Fans’ View of Sullivan Show
By Debbie Gendler
It was mid 1963 when I first heard the Beatles. Family friends had returned form a spring trip to England with the lp “Please please me” as a gift for me, since what else can you bring a 13 year old?
I fell in love with the group immediately and proceeded to fire off a letter to their record company about how wonderful they were. I loved not only their long hair, but also the music, which was such a relief from the already boring sounds of Bobby Rydell and Lesley Gore. It wasn’t until November 1963 that I received a response from their English fan club. They notified me that plans were underway for the Beatles to visit the U.S. the next February. Well, I got so excited that I wrote back a letter to the club that same day requesting all the details of the trip. Since I wrote directly to the fan club this time, the response time for the return letter was only about a month and I was then informed about the scheduled “Ed Sullivan Show” appearances. This was around Christmas and with the help of my parents, I phoned CBS in New York about obtaining tickets for the show. All CBS could suggest was for me to write to their ticket office stating the date I wished to attend the show and if tickets were available, they would be mailed out.
I was getting nervous waiting for the tickets since there wasn’t much time left, but finally the last week of January two tickets arrived for the live Sunday evening program.
At last the weekend was here. I excitedly watched all the news reports of the Beatles arrival at Idlewild Airport (I don’t think it had been renamed Kennedy Airport yet). Saturday morning, my best friend and I boarded a bus in New Jersey which took us to New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and then we continued to my grandmother’s apartment, which wasn’t too far from the Plaza Hotel. Before we barely said “hello,” we were off to our vigil outside the Plaza. It was freezing outside with gusty winds, but just the thought that The Beatles were merely yards away was enough to warm our hearts.
The fans outside were frantic and the screaming never-ending, especially when anyone within the hotel would get near a window, no matter what floor the silhouette appeared. Rumors rippled throughout the crowd that The Beatles were staying on the 20th floor, no the 17th floor, then the 9th floor. We couldn’t get any correct information. Then gossip began to spread about how and when the Beatles were leaving the hotel for the Sullivan rehearsals, but none of us seemed able to break the code. It was tiring, the stories endless, but it was fun.
Every once in a while a female (you could count on one hand the number of males there) would charge out from behind police barricades which surrounded the middle fountain area and try to cross the street heading for the hotel’s front steps and revolving doors, but that always proved futile. By now we were exhausted and our voices hoarse, so we decided to return to my grandmother’s apartment.
Sunday arrived and we chose not to vigil outside the hotel, but to spend our time getting ready for the show. Our tickets for the live telecast said that the doors closed 45 minutes before show time, but that was no problem since we arrived at Studio 50 by 5pm.
It was almost impossible to get near the studio with the hordes of girls blocking the streets. Fans who had been inside for rehearsals and the afternoon taping were screaming to the other fans who were there just to be there. We made arrangement to meet my grandmother and parents at a designated spot after the show and we were off. There seemed to be hundreds of policemen surrounding the studio so we felt fairly safe. New York in 1964 wasn’t quite as dangerous as it is today.
With tickets clenched firmly in our hands, the CBS usher had us line up outside the theater, though it was pretty upsetting to see other kids being escorted into the theater without getting in line. Finally, we were led into the studio and directed up to the balcony. Surprisingly, the seats were good after getting over our initial disappointment in being placed up in the balcony.
The noise level within the studio was unbelievable. At one point, the soundman came center stage to quite us down because he couldn’t get proper sound levels in the control room.
|Photo from the rehearsal the previous day|
Screams for Paul, “Ringo, I Love You,” “George we hope your sore throat is better,” John, John,” it didn’t’ stop and grew even wore as Ed Sullivan walked out to quiet us down. “Yes, please be quiet, you promised,” Sullivan would repeat again and again. Yet now looking back, he didn’t want to completely stifle the screams because it was an integral part of the Beatles phenomenon.
The show was finally beginning. The crew took their positions, the orchestra ready to go in their seats. And the show began. It was impossible sitting there through the opening act. During the commercial break, Sullivan begged us to behave. And then…The Beatles.
It was unbelievable to see them right before my eyes. They were so cute! At the end of the first set (All my Loving, Till there was you, She Loves you), we thought it was all over, but then Ed said, “they’ll be back.” We went crazy. One teenage girl even slipped down several steps in the balcony with the CBS usher catching her just in time. Ed made us promise not to scream throughout the other performers’ acts, but it was hard to sit through Tessie O’Shea and Georgia Brown. And who even cared about a word from Pillsbury with the Beatles just behind the curtain?
The excitement when the group walked onto the stage this second time was even greater than the first. This time they sang only two number, I saw her standing there and I wanna hold your hand. For the second set I barely remember seeing them because I think I was in some sort of a daze. I remember George especially looking up towards the balcony. The songs went by so quickly that it was all over just moments after it began. As the Beatles exited the stage, they all waved to us several times and nodded to us up in the balcony since we were the real crazies in contrast to the more sedate fans sitting in the orchestra.
And of course we were all jealous of Randy Paar (daughter of Jack Paar)—how come the show was partially dedicated to her?
The crowds outside Studio 50 practically attacked us as we managed to push our way out. Each car that pulled away from the Broadway side of the theater was followed by a group of fans believing The Beatles were inside. The stage side entrance was too logical a place for the group to leave from. To this day I cannot imagine how The Beatles left the studio that night. Unfortunately, we were not able to hang around anymore because it was already 9:30 Sunday night, and yes, there was school the next day. But the look of the Beatles glancing up at us in the balcony and waving and nodding will remain in my thoughts forever.