|The Beatles arrival at New York’s Kennedy Airport|
February 7, 1964 – Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow lands at New York’s Kennedy Airport–and “Beatlemania” arrives. It was the first visit to the United States by the Beatles, a British rock-and-roll quartet that had just scored its first No. 1 U.S. hit six days before with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” At Kennedy, the “Fab Four”–dressed in mod suits and sporting their trademark pudding bowl haircuts–were greeted by 3,000 screaming fans who caused a near riot when the boys stepped off their plane and onto American soil.
“All we knew was that a couple of the records had done well in the States. We believed there was still a huge mountain to climb if The Beatles were really to make it there.
At Heathrow there was pandemonium. Thousands of fans had arrived from all over Britain and any ordinary passengers hoping to travel that day had to give up. Screaming, sobbing girls held up ‘We Love You, Beatles’ banners and hordes of police, linking arms in long chains, held them back. We were ushered into a massive press conference, where journalists, spotting me at the side of the room, demanded a picture of John and me together. To my surpirse John agreed. He was usually careful to keep Julian and me away from publicity, but this time, carried along by the momentum of the whole thing, he agreed.
Minutes later we were ushered to the plane. At the top of the steps the boys waved to the packed airport terraces as the screams crescendoed.”
~ Cynthia Lennon, John
Also on the flight were Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, plus dozens of journalists and photographers. The flight, Pan Am flight 101, touched down at JFK Airport at 1.20pm to scenes never seen before.
“It was so exciting. On the plane, flying in to the airport, I felt as though there was a big octopus with tentacles that were grabbing the plane and dragging us down into New York. America was the best. It was a dream, coming from Liverpool.”
~ Ringo Starr, Anthology
At first The Beatles found it hard to believe the reception at JFK was for them.
“There were millions of kids at the airport, which nobody had expected. We heard about it in mid-air. There were journalists on the plane, and the pilot had rang ahead and said, ‘Tell the boys there’s a big crowd waiting for them.’ We thought, ‘Wow! God, we have really made it.”
~ Paul McCartney, Anthology
Five thousand fans, mostly young girls, were crowded onto the upper balcony of the airport’s arrivals building, waving placards and banners to welcome the group. A further 200 reporters, photographers and cameramen from radio, television and the press were also clamoring for The Beatles’ attention.
“It has since been reported that their American record company had promised that every person who turned up at the airport would be given a dollar bill and a t-shirt. What really happened was that the receptionists at Capitol Records would answer the phone, ‘Capitol Records – The Beatles are coming.’ There was a lot of mention on the radio, too: ‘The Beatles are coming!’ It was the people handling the Beatles merchandise at the time who were offering the free t-shirt. I had no idea about that at the time, and it was nothing to do with the record company.”
~ Neil Aspinall, Anthology
The promotion was actually due to Seltaeb, The Beatles’ US merchandising organisation run by Nicky Byrne, which had been approved by Brian Epstein to oversee and collect the royalties for the group’s non-musical products in America.
Byrne had struck a deal with the WMCA and WINS radio stations, in which every fan who turned up at JFK would be given one dollar and a free Beatles t-shirt. Unbeknown to Byrne, Capitol had also arranged for posters and car stickers, bearing the legend ‘The Beatles are coming’, to be distributed throughout New York City.
Murray the K, a DJ at the 1010 WINS radio station, had announced the details of The Beatles’ flight number and time of arrival. The information was repeated by rival stations WABC and WMCA, which only increased the already feverish anticipation.
At JFK The Beatles gave their first press conference on American soil.
Q: Are you a little embarrassed by the lunacy you cause?
John Lennon: No, it’s great.
Paul McCartney: No.
George Harrison: We love it.
John: We like lunatics.
Q: You’re in favor of lunacy?
The Beatles: Yeah.
John: It’s healthy.
Q: Are those English accents?
George: It’s not English. It’s Liverpudlian, you see.
Paul: The Liverpool accent – so, the way you say some of the words. You know, you say GRASS instead of GRAHHSS, and that sounds a bit American. So there ya go.
Q: Liverpool is the…
Ringo: It’s the capital of Ireland.
Paul: Anyway, we wrote half of your folk songs in Liverpool.
Ringo: Yeah, don’t forget!
Q: In Detroit Michigan, there handing out car stickers saying, ‘Stamp Out The Beatles.’
Paul: Yeah well… first of all, we’re bringing out a ‘Stamp Out Detroit’ campaign.
Q: What about the Stamp Out The Beatles campaign?
John: What about it?
Ringo: How big are they?
Q: Would you tell Murray the K to cut that crap out?
The Beatles: Cut that crap out!
Paul: Hey, Murray!
Q: A psychiatrist recently said you’re nothing but a bunch of British Elvis Presleys.
John: He must be blind.
Ringo (shaking like Elvis): It’s not true! It’s not true!
Q: Would you please sing something?
The Beatles: No!
Q: There’s some doubt that you can sing.
John: No, we need money first.
Q: What do you expect to take out of this country?
John Lennon: About half a crown.
Ringo Starr: Ten dollars.
Q: Does all that hair help you sing?
Paul McCartney: What?
Q: Does all that hair help you sing?
John: Definitely. Yeah.
Q: You feel like Sampson? If you lost your hair, you’d lose what you have? ‘It’?
John: Don’t know. I don’t know.
Paul: Don’t know.
Q: How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?
Ringo: All of us.
Paul: I’m bald.
Q: You’re bald?
John: Oh, we’re all bald, yeah.
Paul: Don’t tell anyone, please.
John: I’m deaf and dumb, too.
Q: Do you know American slang? Are you for real?
Paul: For real.
John: Come and have a feel.
Q: Aren’t you afraid of what the American Barbers’ Association is going to think of you?
Ringo: Well, we run quicker than the English ones, we’ll have a go here, you know.
Q: Listen, I got a question here. Are you going to get a haircut at all while you’re here?
The Beatles: No!
Paul: No, thanks.
George Harrison: I had one yesterday.
Ringo: And that’s no lie, it’s the truth.
Paul: It’s the truth.
Q: You know, I think he missed.
George: No, he didn’t. No.
Ringo: You should have seen him the day before.
Q: What do you think your music does for these people?
John: Hmm, well…
Ringo: I don’t know. It pleases them, I think. Well, it must do, ’cause they’re buying it.
Q: Why does it excite them so much?
Paul: We don’t know, really.
John: If we knew, we’d form another group and be managers.
Q: What about all this talk that you represent some kind of social rebellion?
John: It’s a dirty lie. It’s a dirty lie.
Q: What do you think of Beethoven?
Ringo: Great, especially his poems. (Muttering to the others) I’m sick of that one.
Q: Have you decided when you’re going to retire?
John: Next week.
John: No, we don’t know.
Ringo: We’re going to keep going as long as we can.
George: When we get fed up with it, you know. We’re still enjoying it.
Ringo: Any minute now.
Q: After you make so much money, and then…
The Beatles: No.
George: No, as long as we enjoy it, we’ll do it. ‘Cause we enjoyed it before we made any money.
After the press conference The Beatles were asked to say their names in the order in which they were standing at the microphones, as their individual names were still largely unknown to the American press.
Upon leaving JFK Airport, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr got into a limousine, while John and Cynthia Lennon took another. Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans had to hail a taxi to get to their hotel in Manhattan.
I remember, for instance, the great moment of getting into the limo and putting on the radio, and hearing a running commentary on us: ‘They have just left the airport and are coming towards New York City…’ It was like a dream. The greatest fantasy ever. ~ Paul McCartney, Anthology
The group and their entourage were staying at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. The scenes there were as chaotic as those at the airport, with hundreds of fans being held back by the police, 20 of which were mounted on horseback.
That evening a near-constant stream of guests visited The Beatles in their 10-room, 12th-floor Presidential suite, including The Ronettes, Murray the K, and George Harrison’s sister Louise, who lived in Illinois.
At 6pm that evening The Beatles gave a telephone interview to BBC presenter Brian Matthew, to be broadcast on the next day’s radio show Saturday Club.
The Beatles’ first trip to America was filmed, not only by assembled crews from various television outlets, but by a team inside the entourage. A documentary was being directed and produced by brothers David and Albert Maysles, co-funded by Granada Television in the UK and with Brian Epstein’s NEMS company retaining some editorial control.
The Maysles took cameras virtually everywhere during The Beatles’ two weeks in America, providing a unique and insightful document of the unfolding events. These included scenes from inside their hotel suite and limousines, rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show, inside JFK Airport, Murray the K broadcasting, and The Beatles in Washington DC and Miami Beach.