Friday, June 27, 2014

Not impressed with the Beatles

This is a story about a woman who was a young reporter in Dunedin in 1964 and interviewed the Beatles.   From the photo she is holding, it appears that she is interviewing George while Nick Collins was interviewing Ringo.   This story was from the Tulsa World newspaper and was written by World Scene Writer Jerry Wofford.

The Fab Four didn't seem that fab to Mary Lehnert when she met them in New Zealand in 1964.
The Beatles had already been on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and sent America into a frenzy. Due to contractual obligations, they had to appear in Dunedin, New Zealand, where Lehnert was a young reporter assigned to cover their stop in the small city.
"We knew they were the next big thing probably, but they were not very impressive to me," said Lehnert, who now lives in Tulsa and operates the White Rose antique shop, 1344 E. 11th St., with her husband.

 And 50 years after her interview, Lehnert fondly remembers her brush with fame.

She still isn't all that impressed with the boys from Liverpool, though. Nothing personal; she just prefers classical.
In the early 1960s, Lehnert was a young woman in London who wanted to break into the world of the BBC. But without experience, she knew it would be a long struggle. So, she decided to go somewhere where she could get a job and work her way up. She found it in New Zealand.
Lehnert happened to be the reporter assigned to meet the Beatles and cover the press conference that day.
It may have been a small city on New Zealand's southern island, but the enthusiasm seen in crowds around the world was waiting for the Beatles when they got to Dunedin, too.
"We had all the screaming girls and the police barriers were out, so we knew they were a big thing, but in those days we just didn't know they were going to be such a phenomenon," Lehnert said.
She still wasn't blown away.
"I remember looking at them and thinking they look so English," Lehnert said. "They had very pale faces. They looked like they hadn't seen the sun. And they were dressed in the mod look of the '60s.
"It was the Edwardian era they were imitating with these tight jackets and drainpipe trousers and shiny, pointed shoes. This is the way they appeared in New Zealand. I thought they looked like jockeys. They looked like four little waifs to me. What's all the fuss about?"
The reporters were all shuffled into a ballroom for the interviews. John Lennon and Paul McCartney answered a few questions but left early, Lehnert said. Ringo Starr and George Harrison stayed behind to keep talking with the press.
But Lehnert was not impressed with the questions being asked by the other reporters.
"Ringo, everything he was being asked was so trite," she said. "He was giving these one-liners. He just had a tonsillectomy and someone said, 'How's your throat, Ringo?' 'Fine. How's yours?' "
Lehnert said that she would never get the answers she needed from that back-and-forth. She was there for the New Zealand Broadcasting Co., and she knew her story would go national, so she needed something more.
Harrison would be her man.
"So I inched my way around — no one stopped me in those days — and I got George because I thought of the two of them he appeared quieter, sort of introspective," Lehnert said. "I thought I would get a little bit more of a sensible kind of interview from him, but I have no idea what I asked him."
It must have been a good question and a good answer, because the story was broadcast across New Zealand.
The moment sticks with Lehnert, a blip on the history of pop culture. After New Zealand, she moved to New York to continue her journalism career but was sidetracked when she met her husband, Warner. They married and traveled the world, Warner Lehnert working in the oil industry. That brought them to Bartlesville and Tulsa, where they have lived for decades.
"We've retired and we're still in Oklahoma because we just like it," she said.
But looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, Lehnert sees the Beatles somewhat as peers. Not in their musical taste or appearance, but they were about the same age, both from England and both striking out across the world to make a name for themselves.
"In a way, you sort of looked at these young fellows coming in from England and there was a feeling that we're all doing this," Lehnert said. "We're all in this together. We were all young at the time, and we were trying to achieve our dreams."



  1. Just want to say thanks for the excellent ongoing documentation!

  2. Ok, well not everyone can be bowled over. I like classical also, very much, I actively collect classical recordings, but some classical people can be snobby about it. I think it's more telling that she ended up married to someone in the oil industry and wound up in Oklahoma. That's two strikes against her in my book! (I spent time in Oklahoma....not a fan!) (no offense to anyone from there! I love Woody Guthrie and Gene Clark, there's two Oklahomians!)

    1. Gene Clark is from Tipton, MO, not Oklahoma.