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Time Capsule For Beatles Fans

09:01 AM Tuesday 9/7/10 | |

A new DVD about the Beatles' initial appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" is like cracking open a time capsule.

  • The Beatles

    Performing on the CBS "Ed Sullivan Show" in New York.
    February 9, 1964

    (AP Photo)


Almost as interesting as the band making its musical introduction to America in 1964 is the context in which it is placed. The DVD presents the programs exactly as they appeared that night - complete with hapless magicians or comedians, commercials that would shame "Mad Men" and illustrations of how the pace of television has changed.

The first night, Feb. 9, 1964, is a landmark in television. An estimated 73 million Americans tuned in, the largest ever for a TV show at the time, or three times the amount of people who watched the latest "American Idol" finale, according to the Nielsen Co.

A generation of musicians can trace their career choices to that night. One was Dennis DeYoung, former Styx lead singer, who told the Montreal Gazette that he watched it while at a high school dance.

"I looked at that and I went, `Oh, my God! What is that? And how do I apply for that job?'" he recalled. "That was it. There was never any doubt in my mind what I wanted in my life."

Film clips of the Beatles on Sullivan have been available, but never the whole event until Tuesday's release of "The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles." SOFA Entertainment, which owns the archive of Sullivan shows (a staple on CBS' Sunday night schedule from 1948 to 1971), is putting it out after getting the OK from the Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd.

Sullivan, the competitive old newspaper columnist, clearly knew the high stakes involved that night and gave the Beatles two showcases on the first show.

While the Beatles' appearance stands in memory like a thunderclap, their power seemed muted the first time they hit the stage. Their first two songs, "All My Loving" and `'Til There Was You," were both Paul McCartney showcases and the band didn't really hit its stride until the powerful "She Loves You." Even then, the cameras seemed to shortchange John Lennon in favor of McCartney.

For all the attention paid to that first night in New York, their performances on the following week's show from Miami are much better. They had repeats: "She Loves You" was played both weeks.

Cutaways to the audience show young girls who can barely stay in their seats from the excitement of it all. Older people look bored, annoyed and clueless to the generational change staring back at them.

The Beatles' cheekiness, enthusiasm and talent was bracing.

"It's like they were in color and everybody else was in black and white," said Andrew Solt, CEO of SOFA Entertainment.

Watching the magician with the hard luck of following the Beatles to the stage that first night is painful. Fred Kaps' show biz career never really recovered from that moment, Solt said. It seemed his routine would never end.

The sense that television moves much more quickly today is one of the most interesting finds in the DVD time capsule. Mitzi Gaynor, who was once the princess of musical comedy, gave a sweaty performance from Miami, has enough time for costume changes. Comic Frank Gorshin's routine with movie star impersonations was interminable.

The comic team of McCall & Brill, with a punch line about an "ugly girl," would not have made it past today's taste police.

One other performance in that first week came from the cast of the Broadway show "Oliver," including a young Davy Jones, whose life was changed in the wake of the Beatles' performance in a way he couldn't have imagined. A few years later, he was cast as one of the Monkees, a prefab rock band that was a Beatles knockoff.

Sullivan "didn't spend too much money on talent that week because he knew he had the audience," Solt said.

Producers plainly believed people had an attention span then, certainly much more so than now. Perhaps the knowledge that viewers had to get out of their seats to turn the channel - and then had a couple of choices, not north of 100 other networks - was on their mind.

The same is true of the ads. Can you imagine a commercial break with only one commercial?

Maybe it was what they were hawking, but the ads are stunningly unimaginative. What were the Madison Avenue pitch men of the day thinking? Then again, even an image of waves lapping up on a tropical shore couldn't save an instant pineapple upside down cake that was stocked in a supermarket freezer. Cold water detergent All was called "revolutionary."

  • The Beatles

    Performing on the CBS "Ed Sullivan Show" in New York.
    February 9, 1964

    (AP Photo)


The DVD also contains Sullivan shows from Feb. 23, 1964 and Sept. 12, 1965 when the Beatles also performed. Twenty songs in all are performed, including three versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The DVD also has a short interview Sullivan did with the Beatles in London in May 1964 that hasn't been seen since the day it aired.


  1. syr9595 wrote:

    05:59 PM, Sep 07, 2010

    The story about how The Beatles landed on the Sullivan show has been told many times.  The band was not booked on the show upon landing at JFK, it happened that Ed Sullivan was at Heathrow the same day the band returned from a Sweedish tour in 1963.  Upon noticing the mania surrounding the group's return,  He got in touch with Brian Epstein while still in England and booked the band, sight unseen, for three appearances in February 1964.  The whole first trip to the U.S. was solely for the purpose of appearing on American TV and bookendind them with concerts in New York and Washington D.C.

    Yes, the DVDs of all four shows have been out for years.  I also got mine in 2002.  I don't think the quality of the older releases is bad.  You have to remember, these shows were kinnescoped rather than videotaped, so quality can be poor and transfers never seem to improve them.

  2. GrahamBanks wrote:

    02:37 PM, Sep 07, 2010

    "Sullivan didn't spend too much money on talent that week because he knew he had the audience," Solt said."

    I'm sure there was a conversation between Brian Epstein and the show as well, regarding who else would be booked.  Especially on the first night, there was no way he would allow any top talent  to appear with the Beatles, in order to make the contrast as dramatic as possible.

    As I recall, these Sullivan shows weren't  even booked until the Beatles arrived at JFK, and Ed Sullivan saw the huge crowds and demanded their first appearance be on his show.  Even then they had the power to dictate their terms.  What band, then or now, could demand 20 spots on a national show over the course of 18 months?


  3. Studebaker Hawk wrote:

    02:12 PM, Sep 07, 2010

    yea,whats the difference to the other ones?did they actually clean up the other performances.Only the Beatles songs are cleaned up like when they show the audience you see loads of tape defect all over the place.

  4. ceejay960 wrote:

    12:37 PM, Sep 07, 2010

    I saw a 60 Minutes segment back in the 90's where they interviewed some of the other performers that first night asking them what it was like to be on the same show as The Beatles. They all pretty much agreed it was the worst night of their lives, they knew they were bombing and everybody just wanted The Beatles. Even to THEMSELVES their performances seemed to take forever. They couldn't wait for it to be over so they could just get off the stage.

  5. wawijr wrote:

    11:20 AM, Sep 07, 2010

    there have been DVDs out already. i got it in 2003. the complete shows.

    check amazon. whats the difference, i wonder.

Artists Mentioned in this article