Ruby did not want to share her story with anyone because she did not want to exploit her friendship with the Beatles. However, in 1984, as part of the 20th anniversary celebration, Ruby wrote her memories for free for "The Write Thing" fanzine. As far as I can tell, this is the only time that Ruby wrote down her stories. And unfortunately, the print in the fanzine was very small and it made it difficult to read (at least it was for me and my friend).
I am pretty sure that Ruby passed away in 2003, and if she had never taken the time to write her story for "The Write Thing" in 1984, then her story would have gone to the grave. This is a wonderful reminder that if YOU have a Beatles story---even if you personally think it is insignificant, you need to write it down---type it up---video record it---anything! You don't have to send it to me (although I would gladly post it)...but just have it has a document for future generations.
This is an EXTREMELY long story (it was 16 pages typed on Word), and is basically a small book. But I feel like it is very important to post. I think Ruby would like the current generation of fans to read about her experiences.
On the Road with the Beatles
By Ruby Hickman
(The Write Thing Issue #42 February 1984)
On a cold, blustery night, a little short of midnight August 20, 1964, I met all four of the Beatles at one time. They were sitting in semi-darkness in the circular lounge at the very rear of the plane at the San Francisco airport. They had just arrived from London and completed the first performance of their 1964 tour of the U.S. and Canada. As an executive of the airline that was chartered to fly them throughout the tour, I had just flown in from Fort Worth. I planned on spending only the first few days with them then let another executive take over. The Beatles won me over so totally that I not only stayed with them for the entire ’64 tour, accompanied them again for the ’65 tour, and on top of that, actually stood on the aircraft steps, alone, facing an out of control mob of thousands---ready to protect the Beatles with my life if need be.
Just turned forty, I was certainly not the typical Beatle fan. About the only thing I even knew about them was that my 15 year old daughter, Linda, played their records too loud. The tour contract was arranged by our New York manager. Busy with other duties, I did not give the tour any thought. We flew entertainment and other types of celebrities all the time. As director of public relations and executive assistant to the president of the airline, trade publications called me “the highest woman airline executive in the world.” I dealt with so many top level business and government leaders, I wasn’t easily impressed. A few show business people (never those at the top) had left many of us cold with demands attempting to prove their importance we felt. Then word came the Beatles, or their representative, had requested “an executive of the airline to accompany them the entire tour of over a month.”
Though I was to learn in a hurry, we had no earthly idea as to “why” at that point. When the airline president asked if I would consider going for a couple of days or so (just to make srue things go okay, then turn it over to someone else and fly home) I jokingly complained that I would rather fly with a group of single men my own age but I agreed to start the tour. The day before my departure I bought an English newspaper and nearly fainted! Splashed across the entire front page were photos and stories of the Beatles; the crowds they drew, the security needed, their fame (better known throughout the world then the President of the U.S. or the Queen of England), their popularity and the mass hysteria that accompanied their every move. I wondered what lay ahead.
Our 92 passenger jet Electra waited at the San Francisco airport. Transferring from my flight to our plane, via an airport vehicle inside the airport, realization came fast. Police and security people rushed around frantically, most running. A sea of teenagers, jammed and packed against a tall strong fence, stretched as far as the eye could see. A knot of guards blocked the steps to our plane. Without the uniformed crew members with me, I doubt I could have boarded the plane myself. It seemed as though hysteria ruled.
Suddenly a roar arose. Screams, squeals, sirens, loudspeakers and a rush of activity filled the night. Motorcycles, then a limousine, screeched to a halt near the plane. Running figures bounded up the steps, down the long aisle to the rear of the huge aircraft. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. Then I knew. We had the Beatles on board!
Taking my arm, our New York City manager said, “Ruby it’s time you met the Beatles.” I followed him to the rear of the plane. I was a 5’2” 90 pound woman, I wondered what to expect. All four Beatles jumped to their feet. This gesture of politeness, from “the world’s most famous personalities” was the beginning of their disarming me. I was impressed. Four pairs of eyes studied me as we were introduced. Then we began talking – or trying to. Between my Texas drawl and their Liverpool accents, even though we were all speaking English, it was almost as though we spoke two different languages. We were together almost a week before we understood each other easily.
In those first few moments, John Lennon gave me the nickname all four were to use from then on, It was “Ruby, baby” from the pop song of those days.
Though the Beatles had the English reserve, tending to stay rather quietly to themselves the first few days, they seemed relaxed with me from the start. I had two sons near their age, so I was relaxed with them too. I took my work very seriously, but not myself. Neither did the Beatles and we quickly developed an easy banter. Even the language problem helped break the ice. I hadn’t been conscious of how often I used the term “you all” before The Beatles soon showed me. They would listen intently to every word I said, then repeat it, drawling out the words with exaggeration and inserting lots of “you all’s.” I couldn’t help laughing. I was having them repeat everything they said for several days, until I understood them, and they were kidding me. But good-naturedly. My foremost impression of them was of their naturalness Unlike other entertainers I’d met, The Beatles did not seem the least bit impressed with their fame. It was their “niceness,” politeness, sense of humor and naturalness that won me over. Then we became like “war buddies” as we battled every sort of problem imaginable.
Our first flight was form San Francisco to Las Vegas. I hadn’t been concerned about hotel rooms but Vegas changed that! In every single city of the tour, calls would come in such numbers that hotel switchboards would be instantly overloaded. It was impossible to call in or out. In Vegas, I stayed at a different hotel. I couldn’t call the Beatles and they couldn’t call me. From then on, with one exception, I stayed at the same hotel, usually on the same floor. This was the only way we were able to communicate in person. For numerous reasons, “communication” was needed. I soon leavened, too, why “an executive of the airline” was needed.
On the 92-passenger plane, we usually carried from 40 to 50 people. The group ranged from Malcolm Evans, Neil Aspinal, Derek Taylor and Brian Epstein to a writer from England, a photographer or two and from 20 to 30 entertainers who were the supporting or lead-in acts. Ira Sidelle, from their New York agency, was along. Airline regulations requires a passenger manifest for each flight and the list was constantly changing. Supporting acts would change, Brian Epstein would leave for a few days, a writer or photographer would make a single trip. On regular flights, there were times, people and equipment that had to be on all copies of the manifest. No “Beatle” flight was ordinary and the manifests were just one of my smaller problems.
“No aircraft carrying Beatles is going to land at this airport” headlined an article in LIFE magazine, picked up by numerous other publications. The statement was made by the manager of the Burbank, California airport, on which our airline had an office. We weren’t scheduled to land there, and didn’t, but we had trouble landing at numerous airports on which we were scheduled. With concerts, hotels, limousines, security, and everything else arranged for various cities, we would literally be circling the airport while the tower refused us landing permission. With the thousands of fans always inundating airport buildings and all available areas, harried officials had never before faced such problems. The first such refusal shook up me and the crew members. Via radio we spoke with the airline president. From then on I was prepared. Each time such an occasion arose—frequently—I passed my scribbled notes to the captain to be intoned to the tower. “Civil Air Regulation, section such and such states—no airport built I full or in part with Federal funds can deny any aircraft etc etc.” Then they would finally let us land.
Only twice did I choose an alternate airport. Hurricane Dora was in the process of rearranging Jacksonville, Florida as we prepared to fly there from Canada. The Montreal airport manager had summoned me to his office on another problem. An airline contracted months before to handle our gate and ground arrangements in Montreal flatly refused to handle our departure after their taste of Beatlemania with our arrival. Neither the contract, pleas, nor finally the threat of a lawsuit would budge them. “Life is too short,” they stated, and they didn’t want their facilities demolished by thousands of fans.
Entering or leaving another country with the Beatles flights was a major undertaking. Requiring stacks of paperwork, the cooperation needed was awesome. The timing was critical. Virtually always we left immediately after a performance. Police escorts, limousines, street barricades, baggage and instrument trucks, buses for supporting acts, the aircraft fueled, catered and ready, crew members packed and waiting at the airport, security people by the hundreds, and then when departing another country there were customs and immigration officials. Hotels, airports, security, performances, etc. awaited at our next destination. There was neither time nor room for the system to break down—but it was falling apart in that Montreal airport office.
Several hours and many dozens of phone calls later, the ground handling, customs and immigration problems were squared away. We could leave on time. Exhausted, I relaxed and listened to the weather reports. Jacksonville, with it’s hurricane in progress was out. Alone, I had to choose another destination. Un unsuspecting city without prior arrangements for hotel, security, etc. Numbly, I stared at a map of the United States. Where could I find shelter and safety for The Beatles?
Another criteria entered the picture. It had to be an international airport with customs and immigration officials to receive us. During the long afternoon I asked the flight captain to join me. His presence was comforting but still had to make the decision. Finally I chose Key West and, wearily, headed for our plane.
The Beatles, when departing right after a performance, would arrive at the airport an hour or more before the rest of the entourage. Without pausing, unless for television or photographs on the steps, they always quickly sought the haven of the huge plane. Inside they dashed for the restrooms, removed the stage make up and changed to more comfortable clothes. Then with a drink or juice, there was usually at least an hour or so wait for the buses and luggage and instrument trucks, followed by another wait for these to be loaded. The routine seldom varied except for the few times we stayed over after a performance. From the first, the circular lounge and nearby seats in the back of the plane was “Beatle territory” though unofficially. Loaded briefcase in hand, I was always nearby, within a few rows. The rest were scattered throughout the plane but we all did a lot of visiting back and forth.
In Jacksonville, the Beatles were scheduled for a two day respite before their performance. They were looking forward to a deep sea outing. On the night of the hurricane, the plane was a hub of activity. I explained the problem to Ira Sidelle, the travel agent with us, and to others responsible for various arrangements. They dashed for phones. At some point I explained the situation to the Beatles. Someone suggested we fly to the Bahamas. Without explaining all the hours of turmoil preceding the decision or the conditions that had to be met, I answered firmly (maybe even a little shortly), “No, I’m not taking you in and out of another country right now. You’re going to Key West.” And the matter was settled.
Perhaps they could see my exhaustion. Or the Bahamas was just a fleeting thought. It wasn’t mentioned again. They were immediately laughing, joking, talking and into the spirit of adventure. And I loved them.
This was well past my original “couples of days” and I was still with them and would not have left them for anything! I had learned to sleep one hour at a time, with my clothes on, including my high-heeled shoes. I was exhausted by every day and night brought some new type of problem needing my attention. I was more familiar with the routines and what to expect than any other executive would be. If there was EVER a tour that needed “an executive of the airline” along, it was The Beatles tours. They appreciated my staying with them too and even worried at times that I would leave and turn it all over to someone else.
For security reasons, we flew with as much secrecy as possible. Our arrival and departure ties were never given out by anyone connected with the airline or the Beatles. This probably helped some, but not totally. For instance, on the long flight from Montreal to Key West, in spite of the hurricane, the captain filed a flight plan for Jacksonville. He didn’t change it until we had flown over half the distance. But airline frequencies can be monitored by radio and radio DJs all over the country kept track of us in this manner. Once Key West was mentioned, it was broadcast immediately. We arrived there in the wee hours of the morning with a large crowd gathered and fans even on top of the small terminal building.
Key West turned out to be the safest and most relaxing city we visited. The city put a curfew of something like 8pm on teenagers so we relaxed in peace and quiet. The hotel had a small nightclub that our group took over the following evening. With a piano and various instruments, the group put on an impromptu show for ourselves. There was dancing, and a lot of laughing, joking and kidding. Outside of the Beatles’ visit with Elvis Presley and my spiriting them away to the airline ranch, Key West offered the only rest and respite from the grueling tour the Beatles had.
Often the Beatles told me that long flights were the best part of the tour. The flights were, in reality, the only time the Beatles could relax and feel safe – 30,000 feet in the air. A graph of the flights show how we zigzagged back and forth across the nation and into Canada and British Columbia. There were no long hotel stays and for all the time they were in hotel rooms, The Beatles were virtual prisoners. They could not leave their rooms. On board the plane, they ate, drank, visited up and down the aisle and played poker with supporting cast members. They amazed me with their knowledge of the States, wince they had had no opportunity to see any of the country, and with questions regarding the plane and any number of other subjects. They were extremely well-read and I realized they must spend a lot of time reading and studying during all those long hours shut up in rooms. As young as they all were in 1964, from 20 to 24, it was obvious that both John and Paul were geniuses. With different personalities, so were George and Ringo.
By then John had already published a small book of poetry. He spent a lot of time writing on the plane, and amazed me with the method he used. While relaxing, John always wore a sports jacket with patch pockets on both sides. In the left coat pocket he kept loads of tiny squares of blank paper. Lost in deep thought, he would take one of these, scribble a few words, and then place it in his right coat pocket. A writer myself, and around other writers all my life, I’d never seen another person write in this manner. But I suppose John adopted it for the circumstances. I never asked him, but I’m sure that once in a hotel room, he put the tiny squared in order and copied down the song or poem he was working on.
Though we had asked, no one could tell us what sort of food The Beatles liked. The only information we received as “juice and cornflakes.” A small truck load of those were put aboard, then eventually thrown off. They drank orange juice, occasionally, and they mentioned eating cornflakes in hotels, but they didn’t eat it on the flights. The stewardesses were responsible for mixing drinks and for ordering and serving the meals. Not long after the tour began, though, I became concerned because the Beatles weren’t eating as well as I thought they should. I questioned them about what they lied to eat back home in England, then took over ordering the catering myself. Our American food was too spicy and too different in lots of ways. Whenever possible, I visited catering companies, checked everything they had and managed to get lamb, roast beef, potatoes, and similar foods, watching happily as the Beatles began eating better. They told me the only time they ate was on board the plane. .
The hotels where we stayed shamelessly took advantage of our being there. Menus had the regular price just crossed through by pen, with new prices written in by hand, double or triple the original cost. This was true of drinks, food, room service and their restaurants. It was true of their room prices too. Rooms that had been $40 rose to $100 or even $200. Even so, every room was sold out way in advance, though we never publicized where we were staying. The hotels did. At least two or more even sold the rooms long reserved for our group, which could have lead to all sorts of problems, even security threats to the Beatles.There was a lot of hate and jealousy among young men in those days. The Beatles had a great many male fans, but girls outnumbered them astronomically. Outside the crush and frenzy of the crowds, always numbering in the thousands, and out of control for the most part, I never felt the girl themselves ever meant to harm the Beatles. In Dallas, a girl managed to pull out a handful of Ringo’s hair causing him pain. Except for the girls’ unpredictability, the crush of the crowds and their penchant for grabbing for souvenirs, worship was the dominant emotion displayed by the girls. For some of the boys, or young men, it was something else.
Mingling with the crowds of girls, they posed threats in every city. Ambulances, armored trucks and every sort of subterfuge had to be used to transport the Beatles to and from their performances. In Houston in 1965, with my heart in my throat and sick at my stomach with fear, I watched an out of control mob made up for boys and men in their twenties, throw huge rocks, bottles and shoes at the Beatles. And it was male voiced that phoned in the bomb threats.
The first of these came a few hours before we were to leave Seattle. An airport executive called, asking if I would take a cab and come immediately to the airport. He didn’t mention the problem on the phone but his voice was somber and the request unusual. In his office, he explained, and then the two of us had to decide what to do. All such threats are taken with utmost seriousness. Luckily, the plane that flew us in had to depart immediately afterward. Another plane and crew was picking us up for the flight to Vancouver. In the meantime, the plane was busily flying forest rangers and firefighters to a raging forest fire some distance away. They would deposit a load of men, then leave immediately to pick up another load. The plane wasn’t sitting around an airport where someone could tamper with it. Only airline operating and myself knew this or which plane would come after us. After discussing the situation for some time, the security men and I felt that part was safe. We took all sorts of precautions with the rest. Every item of luggage was checked carefully, and each person was carefully checked. Then rather than use a terminal near the main airport, the group was put on buses and sent out to the center of the airfield. With all the other air traffic stopped, our plane landed just long enough to pick up and load the luggage.
While working with the security men that day, I received some chilling information. “Why on earth would anyone want to hurt the Beatles?” I asked. “Because there are people out there so lacking in identity that they would give anything to kill one or all of the Beatles just to get their name in the paper” the security chief answered. Horror stricken, his words made an indelible impression. From that moment on, the crowds seemed must more menacing.
There were other bomb threats; other threats of various kinds. I was so protective of them that I didn’t always tell the Beatles. I wanted them to be as relaxed and happy as possible. But I told others in charge, and I worked closely with all the security people. Within the first few days of the tour, before the threats even began, I issued an order that our planes be kept under guard at all times. Either police or Pinkerton men were engaged well in advance of our arrival, were always waiting when we landed and did not leave until we were airborne. This cost the airline money, but I didn’t care. At first, it was to keep souvenir hunters from stripping the plane, later it was from concern for the Beatles. Even with the guards, the silver belly of the huge jets was always covered with messages written in lipstick, “I love Ringo” “I love Paul” “I love George” “I love John.”
In those early morning hours, when I first learned of John’s death, I had trouble believing it was so in spite of those words, “There are people in this world so lacking in identity…” Back in 1964. He was so alive! I could still see him grinning, dancing around, his face upturned when he answered, “yeah yeah yeah” with a smile to some question I’d asked him. A thousand memories came crowding back and I thought of a statement I’d read: “The greatest monuments of all are those we build in the hearts of others.”
In the hours and days that followed, in spite of the fact I had an unlisted phone number and thus an unlisted address, reporters of all kinds called or knocked on my door. Just as with writing this, I really don’t know what I could add – but I talked with them. By way of persuasion, some reporters told me that I would have to have known the Beatles better than anyone else in the States. I’m not sure this is so, but I played a small part in their lives for a time in ’64 and ’65 and they became a part of my heart and of my life form then on. A part of my interests, concern, my thoughts, my conversation, my reading material, my memories, my delight, my pride in them and even my identification. Only because they were the type of people they were, I still remember my feelings of gratitude for all the many tributes given John. I’m grateful his genius was and is recognized.
It’s hard to put into words my exact feelings for the Beatles. Thought Ringo was to do something for me so kind I shall never forget him, nor cease feeling grateful, somehow it was Paul and I who developed the closest rapport. Each was a separate and distinct personality, with special qualities and characteristics all his own. In ’64 and ’65, they worked the played well together, and I never heard a cross word between them. But Paul seemed a little different. Perhaps it was my strong maternal instinct. Perhaps it was the fact Paul lost his mother early. I don’t really know. Thought all five of us developed a close, relaxed, easy relationship, Paul and I were, somehow, closer.
In 1976 Paul and his Wings group played in Fort Worth. The concert was wonderful; the music beautiful; the lighting spectacular and it was so very great to see Paul again. But it was from a seat some distance away. Thought I was in line early, no amount of money could buy a closer seat. A local reporter planned to meet me, take me back to see Paul if he could, but we never found each other in the crowd. When it was over, along with many others, I tried to tell the guards Paul and I were old friends knowing it was to no avail. I still remember the disappointment I felt as I slowly left the auditorium. The airline had been sold and moved away. It was no longer listed in Fort Worth. Paul had no way of knowing where I was. It was a frustrating experience.
At first the Beatles were concerned that I might leave. During their two day visit with Elvis in Los Angeles, I left the tour to fly home and check on things. The airline needed to know where I was at all times. While having my hair done, I was called to the plane. All adither, my secretary said, “the Beatles are on the line. They want to make sure you’re going to come back.” Laughing I told her, “Yes, I’ll leave this afternoon and be back tonight.” I never asked if it was the Beatles calling or someone calling for them. Before I could leave that day, Malcolm Evans called the president of the airline requesting that they please not assign anyone else but me to the tour. He had to assure him that I would be returning.
|Mal and Ruby during one of the flights|
Going through the American Airline terminal for that short trip home, I saw a sight my eyes refused to believe. Walking down a long carpeted corridor, I encountered area of human feces the entire way. While I had seen and heard a lot, this was something new – but I had not been in areas after the fans before. Stepping gingerly, I finally made it to the plane, still unable to believe what I‘d seen. On my return trip, just to find where our plane was hidden at the vast airport, I had to go to the airport manager’s office. I asked him what on earth happened? He told me that since no one knew where we were coming in, the thousands upon thousands of fans from the L.A. area had packed every terminal building on the airport. That they had been there day and night for 24 hours or so, jammed closely together. That he supposed each was so reluctant to leave their spot for fear of missing The Beatles, that they just relieved themselves wherever they were. He ended the explanation by lamenting. “We’ve hired hundreds of extra cleaning people to work around the clock, but they still can’t get the terminals clean.”
I just laughed. While the situation rather surprised and amazed me, it didn’t turn me off so far as the fans were concerned. Reporters, then and still, refer to that period as “The Beatles Invasion.” They were cornering psychologist and psychiatrists asking their opinion of what was going on. Though Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley each drew crowds, the nation had never before (nor since) seen a phenomenon like Beatlemania. Though I had little time to read newspapers (we were too caught up in our fight for survival), I read such articles and laughed. Each expert had a different opinion.
The things that really made me angry were stories in newspapers and magazines that were total fabrication. One well known national publication ran a story on what went on in the Beatle plane. Not only was the material completely out of someone’s weird imagination, but the writer claimed to have been along on the flights. With keeping the manifest and with knowing everyone on board, no such person had been closer than a runway to the Beatles flights. I was amazed that a reputable publication would print it. Another had The Beatles sleeping with so many of the fans there would have been no time for travel or performances. Knowing the hotel arrangements, the security, etc. I knew this wasn’t so. It was impossible, in fact. But I also knew a man working for The Beatles was attempting to make as many of the girls as he could. Soon after the tour ended, he was gone. Sensationalism sells papers. If it’s missing, some make it up.
Anyone taking advantage of The Beatles or their friendship made me angry. And during those tours, I felt too many were using The Beatles in various ways. To me, ethics forbid taking advantage of anyone! Taking advantage of a friendship is even worse. Though I’ve never known a single shred of sensationalism about the Beatles, only good things, it has been impossible for me to even write about them previously. I’m writing this for free! Though publishing friends have asked me to write the story of my trips with the Beatles, I would not do it. I never wanted The Beatles to think I was taking advantage of our association. I was so happy to learn there were still Beatle fan clubs and fanzines, I offered to write this portion after almost 20 years.
Besides upping their prices and sometimes selling our rooms to the highest bidder, a few hotels took advantage of the fans. While the Beatles were performing and as I started to leave, I saw dozens of men ripping up the carpet from an entire hotel lobby to be cut in tiny pieces and sold as carpet the Beatles walked on. A small amount of the money could have gone to charity, I supposed, but the majority didn’t.
Since they seldom returned to the hotels, the Beatles developed a habit I laughed about. It began soon after the tour started then became a ritual. They would bound on board the plane then, very solemnly line up in front of me and drop their hotel keys in my hand. If any of us laughed as this went on, it would have been different. The fun, to me, was the somber solemnity in which it was carried out since the Beatles were very seldom solemn about anything.
They smoked Dunhills and other English cigarettes and I smoked American ones. Soon after the tour began, we began swapping them. One or the other would hold out their pack and take one of mine. I smoked so many of their Dunhills, I completely switched and smoked those expensive imported cigarettes for years. The Beatles did not drink a lot, except for one particular flight. Ringo was learning to drink bourbon, but John, Paul and George drank scotch mixed with 7-up. Once Ringo asked me, “How do men in Texas drink bourbon?” When I answered that most drank it straight without a mixer, he wanted to learn. I went to the galley and poured half a glass of bourbon. Ringo drank it down, like taking medicine. His eyes were shut and his face squinched for some time.
The one flight on which the Beatles drank more was from New York to Indianapolis. At some point, on the West Coast, a fortune teller had predicted The Beatles would be killed on this flight. As per custom, they finished their performance and were at the airport an hour or more before the rest of the group showed up. As always, we had a large stock of 7-up and scotch, but it didn’t last an hour. Shortly was sending the ground crew after more cases and when these began going down, I even had them robbing cold drink machines. But the Beatles never got drunk. I suppose it was a sobering thought and I even joined them in a few. The entire flight was different than any other. Instead of laughing, joking and moving up and down the aisles, all four Beatles sat quietly in seats, forward in the lounge. When we touched down safely at Indianapolis, then streaked down the runway, The Beatles and all the rest broke into loud cheers and clapping. So much for fortune tellers.
Brian Epstein surprised me. Somehow I expected him to either “manage” or play a greater role but if he did or said anything, it wasn’t evident. Early in the tour, I sat down beside him to ask if he had any wishes or instructions regarding the tour. He listened, looked surprised that I would even ask. Shrugging, Brian answers, “The Beatles can do anything they want to do.” He sometimes disappeared from the tour for a day or so, then would abruptly join us again. Occasionally he brought a young, pretty lady (different ones) with him, introducing them as “his secretary.” He spent a lot of time just watching the Beatles and their antics, similar to the way a parent watched children, with a mixture of pride and amusement. Beautifully dressed, very quiet, very reserved, very English. I liked Brian though I never knew him well. I even talked the Beatles into buying the first and only gift they had ever given Brian at that point.
Though the Beatles kept up the “Ruby Baby”, only occasionally calling me “Ruby,” reporters quickly dubbed me as “Mama Beatle” for some reason – a title they used all over the States and into Canada. Almost 20 years later, reporters and other still use that phrase. By then, I’d been named in several “Who’s who” publications; was the only woman among 500 to 600 men fighting the regional airport battle from which DFW Airport evolved, and had accomplished many “firsts” both in business and aviation. This was all forgotten in view of my association with The Beatles. I began the tour to make sure things ran smoothly for the airline’s sake. I stayed for the Beatles sake. Not really only enough to be their mother, the title didn’t bother me.
As the tour began nearing the final days, Malcolm, Ira and others began worrying about security for the Beatles in New York City. The original itinerary called for them to spend a couple of days there, give a benefit performance and then fly home to England. The larger the city, the larger the crowds, the great the security problems. If the others worried about The Beatles safety, I worried also. Thinking about the problem for a day or so, I finally asked the Beatles if they would like to visit a secluded ranch so far from civilization they could relax. This would cut the stay in New York. I told them all about the 13,000 acre airline ranch in Southeast Missouri. They agreed with enthusiasm.
I then called the airline president to set up the arrangements. I gave him all the details as to what The Beatles liked to eat and drink. There wasn’t room enough for the entire large group. They would remain in Dallas while we flew The Beatles, Brian, Neil and a few others to the ranch.
On the way to Dallas, Paul came and sat with me, asking if I would do him a favor. It was some take home shopping in Dallas. None of the four were ever able to leave their rooms while in the States for shopping or anything else the rest of us took for granted. Of course I agreed. Paul made a list of people he wanted gifts for. It included his girlfriend Jane Asher, her sister, her mother and father and his father. He knew what he wanted for Jane and her sister (perfume), cigars and pecans for his father, but he had no idea for her mother and father. I asked him to tell me something about them, which he did. He said Jane’s father, a physician in England, was something of a character as was her mother. When we finished, I went back to the lounge to ask John, George and Ringo if they wanted me to do some shopping for them also.
“Yeah yeah yeah” was the chorus that greeted my question. Making notes I asked “What and for whom?” “Buy a present for me mother, me father and me girlfriend.” Were the answers I received from George and Ringo. John’s answer differed only in that he was the only one married so his request included “me wife.” As with Paul, I tried to get some information from each one to help with the selection. Though each one stared into space for a few moments trying to come up with answers, they just weren’t forthcoming. “John, does your wife like frilly lingerie?” I asked. His face lit up quickly when he answered, “Get that!” I questioned further. “OK, John, but does Cynthia like it?” I laughed. “I don’t know,” he answered, “but I do, so get that.” His grin was so big, from ear to ear, that I can still see his face. I knew I was going to buy the sheerest, frilliest nightgown the store had!
I’d also learned that Brian’s 30th birthday was going to be on our first day at the ranch and I’d made arrangements for a big birthday cake and dinner for him. I asked The Beatles if they wanted to buy a birthday present for Brian. “What for?” they almost chorused. “He has money. He can buy whatever he wants,” one answered. “We’ve never bought him a present” another said. So I stood there and delivered a lecture on the reasons for gift giving. “Ok,” they answered, probably to shut me up. Then the search began for their money.
Since they had no way to spend it, other than poker games, they didn’t really have any reason to carry American money. After searching all their pockets, they handed me the crumpled bills in a stack. I counted them, then handed the money back. All together the four had less than $400. I knew it wouldn’t’ go anywhere for the number on my list. “I’ll just pay for it or charge it to my account.” I told them.
Soon we were landing in Dallas, around 2am, with some different problems – as always. The usual crowd, along with the news media, awaited our arrival. As they often did, one by one the Beatles borrowed the hairbrush I kept in my briefcase, quickly brushing their hair before running to the door. For photographers, they assumed the familiar pose on the steps of the plane and a girl presented them with black western hats. Then they dashed for the waiting limos, surrounded by motorcycle police, for the drive to the hotel. Reporters told me the police had even practiced the procedure and the plan was to take the Beatles on an inner road circle the airport, away from the packed crowd. Instead, however, they forgot the plans and instructions, heading out the nearest gate absolutely thronged with fans. Luckily the girls gave way and the motorcade moved through without injury.
Around 3am, I rented a car, checked in at the hotel then drove to Fort Worth for an hour’s sleep and to pick up my daughter. A Fort Worth reporter promised to take her home after the performance, since I was leaving for the ranch. Leaving Linda in my room, I collected Neil Aspinal and Derek Taylor to help with the shopping and set off for Neiman’s.
|Ruby, Neil and Derek shop for gifts to bring back home|
The Dallas Times Herald had a photographer follow us around the Dallas store. Soon the customers stopped buying and were following us around also. It was though everything stopped at the usually busy store as we went from department to department. I bought the perfume, robes for fathers, flimsy lingerie for Cynthia, an intricately beaded sweater for Ringos’ girl, Baccarat glass and an elaborate French phone for Brian, then took a variety of gifts for the boys to choose from with the rest to be returned to the store. A young public relations woman from the store had joined us and planned to return to the hotel with us, then bring back the extra items. For Jane Asher’s mother I found four carved musicians with instruments. I took special delight in the gift I found for her father, especially since Paul had said he was something of a character. It was an extra-long special curled mountain goat horn with silver feet and a lighter fitted in the large end. With a strong sense of the ridiculous, ‘I could see the dignified physician taking the 18” horn from his desk and approaching visitors to light their cigars.
Back at the hotel, the crowd that always gathered to spend the day and night had grown to enormous proportions. In the “push” that always happened when they caught a glimpse of anyone at the window, a young girl was shoved through the plate glass of the hotel front. Horribly cut, her face streaming with blood, a photographer captured the picture before an ambulance took her away. The photo made front page all over the U.S. and foreign countries. Over the following years the girl visited me numerous times. In spite of many plastic surgeries, her face remained terribly disfigured. But she wore the scar almost like a badge of courage—and remained a staunch Beatle fan throughout the years that I saw or heard from her. The Beatles sent her flowers and a get-well note. Though, thankfully, we did not have many injuries, I often learned of ill or dying girls who were strong fans and would tell the Beatles. Anytime I had a name and address, they would send flowers and a note.
It was like Christmas when we arrived with all the gifts. I went immediately to The Beatles rooms and they opened the boxes, laughing and exclaiming over the items. Only one or two things were dispatched back to the store. While this was going on, I went after my daughter to introduce her to the Beatles.
She had been a great fan of their once, but the Beatles taking her mother for over a month while she was home with two older brothers and a housekeeper had taken some of the edge off her feelings. I had seen so many thousands of screaming, hysterical fans, I honestly did not know what to expect from my own daughter. Outside the door I told her, “don’t you dare scream or faint!” She answered me with an accusing, “Mother!”
Inside the Beatles room, I introduced my daughter, Linda. Solemnly and politely, each Beatle shook hands with her. Conversation had just begun when the hotel manager knocked on the door. With him was one of the hotel’s show girls who, in heels, seemed about seven feet tall. Dressed in an extremely skimpy costume, she carried a large glittery cardboard key to the city which she presented to The Beatles. Taking advantage of the break, I took Linda and left laughing. All four Beatles were standing there looking the girl up and down. But John stood immediately in front of her, where her less than covered breasts were exactly even with his eyes. The thing that broke me up was that John stood there, about two inches away, with his eyes deliberately crossed!
My plans were to attend the usual press conference before the performance, the performance itself, then rush to the airport to leave for the ranch (though the concerts were sold out within hours, there was always a ticket for me if I could attend). But I never made that one and just barely made the plane! I was in the lobby early and the doorman was attempting to get a cab for me. With the thousands of teenagers still outside the hotel, even though The Beatles had gone, all the cab drivers refused to come to the hotel.
The doorman begged and pleaded. We offered large special tips. Some agreed to come but were never able to make it through the crowd. Thinking The Beatles were still inside; the crowd would not give an inch. So I waited. It grew dark and hours passed with the doorman still trying. Finally, as a cab managed to make it to the door, the doorman asked if I would mind sharing it with “this lady who’s already late to give a concert.” Turning, I was introduced to Pearl Baily, who was watching the crowd in disbelief. Of course I agreed.
Pearl and I climbed into the cab and I told the driver to take her first to her waiting concert audience, then to just take me to the airport. A few inches at a time, the driver eventually made it out of the hotel compound. Pearl began asking me questions about The Beatles “Is it true that the girls throw jelly beans on the stage while they’re performing?” she asked. “Yes, by the millions. Everywhere,” I answered. We talked animatedly about many things. Shortly before the cab reached her destination, Pearl said, “You know, the Beatles can have their girls and their jelly beans. I’ll take a man with a steak anytime!” As she left the cab, she turned to me and in her rich voice said softly, but firmly, “God bless you.”
With so many friends among the Dallas/Fort Worth news media, I had especially wanted to make the Dallas press conference. Later, from clippings and friends, I learned something that happened there. It was still less than a year since President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. I suppose this was on The Beatles’ mind. Also, though they had asked me hundreds of questions about Fort Worth, they probably didn’t realize how close together the two cities, at least among the media. When a reporter asked them, “what do you think of Ruby?,” they hesitated a moment, starting to say something about the assassination. The reporter interrupted with, “No, I mean Ruby Hickman.” “Oh, she’s great,” one answered, followed by each of the others, one at a time, “she’s great.”
Since we would be flying to the ranch as it passed midnight, I arranged for a birthday and champagne to be aboard the plane. Airborne, at the stroke of 12, I had the stewardess light the candles and present the cake to Brian while we all sang “Happy Birthday.” The Beatles also gave him their gifts. I’ve never seen a man so touched in my life as Brian appeared to be. Considering he wasn’t to live much longer, I’ve always been glad for that birthday celebration. I’m not so sure about the visit to the ranch, except that it offered more security than New York.
We flew the jet to Walnut Springs, Arkansas (sic) then transferred to a small Aero Commander, since the jet couldn’t land at the ranch. There was only room enough for Brian, the Beatles, and I with Reed Pigman, the airline president, flying the plane. About five others came by car. It was around 3am when we arrived. Virginia, Reed’s wife, met us at the door. I’m afraid the mood of the entire visit was set as Reed led the way into the house. “I’ll sleep with Ruby,” he joked. “No you won’t! You’ll sleep with me!” Virginia answered angrily. Reed made the introductions then Virginia said, “I’ll show you your rooms,” turning around and heading for the stairs. Brian and the Beatles followed her, then the Beatles came right back down to spend the night sitting up listening to country and western music from Nashville in the den.
I was assigned Reed’s office with a couch, next to the den, and turned in immediately. The next morning, when I sleepily joined The Beatles, Ringo said, Ruby, you don’t’ snore. You just cough all night.” To my dismay, everyone was responsible for their own breakfast. John and George and Ringo chose cold cereal. We hunted it up and they sat at the table while Paul and I stayed in the kitchen to fix a “five minute egg.” We would let the water boil, put the egg in, and time it precisely. But when we opened the egg it wasn’t right. I stopped laughing when I saw Virginia approaching the other three with a whole stack of papers, just stating, “Sign this.”
Since the Beatles had never ridden horseback, Reed had four gentle horses saddled and waiting for them after breakfast. Still without a wink of sleep, the Beatles bounded upstairs to change clothes. They came back down in jeans, the black hats they received in Dallas and wide, hand-tooled western belts with their names on the back. Elvis Presley had given those to them. The belts were complete with double holsters and long-barreled guns that looked real but weren’t. Ringo also had donned a bright red bullfighter style shirt with wide puffed sleeves. Laughing I told them they looked more like outlaws than cowboys.
Ringo began insisting that I go with them. Before I could answer, Virginia spoke up saying, “Ruby has to stay here and help with the dishes.” Sparks shot from Ringo’s eyes as he looked at Virginia. I began insisting that they go ahead and I would join them later Under Reed’s instructions, all four mounted the horses and ambled away as though they had ridden horseback all their lives.
After watching them leave, I went to my room to bathe and dress. Virginia had hired several women to help with the housework and cooking. In spite of the way it sounds, Virginia and I had been friends for many years and I understood her, though I could not believe she would act that way around the Beatles. In spite of wealth, she suffered from the worst inferiority complex I’ve ever known. Putting people down was her attempt at elevating her self-esteem.
The Beatles, Reed, and a photographer stayed out on the ranch most of the day and I joined them in the afternoon. The Beatles were sitting atop a wooden fence, seemingly enjoying themselves. Some of the photographs made that afternoon appeared in LIFE magazine. Later, they went swimming in the pool. With their hair wet and slicked back, they looked very different. I kidded them about getting my camera, which I never learned how to work, and Paul said, “no, no no” until I assured him I wouldn’t. Virginia and the women were working away on the birthday dinner for Brian, using the suggestions I’d given her.
Finally, sitting in the den listening to music with drinks, one of the Beatles said, ‘We told Reed how hard you’ve been working and how great we think you are.” Another chimed in with similar remarks. It was almost the end of the tour. The following morning we’d leave for New York, where we were to fly them to the airport only. After their benefit performance, they would be leaving on another airline for England. A couple of days earlier in Baltimore, I had become quite ill. The hotel had called in their physician. He said I was suffering from both the flu and total exhaustion. He did his best to put me in the hospital, but I refused, tell him I only had a couple of days to go. Leaving me several kinds of medicine, he insisted I should go into the hospital as soon as I reached home.
Part of it had to be my illness, part of it the exhaustion and part of it my finally beginning to let down form all the strain of the preceding 32 days. But the unexpected words and thoughtfulness of the Beatles probably triggered it. I began crying and could not stop. I wasn’t crying over a single thing but tears kept rolling down my face. Reed called us to dinner but I couldn’t go and Ringo would not leave me. I tried to get him to go, but he refused. I sat on a sofa, trying my best to stop the tears. Ringo sat beside me, his arm across my shoulders. Everyone once in a while he would pat my shoulders and say, “Ruby, don’t ever let anything hurt you that much.” It was impossible to explain to him that nothing was hurting me, that the tears were merely a release of all the tension.
Several times someone would come in attempting to get the two of us in for dinner, but neither of us ever attended the birthday celebration I’d planned. It is impossible to explain how much I appreciated Ringo’s actions. I loved him and I loved each of The Beatles. When the tears finally were gone, Ringo and I went into the kitchen, made sliced turkey sandwiches and sat on stools, laughing, talking and eating. I could never tell Ringo how grateful he was or the tears would have begun again.
That evening and the next morning, Virginia still dogged The Beatles for autographs. Wordlessly they signed them. I hated that and knew they did too. I still don’t have their autographs and would never ask for them. I wanted a photograph with them but Virginia had bugged them so much I was reluctant to ask anyone but Paul. Rushing, because we were leaving, we ran outside. The photographer sat me in a chair and Paul leaned down with his hand on my back. He was poking me in the back, saying “Smile, Ruby.” And I was saying “Shut up, Paul,” but trying to keep my face straight. Then the five of us were standing in a group, alone and waiting to board the Aero Commander. “She’s a bitch,” John spoke up first. “Yes she is,” Ringo agreed . “She wouldn’t even let us eat cornflakes,” George added. “Does he really like her?” Paul asked. I listened to them, then answered, “No, he goes with one of the stewardesses. They’re already talking about divorce.” “Oh.” And smiles lit up all four faces. Then we ran for the plane.
At Walnut Springs (sic) the jet, with others aboard, picked us up. Shortly we were airborne for New York. This flight was different from the rest. The Beatles and every one of us were quieter and more subdued than on the previous flights. Different members of the supporting group came and talked to me, asking me questions, thanking me. Malcolm, Neil and others did the same. Malcolm and I always kidded a lot and we did on that trip. The Beatles and I did not spend as much time together. But I was more occupied than usual. Then we were letting down for New York. A helicopter, to pick up the Beatles, waited on the runway. Our plane came to a stop and the doors were opened.
I walked to the front of the plane opposite the doors. Ordinarily the Beatles were always the first ones off the plane. Today they were still poking around in the back. Gradually the various managers and supporting cast began leaving the plane. Many paused to hug or kiss me. Finally, only The Beatles and I were left. I glanced back and they were coming down the aisle, John in the lead. The time was so emotional for me, though I did not cry. I cannot remember the things each said to me. Each one paused, took my hand, and said nice things plus thanking me. Last, Paul stood in front of me.
For a moment we stood there looking at each other, neither saying a word. Taking my hand, he put a small box in it and closed my fingers around it. “I can’t say goodbye,” he said, then turned and ran out the door. I never said a word to him.
I stood there, watching the helicopter rise and take off. I wondered whether or not I would ever see them again and felt, at the time, that I wouldn’t. It was hard to even realize the long tour was actually over. At that moment, I wasn’t sure I even wanted it to be over.
|The bracelet the Beatles gave Ruby was sold by her estate in a Julien's auction in 2006|
When the helicopter was just a speck in the sky, I turned and walked back to the center of the plane, sinking into a seat by the window. There was still commotion around the plane and I watched the buses and trucks. I didn’t know where the crew members were but I was alone on the plane. Eventually, I became aware of the box in my hand. It had a gold-covered top. I opened it. Nestled on cotton was an intricate gold bracelet. A small plate was engraved. “With Thanks, the Beatles.” There was more engraving inside. I remember my lecture to them about gift giving.
For a long time, I sat there looking at it. Knowing they could not get out to shop, I wondered when and how on earth they had gotten it. Then the weariness descended and I leaned back. The tears came again.