[At the old Saturday Evening Post, the editors were the kind of old-timers who slapped their thighs when they laughed at photographs of long-haired Rock 'n Rollers. But they claimed to be journalists and if they perceived Beatlemania as some kind of strange monster, it was, after all, a monster which had swallowed England in one gulp and which was about to start chomping on America. When European-based Pete Hamill handed in a piece about the Beatles that the editors considered too superficial, they assigned me to cover the Beatles' arrival in America. That's how come I was at what some people still called Idlewild Airport when the Fab Four emerged from the plane in the February chill to their usual fanfare of teenybopper screeches.
I was part of a welcoming army of journalists who were equipped with an arsenal of poison pens and whose intentions were more or less to skewer the Beatles if at all possible. We were there to burst the Beatles' bubble if we could, to see if they were for real, to give America a good reason NOT to swallow Beatlemania (because we might choke on it), to debunk the Beatles' stardom, to find an excuse to mock them and to jeer at them and to discredit them, to discover a rationale of why these four Brits-in-need-of-a-barber should be prevented from spreading their craziness to crewcut America. We were hardened veterans. Skepticism and cynicism were our partners.
Immediately, the Beatles had us eating out of their hands. Certainly, the Beatles charmed me. It wasn't with music alone that the Beatles conquered the world. On a planet of which the axis is tipped too heavily in favor of heartache, the Beatles were F-U-N!
I had a brilliant editor named Bill Ewald at the Saturday Evening Post, but I'm afraid I wore him out. (I've got a whole WHO'S WHO of people I'm afraid I've worn out). Bill assigned me to write 3500 words or so, but longwinded me found myself so dazzled by the Beatles that I handed in a manuscript of some 10,770 words. I told you Bill Ewald was brilliant. Expertly, he whittled the piece down to about 4,000 words and, with a photo of the Beatles on the cover, that issue of the Saturday Evening Post sold more copies than any edition since Ben Franklin founded the magazine.
Now, with their Anthology, the Beatles are back at the top of the pop charts. In honor of that fact, I give you one of the many manuscripts I've written about the Beatles. Keep dialing in to THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST for more stories I remember about the Beatles. I've written many manuscripts about them. In honor of the Anthology albums, I'll start off with the original 10,770-word manuscript I wrote for the Saturday Evening Post back in 1964.]
With lackluster eyes which seem to have no interest in peering any farther than the lenses of his eyeglasses, Brian Sommerville is a balding 32-year-old Londoner whose jaw juts out like the southeast corner of England when he thinks he is about to say something important. At New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on February 7, 1964, Brian Sommerville's jaw extends beyond his ability to express himself. A thousand or more screaming teenyboppers are trying to wriggle through the spaces between one another toward the thin white nylon rope that has been stretched across the lobby of the International Arrivals Terminal. Only moments earlier, three thousand or more had been on the observation roof, where the metal railings appeared to have bent outward from the pressure of the mob as its screams drowned out the whines of the jets. The teenagers are there as the guests of New York's disc jockeys, who have invited them to take the day off from school to celebrate the occasion.
A New York Journal-American photographer is tugging at one of Sommerville's arms, shouting:
"We bought an exclusive story and we can't even get a picture of them looking at us! What did we pay you money for?"
At Sommerville's other arm, a phalanx of journalists who, like Sommerville, have just arrived from London, complains that the police won't let them into the Press Room without New York City press credentials, which, of course, they don't have. The Press Room is so crowded it can't accommodate anyone additional anyway. Meanwhile, a cop tries to eject a Capitol Records executive who is there to greet Sommerville's party but who lacks ID. Amid the crossfire of screaming and hollering, disc jockeys equipped with miniaturized tape recorders are pointing microphones in all directions. Strobes and flash bulbs aimed at the crowd light up young faces open-mouthed in ecstasy. From the back of this mob comes word that two teenage girls have fainted.
"I haven't seen press coverage like this," remarks one reporter, "since Kennedy was assassinated! Or, for that matter, since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were chasing around Rome!"
Hemmed in and harassed, Sommerville obviously doesn't know what to do or say. Suddenly, his jaw signals a pronouncement.
"This," he says in the intonations of a nation that once had become accustomed to ruling the world, "has gotten entirely out of control!"
Brian Sommerville is the press officer of a British Rock and Roll group known as the Beatles. They have just arrived in New York for the very first time.
When they emerged from the airliner to a fanfare of screeches that drowned out even the whining of the jets, they were four young men in dark Edwardian four-button suits. One appeared to be short and thick-lipped. Another was handsome and peach-fuzzed. A third seemed to have a heavy face and a hint of buck teeth. On the fourth, the remnants of adolescent pimples were noticeable on his high angular cheekbones. Their names were Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, but they were otherwise indistinguishable beneath the manes or their shaggy, windblown, moplike hair. When they were ushered into the floodlit uproar of the press room, Brian Sommerville, acting as master of ceremonies, stepped to a microphone, thrust out his jaw and addressed the reporters:
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen, will you please shut up!"
The first question from the American press was "Do you believe in lunacy?"
"Yeah," answered one of the Beatles, "it's healthy."
Another reporter asked:
"Would you please sing something?"
"No!" the Beatles chorused.
"We need money first," one of them added.
Still another reporter asked:
"Do you hope to get haircuts?"
"No," a third Beatle answered. "I got one yesterday."
Still another reporter asked:
"Do you hope to take anything home with you?"
"Yeah," the fourth Beatle replied. "Rockefeller Center."
At first, few of the reporters could remember which Beatle was which. But by the end of their two-week visit to America, each of them had become a distinct personality. Each of them, in fact, had become a star.
Ringo is the one that intellectuals like to compare to Harpo Marx. He has bright blue eyes that remind one of a child looking though a window, although he sometimes deliberately crosses them as he sits dumbly at the drums playing his corny four-four beat with all the love and pleasure that a clown can give to his work. Otherwise, he has no pretensions and doesn't care for pretensions in anyone else.
"I hate phonies," he says with the certainty of somebody who thinks he can spot one a mile away. "I can't stand them."
He is by far the most popular of the Beatles in America, evoking paroxysms of teenage shrieks by a mere turn of his head, a motion which sends his brown spaniel hair flying in a jungle dance of directions. It's as if he flips his wig and the kids flip theirs.
"RIIINGO! RIIINGO!" they call out, a nickname he acquired with the habit of wearing two rings on each hand. When people ask him why, he answers dryly:
"Because I can't fit them through my nose."
He wears different rings at different times, changing them out of the same sort of whimsy with which a man selects his cuff links.
"I like the gold ones," he says. "The fans send them to me, but make sure they're gold, I only wear gold. They send a lot of silver ones, too, but I send them back."
Then he adds, triumphantly:
"Do you know I have 2,761 rings?"
His fame has brought Ringo other treasures besides finger adornments and he seems the last among the Beatles willing to forget what it was like growing up in the grimy, rowhouse streets of Liverpool. Ringo's boyhood was spent in a section of the city they called the "Dingle," which lies in the gas works shadows near the "cast iron shore" of Liverpool. Certainly, he had the least when he was growing up.
RICHARD STARKEY AKA RINGO STARR
He was born Richard Starkey, the only son of a father who was a house painter and a mother who was a barmaid. He never finished school. He was kept away from his teachers by pleurisy and by an estimated 14 stomach operations. He also never seemed to have finished growing. Asked how tall he is, he snaps back:
"Two feet, nine inches!"
Actually, he is five foot seven.
"When I feel my head starting to swell," comments John Lennon, "I just look at Ringo and I know perfectly well we're not supermen."
Without proper schooling, Ringo worked as an electrician's apprentice and did several other unhappy odd jobs before devoting himself entirely to being a rock and roll drummer.
"When I was 16, you know," he says, "I used to walk on the road, you know, with the rest of the lot and we'd all have our drape coats on, you know, and we'd have a few laughs with the rival gangs and then I got the drums and the bloke next door and I got a job and we started playing together and another bloke and me made a bass out of an old tea chest, and this was about 1958, mind you, and we played together and then we started playing at dances and things, you know, and we took an interest in it and we stopped going out and hanging around corners every night."
Those days are still close behind him.
"A steak is a steak," he likes to say. When an American reporter asked him if he liked fish and chips, he replied:
"Yes, I like fish and chips, but I like steak and chips better."
He used to wear a beard before he joined the Beatles. He also grew his hair long on top of his head. He says one of his greatest moments was when he played before Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother at the Royal Command Performance in London last November.
"It was the first time I ever felt British," he says. "You know, you never think about royalty. But the Queen Mother, she was a nice lady."
He sits at his drums behind the other three as they perform and rarely does he sing, although that is what he would most like to do. He just doesn't have as good a voice as John, Paul and George. Although, at 23, he is the oldest of the Beatles, he is at the bottom of what social psychologists would call their pecking order. When he joined the group, the Beatles already had a record contract and the feeling among all four of them, understood but unspoken, is that Ringo was hired by the other three. When they disagree, Ringo is the last to get his way.
"You'd be nowhere," Paul might say to him in the ultimate squelch, "You'd be nowhere if it weren't for the rest of us."
The fans call Paul the handsome one, and he knows it. The others in the group call Paul "The Star." He does most of the singing and most of the wiggling, trying to swing his hips after the fashion of Elvis Presley, one of his boyhood idols. But compared to Presley, Paul's movements do seem as confined as the territorial limitations of the British Isles. He moves his head from side to side as he performs, bouncing his wide hazel eyes like two loose pinballs lighting up his smile.
Compared to the other Beatles, Paul was a whiz-kid scholastically and, unlike the other three, went through Britain's equivalent of high school mostly in the upper forms. The other three Beatles never made the upper forms.
"He always studied hard and never flunked," remembers one of Paul's boyhood friends. "He was like, you know, a goody-goody in school."
As another former classmate remembers him, he also was a "tubby little kid" who avoided girlish rejections by avoiding girls. He can afford to be much bolder now. At a cocktail party at New York's Plaza Hotel, the beautiful brunette wife of the president of Abraham & Straus, a department store chain, cornered him against the crowd of people standing behind him and, with an adoring look, said, invitingly:
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen---don't you ever need a lady?"
She ended up asking Paul what shirt size he wore.
At another cocktail party in the British Embassy in Washington, twice-divorced Lady Jeanne Campbell, publisher Lord Beaverbrook's daughter and one of Norman Mailer's wives, put her arms around Paul, gazed longingly into his eyes and said:
"Which one are you?"
"Roger," he answered.
"Roger what?" she demanded.
"Roger McClusky the Fifth!" he answered and he slithered out of her grasp.
His friends say Paul prefers women who are stars like himself. During a rehearsal for the Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show, he sat noticeably alone in a front row ogling Mitzi Gaynor in a dance rehearsal. He was watching her as if she were dancing just for him and no one else.
"Paul," says one member of the troupe, "is the only one of the boys who's had it go to his head."
When the others find Paul putting on airs and talking down to them, John immediately begins to mimic Paul.
"But they never really make a fight out of it," says another friend. "When Paul catches on that John is sending him up, Paul lays it on even thicker---you know, to show he's still one of the boys, and he and John make a joke of it."
To find out what happens next... Read Al Aronowitz's book "Bob Dylan And The Beatles, Volume One of the Best of the Blacklisted Journalist".
LISTENING TO BOB DYLAN AND THE BEATLES, PEOPLE WILL WANT THIS BOOK!
the man who introduced Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan to the Beatles and
the Beatles to marijuana, Aronowitz---acclaimed as the "Godfather of rock
journalism"---has been known to boast: "The '60s wouldn't have been
the same without me."
NEXT:COLUMN SEVENTEEN: THE BEATLES' TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO LIVERPOOL
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