It was a cold, winter Sunday night, February 9, 1964, 8 pm. My family and I were staked out around the living room television set waiting for the Man with the Really Big Shooo – the Master of the most extraordinary ceremonies seen live on television – Mr. Ed Sullivan – to start his weekly variety show. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were about to witness both an historic cultural and television event that would change American pop culture – and men’s hairstyles – for years to come. It would also be a night that would change my young girl’s life as I knew it. For this was the night that four musicians from Liverpool, England would be properly introduced to America on the Ed Sullivan Show. John, Paul, George and Ringo – 4 of the cutest guys ever with unfashionably long, yet shiny clean, dark, luxurious hair, otherwise known as The Beatles – would make their first appearance on American television.
Fresh out of my Sunday night bath, ready for bed wearing my pajamas, bathrobe and slippers, I sat on my parents candy-striped carpet perched about 1 foot in front of the television screen. My teenage brothers kept yelling at me to move back so they could see. I would oblige them for a few moments but I’d keep inching back to my former position. I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to see the objects of my young heart’s affection as close up as possible. Surely live television would trump the photos from the back of their music albums and 16 Magazine.
For the past week, I, along with my two fellow love-struck Beatle-fan friends, Barbara and Patti, counted the days, and now it was down to seconds, until that curtain would go up. Soon Mr. Ed Sullivan would walk out and The Show of Shows would begin. To see The Beatles live, singing, moving, playing their iconic, melodic music, and shaking those famous mops of hair was the moment my friends and I had been waiting weeks for. I almost didn’t want the show to start as then it would also have to end.
Even though I had been a Beatles fan since back in September 1963 when all the radios were starting to play their music, I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to feel when they appeared before me live. I sensed that it would even surpass the sense of elation and awe that I and my friends felt when we heard their music.
It was now a few moments after 8 pm and the curtain on The Ed Sullivan Show had risen. Mr. Sullivan had addressed the audience like he always did and teased that tonight’s show had something very special in store for us. At the end of his introduction, he said, “Ladies and Gentleman, The Beatles, let’s bring them on.” The high-pitched shrieks that came up from the audience obviously surprised Mr. Sullivan – his eyes widening in both disbelief and amusement. And then…there they were…. right in front of me. In an instant, I knew why all those girls in the audience would scream and cry while watching The Beatles sing. It was the only lady-like way to release all that pent up teenage-girl crush energy before you went utterly berserk, or launched yourself through the roof, with whatever that high-voltage electrical charge running through your veins was.
I could never decide who I liked better, Ringo or John, but Ringo got the lead somewhat by default. On that black and white set, the cameraman’s close up on John was amazing – so close it seemed as if you could reach out and touch him. You could actually see the freckles on his face. John seemed the witty brain of the pack and very handsome in an “older” man kind of way, with that chiseled face and knowing, deep brown eyes. Paul and George were more boyish in their good looks with a sense of wide-eyed innocence about them. But John already had a wife and son, Cynthia and Julian Lennon, at the time The Beatles came to America so my interest in John, as a future love interest, receded as the ‘impossible dream’ Beatle for me.
So, even though I couldn’t see him as well as John, I honed in on Ringo, watching him play the drums, now and then flashing that goofy-cute smile and shaking his hair out of his eyes. I just stared at the screen in unblinking wonder. I think that was the stillest I had sat all my young life. Even though he was the “old man” of the group at 25, Ringo was adoringly cute with those big sad, down-slanting blue eyes, that ridiculously large Liverpudlian nose, and that shaggy dog hair. Ringo was married too but his wife, Maureen Starkey, seemed not to be around very much. I bet my friends that she wasn’t a real threat. Sure enough, Ringo and Maureen got divorced not long after the Beatles popularity started skyrocketing around the world.
Of course, my friends Barbara and Patti already had dibs on Paul and George and best friends in those days never competed with each other in our wildest, most romantic tween-girl fantasies. We spent many sleepless sleepovers creating intricate romantic tales of which Beatle we would take up with on the day we would meet them, someday in the future when we were older.
The Beatles played 5 songs that night, All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, and came back in the second half with I Saw Her Standing There and closed with I Wanna Hold Your Hand. My favorite was I Saw Her Standing There. It had just the right amount of Chuck Berry-ish rock’n’roll twanging guitar backing up the lyrics of a common teenage angst – hoping and waiting for your crush to walk across the room and ask you to dance. Later that year, in September 1964, I would get to see The Beatles live at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, with my brother David, and my cousin Peggy. They seemed like stick figures on the far-away stage but the fervor they ignited in that arena was unmistakable Beatles.
Twenty-two years later, in 1986, when my mother was very ill and not long for this world, I thanked her for giving me my first Beatles album and the tickets to see them live in concert that year. We reminisced about watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night. She confided that, as we all watched the show, she and my father had had tears in their eyes. They watched their little girl completely smitten and mesmerized by these 4 young guys who had stolen the hearts of every girl – young and not-so-young – in the country, maybe the entire world. It was then they realized, she told me, that they were witnessing their daughter taking her first, uncertain step on the road to becoming a woman.
And just 3 years later, as a teenager, I would be at a summer dance and I Saw Her Standing There would be the song my future mate would walk across the room to ask me to dance to. So, I actually did get to fall in love with The Beatles…it just was with Robert, not Ringo, or John. Yet, today, some 50 years later, all 4 of them still remain in my heart.