NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — It was 50 years ago Friday that the Beatles began their first American tour, arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where they cracked wise during a chaotic press conference while thousands of their fans were jammed inside the terminal.
As CBS 2’s Scott Rapoport reported, the images are iconic around the world – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr descending down the airstairs of the Pan Am flight from London that landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport – an airfield renamed only about six weeks earlier for the assassinated president.
They held their first American news conference at the airport shortly afterward.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Friday unveiled a first look at a planned historical marker at the airport honoring the band’s arrival.
“This is a fitting place for a tribute to their music,” said Deb Gramiccioni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority.
The news of the planned marker came much to the delight of many Beatles fans who gathered at the airport on Friday.
“I came from California, and I have loved John and Paul for 51 years,” said lifelong Beatles fan Sue Weisenhaus.
Also on hand was Liverpool Lord Mayor Gary Millar, and Gillian L’Eplattenier – who had been a Pan Am flight attendant, or stewardess as they were then known, on the flight with the Beatles.
“Everyone was going, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t this wonderful? And I said, ‘Who are the Beatles?’” L’Eplanttenier said.
That historic voyage was L’Eplanttenier’s very first Pan Am flight.
“It was one of the most exciting trips I ever took. And one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me,” she said.
Two days after the Beatles touched down at JFK, they went on to perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater in a performance seen by tens of millions of people and officially kicked off Beatlemania on this side of the pond.
“It was like one of those magic moments,” Ringo Starr told CBS News’ Anthony Mason in Los Angeles this week . “We landed and it was all perfect, we were number 1 and the kids loved us and we loved the idea of being in America.”
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.
And when the Ed Sullivan Show performance came around, 700 fans were screeching with euphoria inside the theater.
Patty Nazzaro was 10 years old and still counts it among the biggest moments of her life.
“It was exciting, it was electrifying,” Nazzaro said. “The girls were screaming, you could hear the guitars, Ringo on the drums.”
It was perhaps one of the last times an audience would be able to actually hear the rock group that was changing the world. Being drowned out by screaming fans was among the factors that led the group to stop touring in 1966.
Candy Cushing was 16.
“I see them so clearly, I see that stage so clearly,” she said. “I hear the Beatles and there’s this rush of waves of all of us and through the screaming it’s almost like tunnel vision so clearly, and I don’t really remember being so totally out of control.”