Chapter Fourteen: Beatlemania
(The Beatles were virtually unknown in America when Sullivan booked them in the fall of 1963 for a February 1964 appearance. As Beatlemania spead across the Atlantic in those months, anticipation of their Sullivan show appearance grew into a profound hysteria. This chapter tells the story of how Sullivan came to book the band, and describes the Beatles’ Sullivan show appearances – including the resulting controversy.)
As Ed walked onstage to begin his broadcast on February 9th, 1964, little about his demeanor revealed what this night was to be. Yet surely he felt it. In retrospect this evening’s show would be a cultural capstone, a black and white snapshot that defined the era as much as any of the decade’s moments. Its video footage would be replayed endlessly, as if it were some kind of visual mantra that contained the essence of its tumultuous period. Ed’s mien, however, was hardly different than during the hundreds of Sunday nights he had walked onstage over the last 16 years.
As always, he was dressed in his trademark Dunhill suit, with a small white handkerchief jutting from the left breast pocket. His hair was slicked straight back in the same style he had worn it in since his reporter days in the early 1920s, a bit of dark hair dye the only concession to the years. The camera showed his steps to be stiff and measured. As he got to center stage, he managed a momentary smile that did little to brighten his almost cadaverous countenance.
But the studio audience’s expectant buzz was palpable. As the applause in CBS Studio 50 went on longer than usual, threatening to run away with itself, he waved his arm in a gesture of, okay kids, let’s quiet down. That afternoon at dress rehearsal he had warned the audience – largely teenage girls – to behave themselves. Otherwise, he had half-joked, he would “call in a barber.” Outside the theater at Broadway and 53rd there had been a near riot earlier that day, and an extra contingent of New York’s finest had been required to keep order.