The Beatles were the greatest cultural force of the 20th century. So everything about them should be pretty well known right? Wrong! It is amazing how many myths have attached themselves to the Beatles story or how significant episodes in their career remain obscure and disregarded. The appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show had a profound effect on America in more ways than just musical. For a few people, it actually changed the course of their lives. Check out these 10 facts you probably didn’t know about their appearance on American TV’s most influential variety show.
1 The Show changed how cameramen communicate with the Director’s booth.
The camerawork on the show was pretty formal and static. But it wasn’t supposed to be. In the historic shots above, we see the Marconi Mark IVs and the “Houston Fearless” crane-mounted Mark IV cameras getting such a close shot of Ringo that there are shadows on John’s face. The cameras were supposed to move under the direction of the studio director. But the noise from screaming fans was so loud the cameramen couldn’t hear directions from the studio console. This lead to cameramen headphones being redesigned. Cushioned earphones, instead of the simple plaster cups they wear here were introduced and soon become the industry norm.
2 A pre “Monkees” Davy Jones sat at the side of the stage and was inspired to change his career.
Though he was just 18 in 1964, Jones was already a veteran of musical theatre and TV in Britain. He fully expected his career to remain in those spheres. On the Beatles first performance the cast of Oliver! performed, giving the ambitious Jones, cast in the role of the Artful Dodger, his first opportunity to shine on American TV. “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, ”Jones recalled in the book Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! “. “I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, ‘This is it, I want a piece of that.’”
3 The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show was not the first time they had appeared on American TV.
There is still a myth that the performance from the CBS studio 50 was America’s first look at this English phenomenon. In fact, they had first appeared three months earlier in November 1963, on both NBC and CBS. The first piece was filed from the UK by Edwin Newman for The Huntley Brinkley Report on NBC’s Nightly News. Entitled “Despatches From Britain” it focused on “the great gangs of young people” causing “a near riot” both inside and outside the concerts. Nothing was said about their music with the focus, all too predictably, being their “pudding bowl haircuts.” Newman concluded snidely that their popularity was down to the fact that “It was almost impossible to hear them”.
4 They may never have been seen by Ed Sullivan but for the JFK assassination.
The CBS news piece was originally supposed to air on Friday, November the 22nd. But that day’s events in Dallas Texas made any light entertainment segment inappropriate and the piece was canned. Three days later the legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite decided that America needed something light-hearted on the news to take the nation’s mind off the painful assassination of her President. Ed Sullivan was watching the news that night and immediately phoned his good friend Cronkite for information on how to contact them.
5 Walter Cronkite was at the performance – but missed it when he went to the bar instead.
Though he was in many ways as instrumental in breaking the Beatles in America as Sullivan, Cronkite was seemingly less impressed by their music. He may not have bothered attending the show at all, but at the insistence of his two teenage daughters, he introduced them to the band backstage. He remembered, ” they had taken no interest before in my job, but suddenly I was a hero in their eyes. They didn’t know what I did in life until I introduced them.” When they played, however, Cronkite was not one of the 73 million Americans who saw them perform. “I got out. I didn’t care to see the show. Instead, I went to ‘Gallagher’s’ across the road and got a drink.”
6 Sullivan wasn’t so sure of the bands enduring appeal.
Ed Sullivan is given a lot of credit for recognising the appeal of the Beatles. But as to their longevity, he was seemingly less convinced. John Moffitt his production assistant remembers. “Originally their contract was supposed to be $15 000 (sic) for three live performances. But Ed turned to me and said: “Who wants to see them three times. We will have to end up paying them off for that last performance.” In the end, they appeared live twice with a further performance recorded for transmission a week later, by which time, ironically, the group was actually back in the UK.
7 George Harrison missed the rehearsals with a 102-degree fever.
Vince Calandra the associate producer had to stand in for the sick George at rehearsals – complete with fake Beatles wig.
8 Sullivan was not so impressed by the Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
People who worked with him knew to leave Sullivan alone when he was working on his copy. He could be abrasive, sarcastic and sometimes downright rude. Brian Epstein found this out to his cost during rehearsals. Epstein was worried about how the boys were going to be introduced to the nation. Mindful of the mocking commentary that had accompanied the news features on both NBC and CBS previously, he was keen to have editorial control over Sullivan’s copy. Sullivan, however, would have none of it. Approaching Sullivan writing at his desk during rehearsals Epstein said: “Excuse me, Mr Sullivan. I would like to know the EXACT wording of the introduction.” Sullivan glared at him through cold blue eyes and replied. “I would like you to get lost.”
9 John Lennon was aroused by only one thing during the filming.
The notoriously down to earth Lennon took the filming in his stride. He only became excited once, asking Calandra before recording “Is this the same stage Buddy Holly and the Crickets played on?”
10 The Beatles were not originally given top billing.
It may seem odd now, but on their second performance live from Miami, the band were expected to play second banana to actress, singer, and dancer Mitzi Gaynor. Sullivan had been trying to book her for years and was originally more excited by her appearance than the bands. To be fair, the four boys from Liverpool seemed just as impressed by her booking. Mitzi remembered each one asking for her autograph at rehearsals. Gaynor’s Art Director Bob Alcivar however, was less enamoured by the band. Seeing Paul McCartney on stage before her big number he yelled “Get that girl off the stage! ” Told by Mitzi that she was a member of the band he continued unabashed. “I don’t care, get him off the stage!”
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