“We want The Beatles, we want The Beatles” was the cry that drowned out the noise of the jet airliners at the John F Kennedy Airport in New York one day in February 1964, when John, Paul, George, and Ringo touched down at the start of their first-ever American visit.
All the ballyhoo of the mass media was there to greet them, along with a screaming teenage crowd of 10,000. Brian Epstein‘s dreams and expectations of the American response had come true.
The press conference – held at the airport – brought scenes of near hysteria as reporters, cameramen, and photographers jostled and fought for the best positions. In the affray, a well-known DJ was threatened with violence by a TV newsman when he tried to get a personal interview with the boys – a threat transmitted throughout the American airwaves via the DJ’s live microphone.
Despite this, the press conference was a great success. The Beatles had won the hearts of the American media and public with their open personalities, wit and charm, and the way they promptly and bluntly answered each question:
Q: “Are you embarrassed by the Beatlemania and near lunacy that you create?”
John: “No, it’s great. We like lunatics. It’s healthy”
Q: “Will you sing a song?”
All four: “No!”
Q: “Is it because you can’t sing?”
John: “No, we need money first”
Q: “How much money do you expect to take out of this country?”
John: “About half-a-crown or two dollars”
Q: “Do you ever have haircuts?”
George: “I had one yesterday”
Ringo: “It’s no lie. You should have seen him the day before”
Q: “How do you account for your phenomenal success?”
John: “If we knew, we would form another group and be managers”
Q: “Why do you sing like Americans and talk like Englishmen?”
John: “It sells better”
Q: “Have you heard of the ‘Stamp out The Beatles’ campaign being organised by a group of Detroit students, and exactly what do you intend to do about it?”
Paul: “First of all we would bring out a ‘Stamp out Detroit’ campaign”
Q: “What do you think of Beethoven?”
Ringo: “Great. Especially his poems. I keep cracking that gag every day”
Q: “Exactly when do you feel you will retire?”
George: “When we get fed up with it. We’re still enjoying it now, and we enjoyed it before we made any money”
From the press conference at the airport, they travelled in a virtual armed convoy to the Plaza Hotel in the centre of New York, where hundreds of teenage fans were waiting in the rain hoping to catch a glimpse of their new idols.
One of the primary reasons for their visit was an appearance on the famed Ed Sullivan Show. Again they were a massive success, and the show received its highest-ever ratings.
While in New York, they also had some time for sightseeing, touring Greenwich Village in a hired limousine, twisting at the Peppermint Lounge, fooling with the Bunnies at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club, and dining at the 21 Club.
Most of this socialising had been made possible by Murray The K, the well-known New York DJ who had arranged things with the clubs so that The Beatles could have a good time and get lots of newspaper coverage without all the harassment of having to meet the public at every turn – George Harrison was even given the key to the New York Bunny Club.
The Beatles‘ first live performance in the US was due to be a one-night-stand at the Coliseum, a huge indoor stadium in Washington. The boys were due to fly down to Washington but a snowstorm threatened so they cancelled the flight and travelled by train instead.
Thousands of screaming fans were waiting to mob them as the train pulled into Union Station, and hundreds of policemen were called in as the crowd surged forward bearing placards welcoming the group to Washington.
The concert was a giant success and the Fab Four played to a capacity crowd that behaved in much the same way as any British audience – so The Beatles themselves couldn’t be heard above the screaming, stamping mob.
Someone backstage asked Paul how they could compete when the crowd got so noisy, and he replied: “when it gets so loud that they can’t hear us, we usually take a rest and only mime the words without actually singing”.
Lord and Lady Ormsby-Gore, the British Ambassador and his wife, held a ball in honour of the boys after their concert. During the evening, Ringo was asked if he considered himself the sex symbol of the group. He replied, laughing: “Look at me. You can see I’m no sex symbol. You can see my face!”
His smile, though, quickly turned to anger when a socialite deb snipped at his hair with a pair of scissors.
The Beatles returned to New York for their next performance at the famous Carnegie Hall. The two concerts there were solidly booked and thousands were turned away, but Mrs Nelson Rockerfeller nevertheless attended one of the shows and let it be known just how wonderful she thought it all was.
By the time John, Paul, George and Ringo had left the stage that night – bodies soaked in sweat and throats hoarse – Beatlemania had without a doubt gripped teenage America.
To round off the visit The Beatles’ last engagement was a re-appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, this time, to be televised from Miami Beach, Florida. When they flew into Miami Airport it was to the biggest welcome of the tour, and the screaming fans broke through barricades, smashed windows, broke down doors and demolished chairs in their path.
A large police escort helped The Beatles to their limousines and saw them safely on their way to the Deauville Hotel. Behind them, they left complete pandemonium, many teenage casualties and an airport that looked as though a siege had taken place.
The Ed Sullivan Show also heralded scenes of wild hysteria. For some reason, more tickets had been issued than there were seats, and after queuing for a long time many disappointed kids were turned away.
Some of them, from the University of Miami, later joined forces with a few Tamla Motown fans who had flown down from Detroit to continue their ‘Stamp out The Beatles’ campaign. As a result, police were called in to quell a demonstration outside The Beatles‘ hotel, and the inevitable clashes between this angered minority group and the majority of pro-Beatles fans.
The lucky ones who did manage to get a seat at the show had a marvellous time.
During the last few days of their tour, the Beatles had a holiday and spent their time either in a private swimming pool or sunbathing on a borrowed yacht. When they weren’t doing this they were messing about on motorboats, chatting up girls at the Miami Beach Peppermint Lounge and The Wreck Bar in the Castaways Motel.
The police sergeant who was in charge of their security during their stay in Miami even invited the boys to dinner with his family – they accepted and experienced for the first time real American home-cooking.
Finally, though, they returned to New York, and after a short stop for another press conference left for Britain victorious.
They returned to the States in August that year for their first extensive tour which took in 24 cities with 31 performances. They returned also in 1965 and 1966, playing New York’s Shea Stadium both times to capacity crowds of true believers.
Their last live performance anywhere in the world was in San Francisco on 29 August 1966, but in many ways what had made it all possible was the inspired handling of that first US visit, and the cheery, family appeal they managed to present so well to so many different kinds of people.