Sixty years ago last week a political-oriented, “hard news” photographer with the UK’s Dailey Express was upset after being reassigned to cover The Beatles in Paris, but eventually ended up traveling with them to America and became an inside witness to ‘Beatmemania‘ — highlighted by an Ed Sullivan performance:
The photographer, Harry Benson, recalled that momentous episode in an interesting, kind of heartfelt piece at Vanity Fair (from last Wednesday, and behind a paywall, I’m afraid) and made an aging boomer smile — that first American tour by The Beatles is a most-vital memory, one which shifted cultural life, for both the world and for me as a skinny, pimple-faced ninth grader.
Although I hadn’t really heard of Benson, he took some now-iconic, historically-heavy pix of the lads, in a hotel-suite pillow fight, running along a Miami, Fla., beach, even Benson himself pictured with the boys, all photos of great humor and fun, many of those pix included in the VF piece..
John, Paul, George, and Ringo were indeed not only talented but also nice guys despite their quickly-rising popularity all across the entire planet. Benson notes: ‘They even kept their hotel rooms neat. Before they went out, they’d smooth out the beds. They didn’t want to be known as untidy, leaving towels or liquor bottles strewn about. They discussed that. They certainly were the first and last rock group to do this; it would soon become a badge of honor for other bands to trash their room.‘
Benson’s further observations:
I began to understand how the band interacted. As I saw it, Paul was the leader. He seemed the most sophisticated, most business-minded, thinking about their image. He was upbeat and encouraging. John was a leader in other ways on other days. He was the conscience of the group, certainly. Creatively, you sensed John and Paul were in charge, insisting, “This is what we do.” Together, they had the last word.
John was a thoroughly decent guy. He was the most sensitive of the four, never wanting to insult anyone. At one of the New York dinners, someone was singing the national anthem. And a member of the party made a sarcastic remark about the singer’s delivery. John scolded him, “Be quiet.” He didn’t want this stranger to be associated with the Beatles—and the Beatles, by association, to be seen as disrespectful, especially over the national anthem.
George was very serious and thoughtful. He was secretly impatient, I’d say, with all the bowing and scraping. But he was always courteous—to the point where, if the band would rush past a group of fans, he’d go back and apologize for how they got caught up in the moment. One night, I went with George to Coney Island, just the two of us. George was sort of homesick. I was alone too. He wanted to see a part of America that was different. But Coney Island? It was February, eight at night, with only one or two places open. It was drab and disappointing. We might as well have been in Bournemouth.
Ringo was accommodating, funny, even-keeled. He was part of the formula that made them a success. And he actually became an anchor for the band, onstage and off. Whenever there was tension, Ringo brought composure.
Go read the whole piece if you can, well worth the time (Vanity Fair is worth the subscription); it’s an intimate glance at the naive, creative, and talented launch of a social/cultural phenomenon chopped down to just four brilliant, way-young guys (and, too, a way-young manager, Brian Epstein, ‘“a gentleman,”‘ who would die three years later from a drug overdose at the tender old-age of 32), plus one photographer, who seemed to rapidly understand: ‘That night, the band was playing in a music hall outside Paris. Just before they went onstage, I realized I needed another lens. When I went to the car to get it, I heard the first few bars of “All My Loving.” And it clicked for me, even before I’d seen them perform. Their sound was new. I knew right then: I was on the right story. I knew they were going straight to the top.‘
And context to the beach, another Sullivan appearance, this one from Miami:
And snips from a Sullivan playlist:
They did indeed make an impression.
And a nice, enthusiastic recap of The Beatles first visit to America via this 2014 clip from the WSJ:
History can be disarming, or not, yet once again here were…
(Illustration out front: The Beatles, circa 1965, and found here).