On February 9, 1964, the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, one week after “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became their first #1 hit in America. While 728 audience members in the theatre experienced the Beatles singing to them in person, the estimated 73 million more were watching the much-hyped event at home. Sullivan was in his 16th season on the air, and his program had become a staple of American popular culture on Sunday evenings. But this night was to be very different. It quickly became an entertainment event famous for having not only generated unprecedented anticipation, but for surpassing even the highest of expectations.
Below are just a few excerpts from my book “We’re Going to See the Beatles!” (Santa Monica Press, 2008), featuring the words of over 40 people I interviewed from across the country who were young Beatles fans at the time — some of whom watched the program at home, or tape recorded it, or took pictures off the TV screen — while others were fortunate enough to have been in the studio audience that night.
The reverberations felt throughout millions of households across the country that Sunday evening were immediate. For most parents watching the Beatles’ performance, it was in parts laughable, cacophonous, unseemly, or worse. For their children, however, it was nothing short of electrifying. By the time that single hour-long program began rolling its closing credits at 8:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Beatles had generated an emotional shock wave of such intensity that it instantly sent an entire generation of American teenagers into a state of sheer exhilaration.
An overstatement, perhaps? Not according to those who experienced it and who can still recall that night in vivid detail, and with that same youthful passion:
June Harvey attended the broadcast with a friend, whose father secured tickets through his work at an ad agency.
“We must have been fairly close up in line because we were ushered into the balcony, and we ended up in the first row…the balcony hung right over the stage. I was second from the end, and a photographer came in after all of us were seated, and there were a lot of screaming fans directly behind me. We were so close to the photographer that he could not get an angle on us. He leaned in and shot up over us, so all the pictures in the fan magazines were the people sitting right behind us, including two girls from Liverpool. The screaming was constant, but I remember hearing the Beatles sing, there’s no doubt about it. And we were literally hanging right over the stage so we could see them. It was a memorable experience.”
Janet Lessard watched from her home near Boston: “By the time they were on The Ed Sullivan Show, that was just — I can’t even compare it to anything right now. It was just fantastic. We were literally gathered in each other’s homes. We would sit there from six o’clock waiting for that show to come on at eight, in groups of fives and tens. We were just amazed….The tears! We would watch them and just dissolve into tears. I can’t describe it. It was something that just came over us. All of a sudden these four guys come around with their charm, their music, their witty remarks, and it just kind of hit us like a ton of bricks!”
Charles Pfeiffer watched with his family in Kansas: “On that Sunday night in February of ’64, we gathered around the black & white Zenith…and gosh, when the struck that first chord it just sent something through me. And I was a 12-or 13-year-old boy with a crew cut, and I remember I turned around and said, ‘I’m growing my hair out.’ That was the first thing I was gonna do, which I started to do. And just the minute they started to play, I thought, ‘Gosh, this is what I want to do.’ ”
Penny Wagner: “I turned into a Beatlemaniac from the minute I saw them sing ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ That was it. I couldn’t stop myself. I started screaming and carrying on, and my mother didn’t know what do with it — my grandmother thought something was wrong with me. And I’m still, to this day, an avid Beatles fan.”
Linda Cooper: “My parents were giving me so much grief, I went to my girlfriend Sharon’s house to watch it. And it’s just — you’ll probably think I’m goofy but I never was one of the girls who screamed and all that, but I would just sit there and cry! And so her father would laugh at me and handed me his handkerchief and said, ‘You’re gonna need this.’ So by the time they finished at the end of the show, all that was left of the handkerchief was the border. I ate the whole thing watching them.”
Maryanne Laffin: “I cried. I remember just sitting there crying. I didn’t know why.”
Carol Cox: “I was like two inches from the screen, screaming. I was a screamer. We had a next-door neighbor and many years later she said to me, ‘We thought somebody was being murdered over there, we could hear you screaming for the Beatles. So we always knew when they were on!’ I can’t articulate it all these years later. There was something about them. They were fresh, they were magical. I wish I could pinpoint it. I still get it now, to this day. When I see the Sullivan shows, it takes my breath away.”
Cathy McCoy-Morgan: “As a kid, I’d watch American Bandstand when I came home from school. I love music. But I was bored with what was out there. Then, I saw footage of The Beatles on the Jack Paar show. I was smitten! A couple of months later they were going to be appearing on The Ed Sullivan show! OMG The excitement was everywhere! I remember sitting on the floor in front of the TV just glued to the screen. It may have been 60 years ago, but it sure feels like yesterday! I still get goosebumps!”
Betty Taucher: “I sat with my girlfriends to watch them. We were embracing the TV and touching them and screaming, the whole nine yards. My father was laughing hysterically on the couch at us. And after it was done I remember just lying on the floor and it was like, ‘Oh my God, what was that?’ …The next day in school, that’s all anybody talked about. And all of a sudden all of the boys that had their hair slicked back on Friday — on Monday, it was all combed down. Over the weekend it changed that much.”
The next day, the Beatles took a train from New York to Washington, D.C. for their first American concert, then continued south to Miami, where they’d appear again on The Ed Sullivan Show.
And that was just the beginning.
Until next time…
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You can order my book We’re Going to See the Beatles! and read reviews at this link on my website:
My other articles related to the Beatles:
“The Man Who Filmed the Beatles” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-man-who-filmed-the-beatles-d674eed00bd6
“For the Last Time: ‘Let It Be’ Was NOT the Beatles’ Break-up Album” https://garryberman.medium.com/for-the-last-time-let-it-be-was-not-the-beatles-break-up-album-10ec71cc387c
“The Night John Lennon Died” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-night-john-lennon-died-55b215bf0c8d
You can also visit www.GarryBerman.com to read synopses and reviews of my books (including “We’re Going to See the Beatles!”), and order them via the provided links to Amazon.com.