World’s Strangest

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The Quick 10: The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Debut

As a big Beatles fan, I sure wish I was there 46 years ago when the Fab Four appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. Since we haven’t quite worked out that whole time travel thing yet, I’ll have to content myself (and you!) with trivia.

SULLIVAN beatles1. Although appearing on Sullivan was a huge “We’ve finally made it” moment for most bands, the Beatles agreed to come on the show only if their travel expenses were covered. Ed and his producers said that was fine, but only if the Beatles would make multiple appearances.
2. In addition to travel expenses, the Beatles also received $10,000, which covered both the famous debut appearance and the other two “multiple appearances” Sullivan had requested in return for paying their airfare. Adjusting for inflation, that’s about a $70,000 paycheck.
3. It’s been reported that 73 million people turned on their television sets to check out these long-haired boys who had been causing a sensation overseas. If that’s true, that was 38% of the population of the United States at the time. Talk about a ratings bonanza!

4. Remember Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall? No? That’s OK. Neither do the majority of the 73 million people who watched that night. Brill & McCall were the unfortunate act who had to follow the earth-shattering, industry-changing Beatles performance. The married sketch comedy duo pretty much bombed – their audience was rather distracted – and they later said they thought it ruined their careers. Here’s an extra bit of unrelated trivia for you: Brill and McCall are the godparents of Melissa Gilbert.

lennon5. You’ve surely heard that old legend that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically during the Beatles’ appearance on the show. Apparently the whole nation was so transfixed by the lads from Liverpool that everyone preferred to tune in instead of running around committing felonies and such. It’s a nice story, but according to Snopes, it’s not true. The rumor started when a reporter from the Washington Post snarkily remarked that while the Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere. It was meant to infer that the Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek. The Post ended up printing a tongue-in-cheek retraction on February 21, 1964:

“It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report is not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour – and all four of his hubcaps were stolen. The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set.”

6. Wasn’t it nice that Elvis kicked off the Beatles’ American “debut” (see #5 for the explanation for the quotes) with a personal telegram? Just before John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stage, Ed Sullivan announced that he had received a “very nice” telegram from the King, wishing the Fab Four “tremendous success.” Notoriously known for being jealous of the Beatles, Elvis had actually done no such thing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was responsible for the note, and only sent it because he thought it would make Elvis look good.

7. As our own David Israel pointed out in September, this was not really the Beatles’ American T.V. debut. They had appeared on NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report on November 18, 1963, in a whopping four-minute-long segment on the craze that was sweeping England.

8. Davy Jones was also on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, but not as part of the Monkees. Davy was performing with the cast of Broadway’s Oliver! Jones played the Artful Dodger (and ended up being nominated for a Tony for the role).

9. The Beatles had been gaining steam in the U.S. prior to the Sullivan show: the show was flooded with 50,000 ticket requests for the February 9 show – and it wasn’t because of the show’s other guest, Frank Gorshin (the Riddler from Batman the T.V. show). More than 49,000 people were disappointed because the studio only held 703 guests.

10. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the performance (and hearing the ear-splitting shrieks of a crowd packed full of teenage girls), you’re in for a treat:

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