In February of 1974, I sat in a Social Studies class at my New Jersey Jr. High School, age 15. My teacher asked the class: “What significant history was made just 10 years ago?” A few guesses came from my classmates, all to be told that they were incorrect. Now I figured I would have less of a chance to be embarrassed by giving my answer a shot. I sheepishly raised my hand and stated, “It was 10 years since the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show.” With a giant smile on his face, my teacher went on to say something like, “Nothing was the same in popular entertainment, or even in society after the Beatles.” Wow, there you have it: if the teacher says that my favorite band changed the world, then they did.
But what happened immediately after that historic appearance of Feb. 9, 1964?
After an evening’s sleep in their suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel, the band and entourage were prepared to get on a plane to Washington DC and the Coliseum for their first North American concert. But that morning they faced their first detour. A heavy snowstorm had commenced; delays and cancellations at the airports were beginning to pile up. Manager Brian Epstein directed the Beatles, their staff, and a now enormous press corps onto a morning train to DC.
Spending several continuous hours near the press had never happened to The Beatles before. They were now cooped up together in a train carriage, but the group knew they could take advantage of the situation. They knew how to make a show by turning on their charm, cracking a few jokes, and assuring that the press saw them for themselves. “Being clever chappies saved our arses on many occasions, especially on the train to Washington.” Ringo recalled, “We got to know some of them [in the press] and they said, ‘We came here to kill you.” Up until then, pop groups had been milk and honey [clean cut] with the press. And here we were, smoking and drinking and shouting back at THEM. That’s what endeared us to them.”
John would later comment, “We’d learned the whole game: we knew how to handle the press when we arrived [in the USA]. The British press are the toughest in the world- we could handle anything.”
The next day [February 11] was their appearance at the Washington Coliseum. Something like 8,000+ screaming fans came to continue the excitement from the Sullivan show. The Coliseum was set up for boxing matches with a platform in the middle of the arena, so the Beatles were expected to play “in the round.” The show was well received, remembered for the minor inconvenience of the glitch to Ringo’s drum stage. After a set of songs, it was to be turned clockwise but got stuck. No worry, the band had road manager Mal Evans who manually turned the stage each time. The gift to the world is that this performance was shot by CBS and is one of the best-documented archives capturing the energy and excitement of the raw Beatlemania era.
That evening, Brian Epstein had arranged for the band to be elite guests for a benefit supporting a British charity to be held at their embassy. Honored, but also somewhat leery of the class gap between their Liverpool roots and the debutante scene, the Beatles presented themselves in the best way they knew how.
“In the early 60s, there was still a huge disparity between people from the north of England and ‘people from Embusses.’ Ringo told the Anthology project, “We were standing around, saying, ‘Hi, that’s very nice,’ and having a drink, when someone came up behind me and snipped off a piece of my hair, which got me very angry. I just swung ’round and said, ‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’ He replied, ‘Oh, it’s OK old chap’… bullshit!” [It’s been disputed that it was a man who clipped Ringo’s hair. Several press reports attribute a 19-year-old party crasher, Beverly Markowitz, who has claimed she was the “clipper.” Over the years, she’s publicly displayed hair locks claiming them to be from Ringo.]
At that point, a brisk exit by the Beatles brought an uncomfortable end to the high society evening. John recalled, “Some bloody animal cut Ringo’s hair. I walked out, swearing at all of them, I just left in the middle of it!” In the following years, many witnesses have commented that the Beatles were humiliated; some say John cried over the incident. Afterward, The Beatles were stern with Epstein: never again would they be put in a position to be degraded by those in connected positions.
Just when others would have been exhausted, the Beatles returned to New York the next day [Feb. 12] to play at Carnegie Hall. “We played Carnegie Hall because Brian [Epstein] liked the idea of playing a classical hall,” Paul remembered. The plan was to take advantage of the renowned acoustics of Carnegie Hall and record the Beatles in a full-blown concert. But Capital Records and the American Federation of Musicians got into a negotiation dispute and the Beatles could not gain permission to record in that venue. That may have been a great live album.
The Beatles were given a well-deserved rest the next day, flying to sunny Miami in preparation for their second appearance [February 16] on the Ed Sullivan Show, a week after their original debut. “We had never been anywhere there were palm trees.” Paul told the Anthology project in 1995, “We were real tourists, we had our Pentax cameras and took a lot of pictures.” Fifty-nine years later many of these pictures would end up in Paul’s book 1964: Eyes of the Storm as well as his 2023 exhibition at London’s Royal Portraits Museum.
After a few days of sitting around pools, renting a boat for attempted water skiing and general laying about, the week came to a close. The Beatle’s second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show took place at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach.
The show racked up another 70 million TV viewers while they played to a live audience of 3500. Surprisingly, the Beatles were NOT at the top of the bill; that distinction went to actress/singer Mitzi Gaynor.
After another week of rest and recreation in Miami, the Beatles returned home to London on February 22. Their triumphant return was national news, with nearly every TV and Radio outlet covering the enormous crowds and subsequent press conference at Heathrow Airport. They had conquered America, and the rest of the world was about to fall.
Photo: The Beatles with Ed Sullivan (Getty Images)