He chain-smoked. “It’s as close as I’ve got to gettin’ got, Larry! he wailed to Larry Kane, once securely lodged in the suite that Brian had reserved for his boys.
“What actually happened, Ringo?” Larry leaned in, examining the red mark on Ringo’s neck where the beloved chain had recently lingered.
“One of the police,” Paul explained, “didn’t think Ringo was Ringo…“…so, the girls got too close?” Larry filled in the blanks. “…and he lost his shirt,” Paul said. Ringo – tired, rattled, and on the verge of tears – only nodded. “Look, I-I’m sorry,” Larry said. What else could he do? The medal was gone. No fan would ever relinquish something like that. He knew it; they all knew it.
It was up to Paul, everyone realized, to turn the situation around; it was McCartney’s role in the gestalt that was The Beatles to be The Director of All Things Copacetic. And though Ringo claimed not to have “a talking mouth or a smiling face,” Paul knew the boy from the Dingle; he knew Ritchie loved a good party. “Hey,” Paul chirped up as if inspired, “why don’t we have all the DJs in, y’know… order up some food ’n drink ’n have a good laugh ’n a talk?!”
“Brilliant!” Derek seconded. The press had been hounding him relentlessly for interviews. This impromptu gathering was sure to cheer Ringo and lift some of the pressure off his back as well.
“Ah, I dunno,” Ringo mumbled. “They might be able to help, Ring,” George suggested. “Y’know…get the word out, as it were…” Only John remained distant as the others made plans. He mixed a Scotch and lemonade, thought about his last trip to New York, and wondered what had happened in Kenwood during the last twenty-four hours. Yesterday, absorbed in the all-day-all-night Cincinnati schedule, he’d missed his regular call to Cyn, but her presence here was palpable. Though he’d never say it to the others, he missed her. And after a couple of minutes, John slipped inconspicuously away.
By the time he’d returned, the suite was filled with smoke, laughter, enthusiasm, and the smell of hard liquor over ice. The DJs, press, and their photographers had all arrived.
W-A-Beatle-C’s vivacious, Bobby Darin-ish, “Cousin Brucie,” swept into the room – widely dispensing smiles and handshakes. John slurped his second cocktail, shook hands, and nodded. He found a seat by the window and kicked off his shoes.
Scott (“Scottso”) Muni, (“Big”) Dan Ingram, and program director, Rick Sklar – the entire WABC team – trekked merrily in Brucie’s shadow, re-introducing themselves from February’s last powwow.xxv Paul offered them beverages…a smoke.
Within minutes, Paul’s party had bloomed, and Cousin Brucie – hearing Ringo’s histrionic tale of woe – instantly contrived an ingenious plan to retrieve the missing medal. But more importantly, despite WMCA’s host dominance over tonight’s upcoming concert, Bruce Morrow had devised a way to equal the Good Guys’ visibility after all. If things worked out as Cousin Brucie thought they might, he intended to make his WABC “the toppermost” on every Beatle fan’s radio dial. Beginning right now.
It took only a single phone call, and Cousin Brucie was live on the air from The Beatles’ suite, reaching out to fans across the New York Metropolitan area, across New Jersey, and the wide expanse of Pennsylvania. Wilting in a chair, Ringo listened, not at all convinced that this tactic would work. But Bruce Morrow winked at the drummer, took a deep breath, and dived in!
“Hello, everyone out there in WABeatleC land! It’s your ol’ Cousin Brucie here, live from The Delmonico Hotel, home of The Beatles, that is…right here with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and America’s favourite Beatle, Ringo Starr!” (An overwhelming crescendo of screams rose from the streets below as fans listened along on their transistor radios. Morrow chuckled for a moment, shaking his head. Then he proceeded.)
“Yes, yes, hello to you, too! I hear you out there, cousins!” (He paused until the screaming died down once more.)
“Now, I’m up here with the boys, and some of you might’ve heard that Ringo lost his beloved St. Christopher medal tonight just as he was arriving. Well, we’re hoping that the person who found the medal will please come forward and return it to him because it really means a great deal, doesn’t it, Ringo?”
“It means more to me than almost anything,” Ringo spoke forlornly into the microphone. “I got it from me auntie on me twenty-first birthday. She gave it to me because y’know, it looks after you durin’ travel ’n all that. I put it around me neck durin’ that birthday party, ’n I haven’t had it off since – until tonight, that is.”
He cut his eyes ruefully at John, Paul, and George – who were covering their mouths in a waning attempt to hide uncontrollable laughter– but Ringo pressed on. “It’s sort of a keepsake, y’know. Just a gold St. Christopher’s medal.” His voice quivered with honest emotion. “If you’ll just bring it back, I’ll give you…”Ringo paused, unsure of what to offer.
“Well, what greater reward could there be than a kiss of forgiveness?” Morrow smiled widely, filling in the blanks.
“Right, yeah, a kiss,” Ringo nodded, in complete agreement. “So, anyone having the medal or knowing its whereabouts should come directly to the WABC studios,” Cousin Brucie iced the cake, “and we’ll make sure you get a chance to meet Ringo and return it to him in person.”
“Please sir, can I meet him, too?” George shouted from his perch atop a black end table. “Ah, givvus a kiss, Ringo!” John cupped his hand around his mouth. Paul continued to snicker as Cousin Brucie set up the next Beatles record. The WABC studio cleverly spun Ringo’s “Boys,” and the crowds on Park and 59th sang every word. But in the melodic throng, a very solemn Angie McGowan fingered the delicate, broken, gold chain and wondered what she should do.
1.00 p.m. Over the last few tads of soft-boiled eggs, Kellogg’s cornflakes, orange juice, and tea TheBeatles grumbled. Even Paul.
“There’s no fuggin’ way to sleep, Taylor!” John laid it out. “The DJs keep incitin’ to riot.“They’re askin’ the girls to do the ‘WABC locomotive,’” Paul waved his spoon at Derek, “which is basically chantin’ WABC-WABC-WABC over ’n over, faster ’n faster…”
“Until we’re all fookin’ mad,” George summarized.
“’N furthermore,” Ringo frowned, “I’m startin’ to get sick of that ‘Ringo for President’ song. I mean, I haven’t a chance of winnin’, have I? I’m not even American! ’N what’s more, me throat’s sore again. I need the rest!”
The noise was unremitting. Even now, the ballad of “We love you Beatles, oh yes, we dooooooo…” was irritatingly clear. The ratings battle between WINS, WABC, and WMCA was creating a vortex of noise that never stilled. One station was always trying to outdo the others. They urged the fans to sing their jingles, shout their call letters, and prove their loyalty at the top of their lungs.
“The only place I ever get any peace is when I lock myself in the bathroom,” George growled, “and even there…”
“Paul ’n me are supposed to be workin’ on songs.” John raised a palm and let it fall, “I mean, we make more money out of writin’ songs than appearin’, but with all this…”
“Look, I hear them, too, ’n I haven’t been to sleep, either.” Derek rubbed a hand over his eyes, “And in my job – to paraphrase George here – no one’s ever satisfied. Now apparently, that includes the four of you… If I get my St. Christopher back, I’ll be satisfied,” Ringo muttered.
“Then prepare to be happy,” Derek pronounced, flinging his arms in mock joy. “Because after 150 heedless calls, the bona fide bandit has stepped forward. Just before the press conference this afternoon, you’re to meet and greet Miss Angie McGowan – under the highly-publicized auspices of WABeatlesC, as it were. All will be restored.”
“All right! Great!” Ringo issued a sudden, relieved smile, “Welll…I’m after a spot of kip, then – now that I can rest easy.”
“Yeah ’n what about us?” John fired. “What about you?” Ringo looked at him with brooding eyes, “I was the one whose hair was cut in the Embassy, remember…I was the one knocked down in Melbourne! I was the one who stayed behind in hospital, while you four went off with that Jimmie Nicol. It’s always me, isn’t it? It’s just this once I’ve had good luck.”
Speechless, John stared, seeing the drummer for the first time, realizing that Richard Starkey wasn’t sturdy Pete Best or high-spirited Johnny Hutchison. He wasn’t even headstrong Colin Hanton. Ringo was more vulnerable. Tenderhearted, even.
It’s unusual for a drummer to be so muted, John thought, almost as if his volume’s expended, up on stage. Almost as if he gives all he’s got, and then there’s nothin’ brash left.
“Ah, go on, Ringo,” John cackled, masking his compassion. “Thirty winks’ll sort you out, son.” But in that moment, John knew that sleep wasn’t what Ritchie needed. He needed acceptance…he needed friendship. Despite the thin line of cynicism that John’s lips feigned, he felt a new connection to the solitary lad from the Dingle. They had more in common, John mused, than either of them had ever imagined.
The Beatles’ Suite, Delmonico Hotel, New York
It was this simple. GAC’s Norman Weiss – knowing the “ins” and “outs” of his home territory – realized the logistical impossibility of getting The Beatles from downtown Manhattan into Queens’s famed Forest Hills stadium during rush hour. He knew the perils. An unintentional traffic accident or flat tire could leave the boys wedged inside the Midtown Tunnel for hours. An intentional roadblock could spell disaster. “The thought of the boys getting stuck inside there is absolutely horrifying!” he’d leveled with Epstein, hours earlier. “They’d be trapped – sitting ducks.”
“Yes, but what’s our alternative?” Brian had never reneged on a promise. He wasn’t about to begin this evening.
“Well, thinking three-dimensionally,” Norman had smiled, “if we can’t go through, Brian, we can go up. A helicopter.”
And though the rules-oriented, straitlaced Forest Hills staff had thrown their hands up at the very idea of a helicopter landing on their legendary tennis courts, wiser strategists at the NYPD had insisted on the plan. Firmly. The Beatles were to take off from the Wall Street heliport at 7.45 p.m.
Up and over was the only way.
The Wall Street Heliport, New York City
8.00 p.m. George was terrified of flying under normal conditions. And John wasn’t much better. They were both quite sure that they’d someday die in a plane crash. But this – travel in a craft that shuddered and dipped and ratcheted with noise – this was traumatic.
Jim Staggs – whom Brian (in an attempt to make amends) had invited along on the flight – watched George go pale and grip his seat with both hands. And John, placing a hand on his guitar as if to secure it, looked miserable. The panoramic sunset flight over one of America’s most striking cities was no treat for either of them.
“Incredible!” Brian leaned forward, exhilarated. “Look there, the Empire State Building!” Paul pointed to his left. “’N where’s her majesty, the Statue of Liberty?” Ringo asked. “Behind you,” Weiss thumbed over his shoulder. “We’re headed to Queens…the easternmost of the five boroughs…home of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mr. “Rags to Riches” himself, Tony Bennett! Of course, this is the East River…and out there, the suburbs beyond. Much easier above than below, this time of day.”
The boys could see snarls on the interwoven roadways: weary Americans edging home for yet another evening of supper, news, sports, and TV – a short breather before doing it all again.
“And there she is!” Weiss beamed. “The stadium where Bill Tilden and Don Budge made history! For sixty glorious years, the home of the U.S. Open…that, boys, Forest Hills!”
Even without an appreciation of tennis and its magnificent champions, the stadium was spectacular in summer’s fading light. The temperature, which had hovered in the 80s all afternoon was simmering down to a fresh 67 degrees: Manhattan’s early fall offered them a watercolour sunset. Beneath the boys, the horseshoe-shaped stadium – chock-a-block with almost 16,000 of their fans – glistened in arena lights. And, as the hectic teens spotted the descending helicopter, flashbulbs began to flicker: first tens, then hundreds, then thousands. An aurora of technological beauty.
The red, white and blue copter, serial number N4606G, was large enough to accommodate 20 passengers with ease – an impressive craft in its own right – but carrying The Beatles, it was a show- stopper. Dramatically piloting a slow circle and then dropping lower and lower over the courts as screams rose higher and higher, as lights flashed brighter and brighter, as every eye in the stadium locked on the descent of four young gods from another world, the adept pilot created an indelible memory.
Brian scanned the young faces below him as they swam into view: dark eyes pooled with adoration, eyebrows lifted in an ecstasy they might never feel again, smiles wide and uncensored, mouths agog with complete delight. There were girls clutching their hair and screaming full tilt, girls with “WMCA Good Guys” buttons and “I Like The Beatles” buttons clipped to their John Lennon caps, girls in bright metal braces shouting Paul’s name into the night, and girls in light cardigans not smiling at all, but standing lost in a love that they were sure was as deep as any they would ever experience. Brian’s eyes filled. It was hard not to feel a sweep of pride in something he’d helped create – in this singular, brilliant phenomenon that he’d unearthed in a cavern and carefully, tediously polished to life. Brian glanced at George, beaming now and waving – at Paul, flushed with unexpected joy. At Ringo, laughing his bold Scouser’s laugh. And at John, leaning down to see the faces leaning up to see him. It was unequaled by anything the boys had ever accomplished. It was the pinnacle thus far. It was “their moment,” perhaps the best ever.
As a boy on Passover, Brian had been taught to ask with great awe and wonder, “Why is this night unlike any other?” Now, those sacred words came back to him unbidden. For those who truly, deeply believed in a faith beyond explanation, this was what they felt: a profound, mystical feeling…a passion connecting you to something far greater than yourself. Understanding that now, after all this time, Brian blinked away tears. He turned his face from the others.
On stage, The Righteous Brothers – whose efforts to be heard for the last eight nights had been admirable but far from enough – simply stopped playing and watched the theatrical descent along with everyone else. They paused, stared, and waited. But when the jaunty “Fab Four” leapt to the ground and a new wave of delirious howls rent the fabric of the New York skyline, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield nodded to one another and hopelessly finished their last song.
“Know when to quit,” the two performers had always heard. This evening, that worn adage confirmed their decision. As soon as possible, The Righteous Brothers were going home.
Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Queens, New York
Last night, in whatever town they’d been in (“Cincinnati, John…it was Cincinnati,” Paul insisted), it had been 115 degrees on the stage. There’d been moments in the blistering Ohio stadium when John had been queasy and unable to catch his breath. But tonight, under the massive Forest Hills lights that cancelled the stars and moon, under shrieks that never stopped, and under the watchful eyes of their old friend, Sid Bernstein, and the matching-suit troupe of WMCA Good Guys, John felt an eagerness to perform – a joy in being a Beatle.
In spite of the “madding crowds,” John loved New York; it reminded him, strangely, of Liverpool. And though, for so many years of his youth, John had vowed to stalk off and leave Liverpool in his vanishing shadow, now when he caught a glimpse of Merseyside in the New York streets, he felt a certain affinity: a peace.
“If I give my heart to you, I must be sure, from the very start that you would love me…” John sang, his eyes scanning the teens from Midtown, Soho, Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond. He sang in answer to their screams. He sang above the sound of their sighs.
Tonight, New York listened, and unequivocally, she loved him back. And falling deeper and deeper under the spell of the Great White Way, The Big Apple, The City that Never Sleeps, John returned the emotion. Inexplicably, he loved her back.
-Jude Southerland Kessler
Photo Credit: The Beatles with Thumbs Up by Jim Gray/Keystone courtesy of Getty Images