Beatles ’64: Back in the USA

NEW YORK, N.Y.–It is pretty fab to be in New York on the exact 50th anniversary of The Beatles Ed Sullivan debut.
The “really big shew” was seen by an estimated 73.7 million that night on CBS and millions more on CBC (although how many more nobody at the public broadcaster seems to know).
CBS is marking the occasion with a two hour special Sunday: The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles. David Letterman–who does his late night talk show from the Ed Sullivan Theater–interviews Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr from the lip of the stage during the two hour salute. (CBS and City, 8 p.m. E.T.)

The Letterman folks put up a retro marquee which has the lineup from that Feb. 9, 1964 broadcast. Unlike the glass and steel original, it is a scrim with the lettering photographically printed onto the fabric.
There was a vendor outside the Late Show theatre this weekend but he was not selling Beatles wigs. Instead it was the usual NYC hats and gear.
The Late Show is actually dark next week, taking a break opposite the Olympics with new shows scheduled to go opposite the debut of Jimmy Fallon on Tonight Feb. 17.
Tessie O’Shea shared top of the bill with The Beatles that night. O’Shea, who died in 1995, was as Old School as you got, a Music Hall entertainer from Wales whose act  was largely swept aside in the wake of the British Invasion. Still, she gave it her all on that broadcast, despite the hundreds of screaming teens out front who must have wondered why their parents’ singer was on the same bill.
Georgia Brown’s name is also on the marquee. She was one of the stars of the Broadway cast of Oliver! Brown sang that night opposite a young lad named Davy Jones. In one of TV’s greatest foot notes, he would be cast two years later as one of the pre-Fab Four in a Beatles sitcom knock off–The Monkees.
“Pillsbury” on the marquee referred to the sponsor, with commercials for “Pillsbury dinner rolls” on that week’s show.

If you have a yellow pair of Beatles’ “Wing Dings,” they came from Canada

The Beatles stayed at The Plaza Hotel during that first American visit. Now mainly a condo, I happened to be in New York ten years ago when it was still a hotel and asked if anybody remained on staff from those Beatles days. I spoke with a doorman who remembered it all, like it was yesterday, the girls, the screaming, the lads themselves. Kids were sneaking up fire escapes, anything to try and get onto the floor where The Beatles were staying.
CBS had a small display of Beatles memorabilia out in the hotel lobby during last month’s TCA press tour, including Beatles sneakers. The young lady working the desk informed me that they came in various colours and that only Canada got yellow.
Last week in Scotland there was little fuss about the Beatles’ Sullivan anniversary, but you could sense a quite pride in the enduring appeal of these Northern lads.
The occasion was even marked by the pilot at the end of my WestJet flight to New York, who announced over the speaker system that “if any of you are here for the big Beatles show, you are exactly 50 years too late.”

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