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The Beatles On Ed Sullivan — Part 1


The Beatles' first appearance on prime time television in North America was on the Jack Parr Show in January of 1964. It was a taped presentation of the lads playing "She Loves You." Parr allegedly derided the performance as "the downfall of British civilization." Of course, nothing was farther from the truth.

In February of 1964, The Beatles had begun gathering momentum as America's newest craze, and it was their first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show that solidified their popularity in North America.

Ed Sullivan, the poker-faced TV American variety-show host, spotted the Beatles in a scene of pandemonium at London's Heathrow Airport the previous October.

"Who the hell are the Beatles?" he'd apparently asked his associates.

He would quickly discover that they were Britain's newest fascination, and he decided to bring them over to play his show.

The Ed Sullivan Show was taped in the CBS studios in New York City. The studio had a seating capacity of 703. The CBS offices received over 50,000 requests for tickets. But only a small portion of these were delegated to Beatles' fans. The Ed Sullivan Show was family fare, and although Sullivan never shied away from acts that were controversial, such as Elvis Presley, James Brown and other impending rock stars, Sullivan was always clearly more comfortable with the "establishment " of the entertainment world. In fact, his pet act was a mouse puppet called Topo Gigo, a silly parody of Italian cultural stereotypes.

Still, Sullivan knew that The Beatles were something special, and he had them on his show in one form or another nine times.

On Sunday, February 9, millions of North Americans waited in front of small black and white television sets in anticipation of seeing this new phenomenon from Britain. The audience for that show alone is estimated to be over 70 million people.

On their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles played five songs in two sets. The first set included "All My Loving," "Till There Was You," and "She Loves You." Later in the second half of the show, the Beatles played "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

Each song was well rehearsed and went off without a hitch. The audience, at least that section that was reserved for young Beatles' fans was reserved beyond belief until prompted by stage managers to scream their hearts out. That was a part of the deal, it seems. Sullivan had made a pact or a "promise" as he called it, with the "youngsters" in his audience to refrain from over exuberance until the music ended. This was, after all, television, not some local night club. And while The Beatles may have been headliners that night, Sullivan was equally proud of the fact that he was presenting the Broadway cast of Oliver — featuring Georgia Brown and Davy Jones who went on to become one of The Monkees — Frank Gorshen (comedian, doing impressions of celebrities), Mitzi McCall & Charlie Brill (comedy team), Tessie O'Shea (singer, medley of show tunes), Fred Kapps (magician), and Wells & the Four Fays (acrobats, doing physical comedy).

At the beginning of the February 9 show, Sullivan read a congratulatory telegram from Elvis Presley, the king of the rock movement in the United States. Some describe this as a "torch-passiong" of sorts. The King was far from dead at that time, but his heirs were certainly present that evening in the CBS studio. This was not to say that there were no detractors. Having lived through the hulla hoop and the dance craze called "The Twist," most parents saw The Beatles as simply another momentary fad. Even Sullivan's musical director reportedly said "I give them a year." But it was more than the beginning of some brief love affair with four lads from Liverpool. It was the beginning of Beatlemania, a change in the cultural fabric that would last and continue through today.

© The Beatles on Abbey Road 2002 [All Rights Reseved]



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