We’re Going to See the Beatles: The Ed Sullivan Show

[11 November 2009]

By Garry Berman

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.

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.

The Home Audience

While 728 audience members in the theatre experienced the Beatles singing to them in person, 73 million more were watching at home across the country. It quickly became an entertainment event famous for having not only generated unprecedented anticipation, but for surpassing even the highest of expectations.

The reverberations felt throughout millions of households across the country that Sunday evening were immediate. For most parents watching the Beatles’ performance, it was in parts laughable, cacophonous, unseemly, or worse. For their children, however, it was nothing short of electrifying. By the time that single hour-long program began rolling its closing credits at 8:58 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Beatles had generated an emotional shock wave of such intensity that it instantly sent an entire generation of American teenagers into a state of sheer exhilaration. An overstatement, perhaps?  Not according to those who experienced it and who can still recall that night in vivid detail, and with that same youthful passion.

cover art

Going to See the Beatles: An Oral History of Beatlemania as Told by the Fans Who Were There

Garry Berman

(Santa Monica Press; US: Apr 2008)

Janet Lessard:  By the time they were on The Ed Sullivan Show,  that was just—I can’t even compare it to anything right now. It was just fantastic. We were literally gathered in each other’s homes. We would sit there from six o’clock waiting for that show to come on at 8:00, in groups of fives and tens. We were just amazed.

Charles Pfeiffer: On that Sunday night in February of ’64 we gathered around the black and white Zenith, and when they came on Ed Sullivan, all I can remember is Ed saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s the Beatles!,” and gosh, when they struck that first chord it just sent something through me. And I was a 12- or 13-year-old boy with a crewcut, and I remember I turned around and said, “I’m growing my hair out.” That was the first thing I was gonna do, which I started to do. And just the minute they started to play, I thought, “Gosh, this is what I want to do”.

Penny Wagner: My dad didn’t want anything to do with it, I don’t think he was home that night, but my mom said all right—she was pretty open-minded, and we sat down, my youngest sister and myself. She never even liked the Beatles, to this day! No interest whatsoever.

I turned into a Beatlemaniac from the minute I saw them sing “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” That was it. I couldn’t stop myself. I started screaming and carrying on, and my mother didn’t know what to do with it—my grandmother thought something was wrong with me. And I’m still, to this day, an avid Beatle fan. I picked a favorite immediately, and what’s so cool about this story is I got to meet him in real life. It was Ringo Starr. He was my favorite Beatle, from the minute I saw him on Ed Sullivan till now.

Leslie Barratt: I took pictures of them on the TV. It was the first time I saw them performing. My sister and I were upstairs and I know my parents came to the TV and looked at it, probably my younger brother too—not very interested with these two girls screaming at the TV. At that point I was just completely blown over and in love with every one of them, although my favorite was Paul.

Linda Cooper: My parents were giving me so much grief, I went to my girlfriend Sharon’s house to watch it. And it was just—you’ll probably think it’s goofy but I never was one of the girls who screamed and all that, but I would just sit there and cry!  And so her father would laugh at me all the time and handed me his handkerchief and said, “You’re gonna need this.”  So by the time they finished at the end of the show, all that was left of the handkerchief was the border. I ate the whole thing watching them.

Maryanne Laffin: I cried. I remember just sitting there crying. I didn’t know why.

Janet Lessard: The tears—we would watch them on The Ed Sullivan Show and we would just dissolve into tears. I can’t describe it. It was something that just came over us. It was so new, and overwhelmed us, I guess. Girls growing up in the mid-‘60s were much younger, figuratively and emotionally, than girls growing up now. Girls 13, 14, and 15 now have already done all of this by now. This all happens to them much earlier. To us, we weren’t really into boys or anything like that. And all of a sudden these four guys come around with their charm, their music, their witty remarks, and it just kind of hit us like a ton of bricks!

Claire Krusch: My sister and I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and we taped it. So we have that on tape, but the sound is terrible. Just listening to that and us going “Oh my God, look at them!” and screaming. I remember my dad saying, “Their hair is too long, but they look very neat.”

Dale Ford: I actually took pictures of the television. They came out pretty good! I just thought they were the greatest. It was one of those things where you just knew that there was something special about them. I loved music and rock & roll, whatever was going on at the time. The Beach Boys were okay, Elvis I liked but I wasn’t a huge fan or anything. But there was just something about the Beatles you just kind of know that this is really, really going to be big. I just knew it. And of course I was madly in love with Paul McCartney.

Carol Cox: I was like two inches from the screen, screaming. I was a screamer. We had a next-door neighbor and many years later she said to me, “We thought somebody was being murdered over there, we could hear you screaming for the Beatles. So we always knew when they were on!” I can’t articulate it all these years later. There was something about them. They were fresh, they were new, there was just something really special and magical. I wish I could pinpoint it. I still get it now, to this day. When I see the Sullivan shows, it takes my breath away.

Betty Taucher: I sat with my girlfriends to watch them. We were feeling the TV and touching it and screaming. My father was laughing hysterically on the couch at us. I had to clean the TV after that. And TVs then had those tiny little green screens, and it was black and white of course, we didn’t have a color TV. And I don’t think Sullivan was in color then either. We were embracing the TV and touching them and screaming, the whole nine yards. And after it was done I remember we were just lying on the floor and it was like, “Oh my God, what was that?”

Barbara Allen: My mother was always an open-minded person, but my father just said, “Oh my God this is awful. How can you watch this?”  The fathers were always negative towards them. They didn’t like the hair, they didn’t understand the music, they didn’t know what we were carrying on about, and they would all make a comment. And my father said, “I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut, in about four years, you wouldn’t walk across the street to see those goofs.” Well, if they were outside right now, I’d walk outside to see them, and I’m 55 years old!

Douglas Edwards: I remember watching with excitement as they led off the show. Before they were through with “All My Loving,” I was hooked. They had a charisma about them that was different than anything that I had ever seen or heard. By the end of the Sullivan show that night, this 11- year-old was counting my allowance to see how soon I could buy the next single.

Paul Chasman:  I remember seeing them and being almost attracted and repelled at the same time; attracted because they were just so damn good and magnetic, and there was still part of me that was resistant, not being sure that I was recognizing the real thing. But I was really excited about them, and always wanting to hear more.

Harold Montgomery: Up until the Sullivan show, I wanted to be an archeologist. And all of a sudden, bam! All the archeology things came down and I started going to the neighbor’s house asking for newspapers to clip out and I started clipping out and saving everything that I ever found on them. It totally turned me completely around.

Kathy Albinder: The first time I saw them on Ed Sullivan, I can remember coming back from a family trip and pushing my father because we were gonna be late. I’m the oldest of eight kids, so I was there saying, “Come on, let’s go, we’re gonna be late!” So I think we missed the first half of it but I did see the second half.

Paula Lewis: As I was watching it, I was remembering just a few years before when Elvis had been on, in 1956, and I have an aunt who is just a few years older than I am, and she was just so caught up with Elvis. And when he was on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was just 6 or 7, and she was screaming and crying, and just beside herself, and I was just not really caring what was on TV but being fascinated with the way my aunt was carrying on. So probably when the Beatles were actually on, I was so enthralled with just seeing them, but afterwards I was thinking about how it was very much the way it had been for her. Some people couldn’t watch it because it was Sunday night and they had to go to church. Those people were really outcasts in lots of ways. They really had missed an important thing.

Pete Kennedy: We were a little young for the liberation of Elvis. My sister was into him and the Everly Brothers, so I knew about them from watching American Bandstand, I knew about the Fifties rockers, but it wasn’t specifically my music. And in ’63 I liked Peter, Paul & Mary and the Kingston Trio, which also wasn’t specifically my stuff, being 12 years old. And this was! It was this watershed—and the amazing thing to me is so many kids were experiencing the same thing all over the country at the same time, but we were all in separate houses on a Sunday night at 8 o’clock. It was obvious to me these guys were breaking down that whole thing. I don’t know if they had any intention of doing that, but that’s what they did. It was a revolution, really. .

Betty Taucher: The next day in school, that’s all anybody talked about. And all of a sudden all of the boys that had their hair slicked back on Friday—on Monday, it was all combed down. Over the weekend it changed that much.

Shaun Weiss: After that Sunday night, my hair was pushed down—the next day in school, I didn’t realize the historical event I was witnessing. I was just caught up in this Beatles moment.

Douglas Edwards: At school the next day, the Beatles were the only topic of conversation among the fifth graders at Watson Elementary. Before winter of ’64 had thawed in northeast Ohio, I had every single the Beatles had released in that couple of months.

Dale Ford: I had an excellent childhood. I was one of these kids that I would come home from school, and my mom would have a pot of tea, and French fries and American Bandstand turned on the television—all waiting for me when I got home from school. This is the kind of life I had growing up.

I had a wonderful childhood. But, my dad said, “These Beatles aren’t going to last, they’re a flash in the pan, I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go. I don’t know why you’re getting all in an uproar over this. They’re not gonna be around…”  Oh, I argued with him! He used to love to challenge me like that. He liked it when he pushed my buttons.

We’re Going to See the Beatles: An Oral History of Beatlemania as Told by the Fans Who Were There by Garry Berman, ©2008, published by Santa Monica Press, www.santamonicapress.com

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/116120-were-going-to-see-the-beatles-the-ed-sullivan-show/