The Beatles, the Ed Sullivan Theater, and Memories of New York City

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It was fifty years ago this month that the Beatles made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show live on CBS television from New York City.  I have many thoughts about that event: the band, the venue, and New York City.

The performance took place on the stage of what is now called the Ed Sullivan Theater.  The theater is now the home of Late Night with David Letterman. Most of America saw it from their family living rooms.

I was less than six weeks away from my seventh birthday the night the Beatles appeared on the Sullivan Show.  My memory of watching it has faded somewhat over the years.  I recall my Dad remarking how funny the girls in the audience appeared with their screaming.  I think my Mom commented on the long hair worn by Ringo, George, John, and Paul.  

I wasn’t moved in a musical sense by the Beatles on that night in February 1964.  It would take a couple more years before another foursome, the Monkees, came onto the scene.  I owe my introduction to rock-and-roll to Davy, Mickey, Peter, and Mike. 

As a kid growing up in the sixties and early seventies, it was hard to fathom how a city just six hours away from my hometown in upstate New York was the entertainment center of the world.  I got my first taste of the Big Apple while in high school when my cousin Ed took me to a Yankee game. 

We stayed with a cousin from the other side ofEd’s family who lived north of the City.  We arrived on a Saturday night.  Once that cousin found out I had never seen New York City, he insisted on taking us for a nighttime tour by car.  We saw Broadway, Times Square, and lots of lights in the City that never sleeps.  

The Yankees/Angels game the next day was also an adventure as Ed and I rode a bus to the subway station, and then took the subway to Yankee Stadium. 

I forgot who won the game, but I do remember buying a Mets cap for myself and an Oakland A’s cap for my brother.  Both teams would play in the 1973 World Series.  

From that Yankee game in the early seventies and onward, I had a fascination with the City.  There were three visits with friends during my college years that included tours of Radio City Music Hall and standing-room-only tickets to about a half-dozen Broadway shows including one called Beatlemania

In the eighties, my wife and I took the train from Utica to our honeymoon in New York City.  In the late nineties and into the new century, my friend John and I would meet there with me driving in from Rochester and John taking a train from Philadelphia for a day of fast paced walking tours followed by being in the audience for a taping of either Late Night with Conan O’Brienor The Late Show with David Letterman.

And that takes me back to the Ed Sullivan Theater.  It is the place where Letterman started his program on CBS in the summer of 1993.  During my visits to the theater, I recall seeing blown up photographs of the Fab Four’s Sullivan appearances hanging on the walls in the hallway leading to the audience seating area. 

As fascinated as I was to see the Letterman show and the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the production, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like that famous night in February 1964 when the Beatles had performed. 

The stage seemed much smaller than I imagined it would be.  I felt as though I could almost see Sullivan standing at the far left of the stage where he would introduce all his guests.  I could visualize the band making their music at center stage.  And I could only guess at how loud the audience’s screaming must have been.

Several years ago, I worked with a man who sat in that audience on that night in February 1964.  He confirmed to me how noisy the Ed Sullivan Theater was on that historic night.  I recall him saying to me something to the effect, “We really didn’t hear the band because the screaming was so loud.  But we didn’t care.  We were there.”

Thankfully, the microphones on stage captured the singing and the music coming from those instruments so that the rest of America experienced the Beatles in their glory.   That special moment when rock-and-roll music changed forever will live on for many of us baby boomers.

For all of us who saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of a television set in February 1964, we are part of a truly unique moment in history.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.