By Annette Hinkle
“It was 50 years ago today….” Well, not quite yet, but a week from this Sunday, it will be exactly half a century since The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. It marked their debut on American television and chances are, if you recognize the somewhat altered quote above as being from the 1967 Sgt. Pepper LP, you just might be one of the 60 million Americans who sat in front of a 13” black-and-white screen on Sunday, February 9, 1964 and watched the show live.
There now, doesn’t that make you feel old?
The Fab Four’s Sullivan appearance remains a defining moment for Baby Boomers and if you’re one of them, it’s an event which, like the assassination of JFK or the first Apollo moon landing, you can still recall in vivid and exacting detail.
With the anniversary of The Beatles first visit to America fast approaching, Bay Street Theatre has planned a full slate of events for Beatlemaniacs from Friday, February 7 to Sunday, February 9.
The weekend, which coincides with HarborFrost, includes historic film screenings, a concert of Beatles music by local bands and a Sunday night rebroadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show in its entirety. On view in the lobby of the theater throughout the three-day celebration will be Beatles memorabilia belonging to Steve Green of Huntington, one of the largest collectors in the country. Vintage photographs of the group will also be on view.
The line-up is being co-produced by Bay Street Theatre’s managing director Gary Hygom and Joe Lauro, a singer and musician with The HooDoo Loungers and owner of the Greenport-based Historic Films Archive. Lauro, who lives in Sag Harbor, has access to some pretty interesting vintage film and television clips and through his Legend Series at Bay Street has offered screenings built around various musical artists and styles.
“I had talked to Joe about the anniversary coming up and I was thinking we should do something Beatles related — a film like the Legend Series, which we’ve done in the past,” recalls Hygom. “As we talked it just grew and grew.”
And as fate would have it, it turns out that Lauro’s partner at Historic Films owns the Ed Sullivan series.
“So that was handy,” adds Hygom. “He took the ball and ran with it.”
The weekend kicks off Friday, February 7 (the day in 1964 when John, Paul, George and Ringo first stepped foot on American soil after landing at JFK Airport — which had only recently been renamed for the fallen president) with Lauro offering a special screening of vintage Beatle-themed television clips and film footage. The footage spans the group’s career, from the first known film shot at The Cavern Club in 1962 to their final 1969 rooftop concert in London.
“It will be a compilation of not just Beatle performances, but a lot of fun stuff with the fans and people’s reactions,” explains Lauro. “We have this amazing clip with the mayor of Cleveland who’s talking about stomping out The Beatles like bugs — there was this paranoia about them. We also have charming stuff as well as great performances and kitschy cover versions.”
Among the covers, he notes, is a clip of Eartha Kitt doing “Day Tripper” with Sérgio Mendes in 1968, and an African-American puppet named Blinky who offers his rendition of “Hey Jude.”
“Blinky was a popular nightclub act in the ‘60s and ‘70s in Harlem and all around,” explains Lauro. “It was a guy and his ventriloquist dummy — an African-American version of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.”
“There’s some interesting stuff,” he adds. We’ve tried to cull through things that we have and found some odds and ends that are just fun and really good.”
Lauro notes the real gem in his collection is documentary footage of young Beatles fans which was shot in towns and cities across America as the group took the nation by storm. It was footage that came to Lauro through a stroke of luck more than 20 years ago.
“A guy came to me like and it was like an ‘off-the-back-of-a-truck’ thing,” recalls Lauro. “He had been working on a documentary of The Beatles in 1965 filming press conferences and interviewing fans and following them around. But he needed money and I bought it from him.”
“There’s some really wonderful stuff – it’s more about Beatlemania. In a lot of performances, the audience is so loud it sounds like an airplane,” he says. “Now everyone can take a video. But it was different then.”
On Saturday evening at Bay Street, after the HarborFrost fireworks on Long Wharf the focus will turn from vintage film to live rock and roll. Among the performers will be Gene Casey, Inda Eaton, Caroline Doctorow, Joe Delia, Mama Lee & Rose, Corky Laing, Dawnette Darden, Jim Turner and even an a capella choir and a house band made up several musicians (including Lauro) will provide backing for guests.
“Saturday is a group effort, a really big variety show,” says Lauro. “It’s a tribute to the Beatles on their 50th anniversary.”
Wrapping up the weekend at Bay Street on Sunday, February 9 will be the entire Ed Sullivan Show on which the Beatles first appeared — 50 years to the day after the show originally ran. Lauro notes that while most people have seen performance from the show, seeing the entire broadcast — with the commercials — is a rarity.
“We’ll show the entire show with Mitzi Gaynor — that will be fun,” says Lauro who adds that the broadcast includes vintage commercials for products like Anacin and Kodak.
“I’ve always wanted to see the entire Ed Sullivan Show,” says Hygom. “I’ve seen that clip of the Beatles 100 times. But I always wondered who was that poor guy who finally got on Ed Sullivan and had to follow the Beatles? He was probably a plate spinner or something.”
“It was his big break and no one knows who he is,” says Hygom.
While Hygom was too young in 1964 to have had any concept of The Beatles, Lauro was about six at the time and credits his older sister for making sure he was in the right place at the right time.
“I was really young, but I clearly remember sitting in front of that TV that night and my sister and her girlfriend were screaming,” recalls Lauro. “We were living in Brooklyn and it influenced me greatly.”
The performance came just months after Lauro was sent home from school early in the aftermath of another monumental event, this time a tragedy — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Many people today probably forget these two events were separated by a matter of weeks, but Lauro notes that while one tore the country apart the other in many ways brought it back together again. Of course, the tragic irony is that little more than 16 years later, another assassin’s bullet would claim the life of one of those young men — John Lennon — this time on the streets of New York.
“The Beatles arrived three months after JFK was assassinated. It gave America some optimism, a diversion they sorely needed,” says Lauro. “JFK was so loved, certainly by the youth. To me, the arrival of The Beatles more than just the obvious things it did for pop music and influencing kids gave us this diversion.”
“A lot of parents didn’t like it,” he adds. “But it was good natured fun, witty and positive … and it took our minds off the horrible things.”
“It Was 50 Years Ago Today” at Bay Street Theatre on Long Wharf, Sag Harbor begins Friday, February 7, 2014 at 8 p.m. with “Legends: The Beatles” Tickets are $15. “Celebrating the Beatles,” with the band’s music performed by East End musicians is Saturday, February 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance ($35 day of the show) and include a glass of house wine for adults. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan will be shown in its entirety at Bay Street on Sunday, February 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5. Bay Street is offering a Fab 4 Fan Pass for $40 for the whole weekend. Call 725-9500 to reserve.