Little could anyone have anticipated when the wheels of a Pan Am jet touched down at Kennedy Airport in New York what was in store for the United States, the world and least of all, the four highly-awaited occupants on board. It was 1:00 p.m. on February 7, 1964 when Beatlemania arrived in the United States . . . and the rest is history. At the airport, more than 3,000 screaming teenagers gathered to welcome the four British “moptops”, better known as the Beatles to the United States.
Topping the to-do list for the four young Brits was an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. When tickets went on sale for the show, more than 5,000 fans applied for them; however only 750 were available.
At the time, Ed Sullivan was a staple in a large number of American homes on Sunday night. His variety show brought to the screen all type of celebrities. The one show he would probably go down in history for, however, would be broadcast on February 9, 1964 when the Beatles were officially introduced to the United States, and in some respects, the world. A press release went out about the three-show booking in mid-December. On page 23 of the December 28, 1963 issue, The New Yorker magazine contained a comment about the group. D. Lowe and Thomas Whiteside interviewed the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, for their Talk of the Town column. In that particular column, they stated, “Epstein came over here to arrange for three appearances of the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February. Mr. Epstein said that Mr. Sullivan knew a good thing when he saw it. The Beatles have broken every conceivable entertainment record in England. They are the most worshipped, the most idolized boys in the country, according to Mr. Epstein.”
It is thought Sullivan booked the group on his show after having seen the huge crowds drawn to London’s Heathrow Airport when the Beatles returned home from Sweden the prior October. Word had reached Sullivan’s ears about the group sometime back and thoughts were already moving in the direction about booking them. The event at Heathrow solidified Sullivan’s determination to have them on his show. When the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show, they stepped onto what was then one of the largest stages in the United States.
Among the 750 ticket holders in the audience were a number of children of famous individuals, as well as famous people in-the-making. These included Randi Parr, daughter of talk-show host Jack Parr; Julie and Tricia Nixon, daughters of former Vice-President and Future President Richard M. Nixon; and Davy Jones, future member of the Monkees band.
Though the Beatles were not the only performers on the show that night, they were the ones for whom that particular broadcast is remembered. Magician Fred Kaps, impressionist Frank Gorshin (future “Batman” Riddler) and Welsh singer Tessie O’Shea were also on stage that night.
Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was very instrumental in helping the Beatles acquire a few million additional fans; in addition to some less-than-enthusiastic reviews. TV critic Jack Gould from the New York Times stated, “The cynical turnover in teen-age trauma received recognition last night in the businesslike appearance of the Beatles on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’.” No doubt the Beatles were thankful for how many others felt differently. Following the show, it was learned 45.3% of all US households with televisions at the time tuned in to meet the Beatles. This represented approximately 73 million people, which was a big record for an entertainment program to realize at that time.
Two other Ed Sullivan Show appearances would follow in the wake of the first, with the second broadcast at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach on February 16th. The ratings for this second broadcast almost equaled the first in numbers. The Beatles had returned to Britain, greeted by 10,000 fans at Heathrow Airport, when the third broadcast, this one previously taped, on February 22nd.
Fifty years later, Beatles fans have bid goodbye to two of the group – John Lennon on December 8, 1980 in New York City and George Harrison on November 29, 2001 in Los Angeles, California. In every era, a handful of artists become historically significant. During the 20th century, numerous individuals have earned their place in music history; among them Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley, all of which deserve recognition. In the minds of most Baby Boomers, however, the band whose name sits on the top rung of that ladder is The Beatles.