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.”
Fans Also Gather For Beatles Festival
Meanwhile Friday, the stage was set for the Fest for Beatles Fans at the Grand Hyatt at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. The festival marked 40 years this year as the oldest Beatles convention.
Mark Lapeios founded the festival in 1974. It makes stops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles through the course of the year.
“I went to John Lennon with the idea back in 1974,” Lapeios said. – I told him about it he said, ‘I’m all for it. I’m a Beatles fan too.’”
Lapeios said from performances to memorabilia, this weekend is really all about the fans.
“The day I turned 14 years old — it’s been John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Lance ever since,” said Lance Ludwick of Arlington, Va.
“I love the Beatles,” added Patricia Tyson of Glendale, Calif. “I saw them at Shea Stadium August 23rd, 1966. I go to all the Beatles events.”
Wayne Johnson of Rockaway Records in Los Angeles had a priceless piece of memorabilia with him.
“My most expensive item that I brought with me today is a set of Beatles autographs — all four — signed on a menu from British Airways,” he said, adding that the item will go for $15,000.
CBS 2’s Gainer said she would love to use an aerosol can of Beatles hairspray, but was told it is $100 per spritz and $3,000 for the can.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, Joe Carducci of Gretsch Guitars was showcasing a guitar literally cloned from Harrison’s original, right down to the nicks and scratches.
“We brought the guitar to the United States and had it CAT-scanned; took the DNA from, and re-created it to the tee. And that’s what’s on display — Prototype One,” Carducci said.
Also on sale was a copy of the American Beatles album “Yesterday and Today” with its original cover, featuring the Beatles in white butcher smocks and covered in raw meat and dismembered live-size doll parts.
“They were different. They were always cutting-edge,” said memorabilia vendor Gary Hein.
When the album was released in 1966, fury from critics and disc jockeys led Capitol Records to recall 750,000 copies from distributors. Capitol replaced the cover with a new one featuring a photo the group around an open steamer trunk.
The original state butcher covers are now worth $35,000 a copy.
Also if you have $35,000 to spare, the avid collector can buy a mimeographed rundown from the Ed Sullivan Show the day the Beatles appeared.
The rundown lists the songs the Beatles performed – “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” as well as the other acts who appeared – impressionist Frank Gorshin, actress and singer Tessie O’Shea, acrobatic troupe Wells and Four Fays, and comedy duo Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall among them.
Less expensive items included figurines, masks, fans, and even replica Beatles clothing.
For many, though, it was simply a chance to reminisce about Beatlemania with others – especially those who got an inside look. Longtime Philadelphia local CBS anchorman Larry Kane was the only broadcast journalist to travel with the Beatles to every stop on their 1964 and 1965 tours.
“I remember Brian Epstein on the plane, telling me point blank – I mean, staring into my eyes and saying, ‘Larry, the Beatles will be listened to, watched, and followed by the children of the 21st century,” Kane said, “and in 1964, that was truly hard to believe.”
And for longtime fans, the very experience of Beatlemania was hard to believe at the time.
“This is about life. I was 8 years old when I first ‘met’ the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show,” said Karan Zang. “I was sitting there in my living room like I did every Sunday as an 8-year-old and the Beatles came on. My life changed forever.”
The Beatles disbanded in 1970. Lennon was assassinated outside his home in the Dakota Building at 72nd Street and Central Park West in 1980, and Harrison died after a battle with cancer in 2001.
Starr and McCartney — now 73 and 71, respectively — rarely play together. But they reunited for a concert to be broadcast on CBS this Sunday at 8 p.m. to celebrate those 50 years.
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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