- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Swifties are such a hot topic these days, but 60 years ago, America had succumbed to Beatlemania.
On Feb. 7, 1964, Liverpool, England’s beloved foursome, the Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — inched closer to global popularity by making their U.S. debut. As their plane touched down at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, N.Y., thousands of fans turned out to greet them ahead of their live TV debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“We've never seen anything like this here before. Never. Not even for kings and queens,” an airport official told the New York Times of the mob scene at the time.
They had been urged by radio DJs — aware of the chart-topping success the Beatles were having in the U.K. — to be the first to greet the band, which had sold 6 million records. And they showed up in force, creating a full-on mob scene.
Many of the spectators were high school students skipping class. Some drove over a thousand miles. The New York Times reported that there were “girls, girls and more girls” among the masses. “Whistling girls. Screaming girls. Singing girls.”
The pictures show there were also lots of men, men and more men.
No iPhones glued to their hands like today, fans instead held signs. Some said, “Welcome!” or “Beatles, we love you.” Many more referenced their mop tops: “Beatles Are Starving the Barbers” and “Beatles Unfair to Bald Men.”
Of course, there was lots of Beatles merch.
When the plane touched down at 1:20 p.m., the masses were chanting, “We want Beatles!” and singing songs, like “She Loves You.”
Looking out the windows from their Pan Am flight, McCartney, 21; Starr, 23; Harrison, 20; and Lennon, 23, couldn’t believe the reception they were getting.
“Who is this for?” McCartney wondered. “On a scale of one to 10, that was about a hundred in terms of the shock of it.” Harrison said, “Seeing thousands of kids there to meet us made us realize just how popular we were there.”
The band members, manager Brian Epstein, press agent Brian Sommerville and Beatle wife Cynthia Lennon made their way inside where there was a packed airport press conference. The media was amped up too; Sommerville resorted to telling reporters to “please shut up” so they could start. Their memorable press conference set the tone for their U.S. trip. Dressed in their matching suits, they were so full of personality — and jokes.
“At the airport press conference, we found that the American reporters were obsessed with our hair,” McCartney wrote in a 2023 essay for the Atlantic in which he shared his personal photos of the trip. “They asked if we were going to get haircuts. George replied that he’d had one the day before. That still makes me smile. It was just perfect, because once they saw that we weren’t going to be scared of them, they loved throwing their questions at us, and we would bat them right back. It became a fun little game.”
And while they had a full VIP welcome, it didn’t remove the burden of having to collect their own luggage inside.
Each Beatle had their own limo waiting, taking them from JFK — which had recently been renamed for the president who had been assassinated months before — to the Plaza Hotel where they decamped to the presidential suites on the 12th floor.
Outside, fans lined the streets around the clock with at least 50 police officers assigned to crowd control.
A limo driver had to climb over his car to get in because fans were surrounding it. Quickly it was clear the band members would have to sneak in and out of the hotel through a tunnel.
A doorman at the hotel, Joseph Szorentini, told the NewYork Times: "I think it was the wildest thing that ever happened at the Plaza." He had worked there for 46 years.
They did do at least some sightseeing, including visiting Central Park (future home of Lennon memorial Strawberry Fields) and had photoshoots, but fans followed their every move. Bruce Morrow, aka DJ Cousin Brucie, recalled watching fans fling themselves at a cigarette butt McCartney tossed, saying, "Two kids came up with the cigarette, smiling and bleeding.”
The fandom was real — some even rocked mop top wigs so the British band felt at home in the Big Apple.
On Feb. 9, they did what they came to the U.S. for — to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. There were over 50,000 ticket requests for the 728-seat studio and those that were there screamed through it. It was a hit: More than 73 million viewers tuned in to watch their live TV debut, long considered a pop culture milestone. Sullivan booked the band for two more appearances during their visit.
The Beatles had their first official U.S. concert at the Coliseum in Washington D.C. on Feb. 11. They returned to New York and had back-to-back performances at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 12. They also made a quick trip to Miami Beach, Fla.
When the Fab Four returned to England on Feb. 22, fans were back at the airport having tearful goodbyes and counting down the days until they returned. And they did — that summer, as the so-called British Invasion was in full effect.