NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Fifty years ago Sunday, the Beatles made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and officially kicked off Beatlemania on this side of the pond.
Feb. 9, 1964 became one of the most memorable moments in TV history.
In front of 700 screeching fans in the audience and 73 million television viewers, the Beatles opened with “All My Loving” at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
To mark the anniversary, the studio, which now houses the “Late Show With David Letterman,” unveiled a special marquee duplicating the one displayed at the Ed Sullivan Theater on the night the Beatles first performed.
The marquee has the exact same wording that was posted for “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964 and will be on display through the weekend.
Meanwhile, a large piece of stage backdrop autographed by the Beatles during that historic performance is headed to auction, where it could draw $800,000 to $1 million.
Face caricatures accompany the signatures that the Fab Four penned between sets during the broadcast.
The current owner of the 4-foot-by-2-foot plastic wall section is Andy Geller, a longtime Beatles collector and television and film voice-over artist.
It is being sold in New York City on April 26 through the Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions.
A stagehand is responsible for getting the band members to sign the back of the wall section known as a hardwall traveler, which is rolled back and forth to reveal the next act. It’s believed to be the largest Beatles autograph.
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” 81-year-old Jerry Gort said in a telephone interview from his Calabasas, Calif., home. “They came down from stage right from their dressing rooms, I gave them a marker and asked them to sign the wall.”
The band signed vertically from the bottom up: John Lennon first, then Paul McCartney, who scribbled “Uncle Paul McCartney,” followed by George Harrison. Ringo Starr, shorter than the rest, couldn’t reach the top so “I put my arms around him and lifted him,” said Gort, simultaneously putting his foot on the wall to keep it from opening until Ringo finished signing the piece.
The wall also contains the signature of other acts that followed later in the television season, notably from the Searchers, another British band, which signed “The Searchers Were Here with Kilroy 4/5/64.”
It will be on display in the window of Heritage Auctions’ Park Avenue gallery in time for Beatlefest, an autograph and memorabilia event at the Grand Hyatt New York that runs Friday through Sunday.
As part of the 50th anniversary, a cavalcade of musical greats will honor the band in a CBS prime time special Sunday at 8 p.m., “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles.”
CBS Vice President of Late-Night Programming Vincent Favale told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa that David Letterman recently brought Paul and Ringo back onto the Ed Sullivan Theater stage for an interview.
“They did a walk and talk and they pointed out the different things that they remembered,” Favale said. “An intimate conversation, heart-felt, and it was beautiful,” he said of the interview.
The interview with Letterman will be featured during the CBS special airing on Sunday night.
“It was like one of those magic moments. We landed and it was all perfect. We were No. 1 and the kids loved us. And we loved the idea of being in America. I’d never been to America,” Starr said.
Lennon and McCartney had been playing together since 1957, and all four Beatles had been performing and recording together since June 1962. They had become wildly popular in the U.K. and across Europe.
The group’s first U.S. single, “Please Please Me,” had been released on Vee-Jay Records in February 1963 and received some radio airplay – most notably by disc jockey Dick Biondi in Chicago, where the record label was based. But the record sold poorly and the Beatles remained largely unknown in the U.S.
“We felt very insecure because in the summer George came to America, George Harrison. And he was going into record shops and going, ‘Have you got the Beatles’ records?’ And they were saying, ‘No,’” Starr said. “And when he came back he said, ‘It’s going to be tough, you know. They don’t know us over there.'”
But that all changed when Beatlemania came to America. Capitol Records released “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in late December 1963 and saw it become a massive hit, followed by a hit re-release of “Please Please Me” on Vee-Jay.
Only about six weeks later on Feb. 7, 1964, the Beatles touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Ed Sullivan appearance took place two days later.
Ad looking back on the “Ed Sullivan Show” performance that night, in a way it felt like everyone was there, but in reality only a few hundred lucky souls were actually inside the theater as the Beatles played, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported.
Then-16-year-old Candy Cushing had a seat on the aisle and thus, became one of the permanent faces of Beatlemania in America – even though she said she doesn’t remember screaming like all the other girls.
“You could hear every one of the words of the lyrics. And to be close enough – because the theater was small enough – to really see them in their own engagement as they played,” Cushing recalled.
Cushing said her father, a bank executive, was able to get three tickets. She took two friends, all of them anxious to see the English band, but unprepared for the profound nature of the moment, Young reported.
Cushing may have been one of the last people to actually hear them play, after that night it was all deafening screams.
“Oh my gosh, I see them so clearly; I see that stage so clearly, I see them and I hear, I hear…there’s that music and the du-du-du-du of Ringo. I hear the Beatles and there’s this rush of waves of all of us with this energy,” Cushing said of the show.
Cushing said she cherishes the memory like a moment caught in amber, Young reported.
Patty Nazzaro was just 10 years old at the time of the concert. But she still counts it
“It was exciting,” Nazzaro said. “It was electrifying.”
And Leslie Healy said the show made her a devoted, lifelong Beatlemaniac. She met all four of the Beatles during her decades in their fan club.
“That’s probably the best picture I ever took of John Lennon,” she said, showing a photo of Lennon from a few years after the Beatles’ moptop days with his iconic wire-frame glasses. “Fifty years – it’s like I blinked. It doesn’t feel like 50 years ago.”
But no matter how long ago it seems, everyone who was there said they knew it was something special.
“They were so cute. They were brand new. This was so different,” Nazzaro said. “This was rock and roll. This was my kind of music.”
Lennon was assassinated outside his home in the Dakota Building at 72nd Street and Central Park West in 1980. Harrison died after a battle with cancer in 2001.
But McCartney and Starr, of course, are still at it at the ages of 71 and 73, respectively.
“I think we’ve all aged rather well,” Cushing said.
There is also a live multimedia event Sunday at 6:30 p.m. with several pop culture and music insiders, including Nile Rodgers and Mick Jones. For more information, click here.
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