Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The other performers

The other performers
By Sara Schmidt 

On February 9, 1964 the Beatles made their American television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.   That is has been well documented and discussed.    Over 700 people were in the audience and saw the performance in person and 73 million people saw it live on the televisions in their homes.     But the Beatles weren’t the only performers that evening on the Ed Sullivan show.  What about those other acts that everyone had to sit through to see the Beatles again?   Who were they are what ever became of them, I found myself wondering this week as I watched my DVD of the Complete Ed Sullivan performance. 

So I decided to find out.   The answers are a little surprising to me.   

The first performer after the Beatles sang “All my loving” “’Till there was you” and “She loves you” was a magician named Fred Kaps.   Kaps was seen doing card tricks and his famous salt shaker trick where he pours salt out of one hand.   If you watch the entire Sullivan Show, you will hear that Fred Kaps segment was previous recorded.  I imagine this was done because the salt Kaps used would have been all over the stage floor and couldn’t have been cleaned up in time for the other performers.    There are jokes about what a bad gig Kaps had and how it must have ruined his career since he had the unfortunate task of performing right after the Beatles.   And while maybe a lot of Beatle fans took a bathroom break during Kaps’ act, it didn’t seem to hurt his career any.    To this day he is considered to have been a great magician and was inducted into the magicians’ hall of fame.

Following the magic act was a performance that came straight from Broadway, Georgia Brown and company from the Tony award winning musical, Oliver.     As is well known today, the actor playing the Artful Dodger was none other than future Monkee, Davy Jones.    This performance of the songs “I’ll do Anything” and “As long as he needs me” went over well with the Beatle-fan audience.    It might have helped that Oliver was a British musical with British actors, and Beatle fans are known for loving most anything from England.    Davy Jones did not meet the Beatles that night, but he aware of them.   Jones recalls the frenzy: “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.”

The  next performer was Frank Gorshin who did a comedy routine that was about how the country would be ran if famous performers were in Washington (which is a bit funny since so many actors have turned into politicians over the years).    Gorshin did a lot of impressions, most of which do not make any sense to modern audiences.    And while there were some chuckles from the audience during Gorshin’s act, it really wasn’t the type of comedy routine that Beatle fans would enjoy.    Gorshin told Newsweek in 1999, “I was in Australia. I had been hired to play some clubs down in Sydney. Now, when I got to Australia, all I heard people talking about was the Beatles. And at that time, I didn't know what the Beatles were. This was something brand-new. When I finished playing in Sydney, I went directly to New York to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Now, I didn't know who was going to be on the show with me. And I'm up in my dressing room. I look out my window. And I see thousands of kids, and I'm wondering,  how did they know I was going to be on the show?  Subsequently, of course, I found out that the Beatles were going to be on, too.
I was notified to go downstairs and get ready to go on. Which I did. I went downstairs and stood in the wings. Somebody had just finished performing, and Sullivan was saying, "And now ladies and gentlemen... creating a sensation everywhere they go... let's really hear it for the Beatles!" Well, pandemonium broke out. It was nothing but screams. Kids jumping up and down. I had never witnessed that kind of adulation. The Beatles did their numbers, but I didn't really hear them. I heard nothing but the screams. I was consumed with the idea that they could do this to people--that they could get this kind of reaction. 

Then the Beatles finished. When Sullivan came back on the stage, the kids kept screaming--right through his introduction of me! So when I walked on, already I was getting screams. I went through all my bits, and they just kept screaming. I did a routine called "Stars Over Washington." The premise was that actors were becoming so involved with politics that I could see the day when they'd be running the government. I finished up, and those kids were still screaming.
Frank Gorshin later became known for being the Riddler on Batman.

Then Sullivan introduced someone important in the audience, Terry McDermott who had just won a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics for speed skating.   While Terry wasn’t a performer on the show, he did get a chance to meet the Beatles backstage before the program began.    Terry spoke with the Detroit News this past week to remember when he and his wife, Virginia met the Beatles. 
 “I knew they were a singing group from England, but I didn’t know much about ’em — I don’t think I’d ever heard their music,” McDermott said, laughing.
Virginia, who was two months pregnant with the couple’s first child, remembers the Beatles as much for their civility — “They were so polite and so gentlemanly,” she says — as their celebrity.
Besides speed skating, Terry McDermott was a barber back in his hometown and a staged photograph was taken of McDermott pretending to cut Paul’s hair while the others looked on in shock.

Another British performer on the bill was Tessie O’Shea.    While Tessie’s music was not the rock and roll the teenagers enjoyed, there was something about this robust, happy woman playing her banjo with all her might that was enjoyable to the audience.    Appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show along with the Beatles helped Tessie’s already growing career.   After the show, she became a sought after performer and many teenagers wanted to speak with her since she had met the Beatles.     Because of her newfound popularity, she appeared in many television shows and movies on both sides of the ocean, including the Disney film, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”

The last performance before the Beatles came back onto the Sullivan stage was the comedy duo McCall and Brill.   This newlywed team was excited about their big break on national television.    After their rehearsal, Ed Sullivan had told them to revise their act.  They were working in their dressing room when there was a knock on the door.  Brill remembers for a book about the Ed Sullivan show, “We opened it up and it was this weird looking kid with strange hair, and he said something that sounded like, ‘Give us a ko, glove.’  So he said it again and after the third time we realized he was saying, “Give us a Coke, luv” (as there was a Coke machine in their dressing room).    The boy turned out to be John Lennon and he doodled a sketch of the couple on a napkin which they threw out.

In 2004, they did an interview with the Washington Post about their performance.  “It was a nightmare,” says McCall. “We just about wanted to kill ourselves.”    They started their comedy skit about a producer looking to hire a new actress for a film.    They got very few laughs.   The team themselves say that it was “dead silence” during the skit, but in watching it you will hear quite a bit of laughter during a joke about squashing the Beatles.      The silence was devastating to the duo.   ”We were in a daze,” Brill says. “It was an out-of-body experience. I know we were onstage and I know we were doing something, but that’s it.”  When someone on the Sullivan show did a good job, Ed would motion them over and shake their hand.    Ed did not motion over to McCall and Brill after the act was finished. 

They felt defeated and discouraged and their career took a long time to recover from their performance right before the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

Finally the Beatles returned to the stage and sang two more numbers, “I saw her Standing there” and the number one hit song at the time, “I wanna hold your hand.”   

Many viewers may have turned off their television sets for the night after that.   The Beatles were finished, but Ed Sullivan had one more act, and it was a strange one.   Well and Four Fays are described as acrobats and physical comedy.    I can’t find any information about this group, maybe because their act was a bit strange.  However, the daughter of the couple was Toni Basil (choreographer and “Mickey” singer). 

So there you have it.   Despite popular belief, most of the acts that appeared on the Sullivan show alongside the Beatles went on and had great careers.

1 comment:

  1. Sara, you are just knocking it out of the park lately. (lately? how about ALWAYS!) I love how you are always finding new "angles" on the Beatles story, little corners that have seldom/never been written about.....this is great.

    I'm telling you, Sara, whenever you want to pack in the blog, you may have a good book going on here! The Selected Writings of Sara Schmidt!

    Good stuff, as usual, well up to standard!!! Thanks!!