Editor’s note: This text is excerpted from the 2008 book, We’re Going to See the Beatles: An Oral History of Beatlemania as Told by the Fans Who Were There by Garry Berman.
The Beatles managed to spend the morning of the next day, Feb. 8th, in relative quiet. John, Paul, and Ringo avoided the mobs of fans awaiting them in front of the Plaza by using a side door, and took a stroll through Central Park (George was stuck in bed with a sore throat). Of course, their “stroll” was really for the benefit of the army of journalists and photographers covering their visit. The streetwise photographers didn’t quite know what to do with the group at first, so they shouted out instructions for poses like “point to the sky!” and anything else that came to mind. Next, the Beatles headed for the CBS theatre on 53rd Street, the home of The Ed Sullivan Show, for rehearsals.
Going to See the Beatles: An Oral History of Beatlemania as Told by the Fans Who Were There
(Santa Monica Press; US: Apr 2008)
Sullivan had witnessed Beatlemania first-hand during a trip to England back in September, but hadn’t seen or heard the group perform. He was nonetheless impressed with the passion they instilled in their British fans, and in November negotiated with Brian Epstein to have the group perform on three separate Sullivan shows beginning in early February. The group would be paid a total of $10,000 for two live appearances plus a taping of a third performances to be aired later in the year.
The next day, on Sunday afternoon, the group performed a full run-through of the songs they would play on the show that night. They did so in front of a full studio audience, who had the privilege of getting the scoop on the rest of the country by several hours. A different audience was later brought in for the live broadcast. When the program went on the air at 8:00 p.m., it was viewed by an estimated 73 million people—the biggest audience for a television show ever to that date. It was only six weeks after Capitol Records officially released “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
And it was the night Beatlemania exploded.
June Harvey: My friend’s father worked for an ad agency and it just so happened that he had tickets for The Ed Sullivan Show for that night. A client had given them to him. But he did not want them, so he gave them to us.
Two days before, they came into JFK, and there was quite a bit of fanfare and excitement. I think some of my friends tried to go out to the airport to meet them. I was working on a project for school and couldn’t get off, but I knew we had the tickets. And at that time we thought they were just a passing fad. We had no inkling that they would be some part of music history. It was just so early in their recognition factor. This was February, and their music had only started playing six weeks before. There was some momentum building, but really not any that I thought was over the top, other than when they came into JFK, I remember seeing on the news that there were a lot of screaming fans that had come out there.
The day of the show, my friend and I went down on the subway—we lived in the Bronx—and we’d take the Lexington Avenue line down. We had the tickets, but I do not think they were assigned seats, I think they were just entry tickets into the theatre. We had to wait outside for quite a long time, well over an hour, and it was freezing cold. I do remember that! There were two girls standing right behind us who were British. We struck up a conversation with them. They were on winter holiday, and one of the girls’ brothers went to school with John Lennon, and she knew John. They were from Liverpool, and we talked about their friendship with some of the Beatles, especially John.
It was very electric, it really was, like something exciting was about to happen.
Shaun Weiss: By Sunday I was hooked. Sunday was very interesting for us. My sister and I knew where The Ed Sullivan Show was so we walked down to the theatre with a bunch of friends of ours. As the day progressed, we were trying to find tickets to get in. My sister started to put on crocodile tears, and we had run into these two older people who were standing on line to go in. My sister said, “Do you have any extra tickets?” and they turned around and said, “We actually have tickets for friends of ours, and we don’t know if they’re showing up. But if they don’t show up, you can have them.” So my sister attached herself to them. The friends never did show up, and when it came to getting into the theatre, they only put a certain amount of kids up front. They stuck the rest of us up in the balcony. But it didn’t matter. It was so amazing just to be there and see Ed Sullivan walk out on that stage. We were in the last row of the balcony, by the center aisle. My sister snuck down to the first row of the balcony with one of her friends.
The Beatles kicked off the show with their first set of three songs: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You.” Later in the show, after performances by the cast of Oliver! (featuring future Monkee Davey Jones), impressionist Frank Gorshin, and other acts commonly seen on Sullivan’s show, the host brought them back to sing “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
Shaun Weiss: When they came out to perform, you really lost sight of them onstage. It was just looking around and seeing girls screaming, and girls crying. Being as far up as we were, we really didn’t see them as well as you would on TV sitting in your living room. Being there was a whole different excitement. I was so caught up in this moment, the reality was just being there was the thrill. I don’t even remember the songs that were being played, just that I could not believe these guys from Liverpool were performing, and I was seeing this live. The charm of seeing them for the first time in person, and not really understanding what was happening to me. I was getting caught up in a hysteria that I didn’t understand. Everything else was fogged out.
The theatre had a way of locking you in, so that you couldn’t get out to bother the Beatles leaving. But we just opened the exit door and we all flew out, and tried to get around to the side to see them leave, but obviously they had other ways of getting out that we knew nothing about.
The things I remember about them were just their mannerisms—and how much fun it looked like they were having. But it also looked like they were kind of scared. Just their mannerisms standing there, and Ringo up on the drum set playing and his head shaking… That weekend, walking into it, I was unaware of what I was walking into. For the next five years of my life, I was obsessed with them. And the more I became obsessed with them, the more I geared my life to kind of hang in their corner.
June Harvey: We must have been fairly close-up in line because we were ushered into the balcony and we ended up in the first row. And the Ed Sullivan Theatre was very small, and the balcony hung right over the stage. I think Letterman has taken out the balcony. I was second from the end, and a photographer came in after all of us were seated, and there were a lot of screaming fans directly behind me. We were so close to the photographer that he could not get an angle on us. He leaned in and shot up over us. So all the pictures in the fan magazines were the people sitting right behind us, including the two girls from Liverpool.
The screaming was constant, but I remember hearing them sing, there’s no doubt about it. And we were literally hanging right over the stage so we could see them. It was a memorable experience.