WATCHING THE BEATLES ON
The Ed Sullivan Show
FEBRUARY 9, 1964
By Steve Ludwig
"I'm not watching those girls on this TV!"
That was what my father told my brother Bill and me on Sunday afternoon, February 9, 1964.
"Those girls" were the long-haired, unmanly-looking Beatles. And in a few hours, live on TV at 8 PM, this brand-new singing group from England would on the Number One variety show in America, The Ed Sullivan Show.
But my problem was that we couldn't watch the show on the "good" black-and-white TV in the living room (even though the show was in black-and-white anyway), like we did as a family every Sunday night; Dad had seen pictures of the Beatles on Bill's Meet the Beatles album:
I remember when my brother Bill bought the album. It was released on January 20, 1964, and although I can't remember for sure, I know Bill bought it either on its release date or a few days after.
The back cover even told us about the three-weeks-in-a-row upcoming Beatles' appearances on Ed Sullivan's show...
And I remember thinking how cool the Beatles looked on the back cover photo: the haircuts, the matching suits, the neat Cuban-heeled "Beatle boots," and the way George had his hand on Ringo's shoulder; these guys were pals.
But my dad was adamant; no Beatles on the good TV! I have the feeling there were other dads who felt the same way about these guys. And anyhow, as my dad proclaimed, "They're wearin' wigs anyway!"
Of course, today, at age 86, my dad's hair is longer than those February 9th Beatles; and he loves the Beatles.
But not on this night in 1964.
Two days before in school, on Friday, all that my fifth-grade classmates were talking about was the Beatles being on Ed Sullivan.
So on Sunday, during Disney's Wonderful World of Color (which we watched in black-and-white, of course, on the good TV), my mom, my Uncle Ron (who was living with us at the time), my just-under-two-year-old brother Tommy (holding his bottle by the nipple between his front teeth) came upstairs to join my brother Bill and me. We had left Disney a few minutes early to get upstairs in time to set up the crappy, little black-and-white TV we had. We positioned it in such a way that we would get the best possible reception.
(I have no idea what my dad watched for that hour, but I do know we all watched Bonanza and then Candid Camera back downstairs on the living room TV after Ed Sullivan.)
We gathered around the upstairs TV.
Ed was introduced to the audience, and out he came. He told us how, in the past, the show has had Sammy Davis & Ella Fitzgerald and the little Italian mouse, Topo Gigio, and tonight was another big night. My mom had read in the Sunday newspaper that afternoon that the Beatles would be on first; we were ready.
But not so fast... Before the Beatles, a couple 30-second commercials:
Oh, come on! We want the Beatles! First we had to watch an Aero Shave moisture test followed by Griffin Shoe wax being spread on glass, and being told how much better it was than that other leading brand.
OK, back to the show...
After a brief intro about "these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves the Beatles..." Ed announced, "The Beatles!"
The first image we saw was not of the group who would forever change the face of music, as well as the face of the world; it was of those crazy screaming girls in the audience, who were almost as much of the performance as the Fab Four themselves:
"Listen to those girls..." my mom said as her voice trailed off. I had a pretty hip mom in those days. She would buy albums by Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams and Herb Alpert and play them all day long in the house. I owe as much to her for my love of music as I do to my older brother Bill, who bought all the Beatles (as well as others) albums.
So to give you an idea of when we first actually saw the Beatles on that Sunday night, I paused my DVD of The Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles at the precise moment the cameras faded out from the delirious audience to the Beatles on stage, as Paul McCartney counted in All My Loving...
The "arrows set" was a simple one, but looking back years later, I've come to appreciate its symbolism: All signs point to the Beatles. They are, at this moment, the center of the entertainment universe...
Mom, Uncle Ron, Bill, and I were mesmerized; my baby brother Tommy was probably lying on the floor drinking out of his "botty."
During their second song, Till There Was You, the Beatles' names were flashed under their images. After all, at the time, they were still pretty much unknown to anyone over the age of eighteen! The writing under John seems to be what many who watched that first night remember:
Yup, John was the married Beatle (although years later, fans have noticed it was Ringo whom, during his closeup, can be seen mouthing the words, "Hi Maureen," to the sweetheart he'd marry the following year.)
Speaking of Ringo's closeup, I got a kick out of it that night (because I definitely remember it live), especially when George followed the overhead camera as it panned to Ringo on his drum riser:
After Till There Was You, they performed their most well-known song at the time, She Loves You.
After the final, "Yeah, yeah, yeah...YEAH!!!" of She Loves You, they gave their soon-to-become-signature Beatle bow:
Ed promised us they'd be back "...in the second half of our shew," and until then we had to sit through magician Fred Kaps, comedians Frank Gorshin and McCall & Brill, British singer Tessie O'Shea (Ed piled on the British acts for this show), and the cast of the Broadway musical Oliver!
Things were cosmic that night, because playing the part of the Artful Dodger in the Oliver! cast was future Monkee Davy Jones!
The Artful Dodger would years later be challenging the "Cute Beatle" for lead cuteness:
There are only two performers I remember being on the show that night besides the Beatles: the cast of Oliver!, whose soundtrack album my mom played all the time, and Frank Gorshin. I remember Gorshin doing an over-the-top impression of tough-guy Broderick Crawford. Years later, when the full Sullivan shows became available on videotape, it was if I were seeing all the other performers on that show that night for the first time. (There's NO WAY I remember acrobats Wells and the Four Fays, who closed the show after the Beatles' final number...)
I don't remember for certain, but I'll bet it's because we were all talking about the Beatles' first half appearance, just waiting for their second-half set, while the other guests were on.
During this second set, the Fabs performed I Saw Her Standing There ("One, two three, FOUR!!!") and their big hit at the moment, I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Then they took their final bows, put their instruments down (as Ringo jumped off of his riser), and walked over to Ed:
As the girls screamed, the Boys smiled and waved before they left the stage until next week's show:
My mom, Uncle Ron, brother Bill, me, and (with an occasional glance at the TV from the floor) my brother Tom, were only five of the 73,700,000 (that's 73 MILLION) who watched that night. It was the largest television audience up until that time.
At one point during the Fab performance, my Uncle Ron noticed the LUDWIG Beatle drum head. As my name is Steve Ludwig, you can imagine the delight of all of us Ludwigs as Uncle Ron pointed at the screen and said, "Hey! 'Ludwig!'"
Today, I proudly hang my replica LUDWIG Beatles drum head on a wall in my "Beatles Room" at home:
The next day in school, all of us were talking about the Beatles the night before. I remember the girls trying to decide which Beatle was the most handsome. I distinctly recall my classmate Patty saying that George was "manly handsome." I had a little crush on Patty, and what she said made me feel jealous (or as jealous as a fifth-grade boy can be...).
All week long my classmates and I talked about the Beatles' appearance on the following Sunday's Ed Sullivan Show. By the way, by that second appearance, even my dad gave in to watch. He kept shaking his head and saying, "Jesus Christ!" during the Beatles' set.
Then they were to make their third and final (until again the next year) appearance on the February 23 edition of Ed's show.
Here's something I only learned a few years ago about that February 23rd appearance: It was actually taped the afternoon of their first appearance on
February 9, in front of a different audience and shown on tape on the 23rd's live show. Yup! So technically, the Beatles' first performance on the Ed Sullivan stage was the afternoon of February 9, 1964; the evening was their first live appearance on American television.
So just for the record, here's a screenshot from their February 23rd TV appearance, taped on the afternoon of February 9, 1964:
Something else that we Beatles fans hadn't known at the time was that poor George Harrison had missed the morning rehearsal (Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press secretary, stood in George's spot on stage for camera-angle setups), because he had tonsillitis and was running a fever. By the afternoon's taping and the live evening performance, George somehow managed to perform, still running a fever. Way to go, Georgie!
And, oh yeah (yeah yeah)... Way to go, Ed!! Thanks for bringing us The Beatles!!
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