As excitement builds over the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in the United States in February, 1964, several myths about the band and the circumstances of the Fab Four's first American television, film and live performances persist. Here are a few:
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the first Beatles single released by Capitol in North America.
It is true that this song was the first released by Capitol in the United States. "Please Please Me" and "From Me To You" were released by Vee Jay and "She Loves You" was released by Swan in the US when Capitol rejected them. But Capitol in Canada, led by Paul White, released all three of these songs plus "Love Me Do." These first three Canadian singles did very poorly, seemingly confirming the Capitol US decision; "She Loves You," on the other hand, did very well up north, prompting sales of the previous releases in its wake. "She Loves You" was a hit in Canada in December of 1963, one week before "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was released in the United States.
The Carnegie Hall and Washington, D.C. shows were added to the first U.S. visit at the last minute to defray expenses.
The two shows at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 12 were booked by New York promoter Sid Bernstein, who had contacted Beatles manager Brian Epstein several months before any contact with Ed Sullivan's staff was made. Bernstein chose Feb. 12 because it was Lincoln's birthday and kids would have the day off from school. The Washington, D.C. show on February 11 was initially booked as a warm-up for the Carnegie Hall dates. The nation's capital may have been chosen because it was the first city in which "I Want To Hold Your Hand" became popular, more than a month before its planned mid-January 1964 release by Capitol (though this show may have been offered to other venues elsewhere). WWDC disc jockey Carroll James played an imported copy he had secured via a British Airways stewardess, and when taped copies of this record began to break out in Chicago and St. Louis as well, Capitol moved the release date up to Dec. 26, 1963, usually a terrible time of year to release a new single, especially by an unknown band.
Ed Sullivan booked the Beatles because his flight at Heathrow had been delayed by Beatles fans.
Evidence seems to indicate that Sullivan was not actually in London on the date of this Beatlemania craziness (Oct. 31, 1963), though he had indeed been to London in September. Though Sullivan himself liked to tell the story that he was there, he learned about the Beatles' success via Peter Prichard, his UK talent scout. Sullivan was sent press clippings about the band by Prichard and probably knew about this airport shutdown by reading newspaper accounts of it. Prichard made the initial contact with Brian Epstein and the booking was then negotiated with Sullivan himself in mid- November, 1963 for February 1964, keeping Bernstein's Carnegie Hall shows in mind.
Their Ed Sullivan Show performance was the first time the Beatles appeared on U.S. television.
Just a few weeks after the death of President Kennedy, Walter Cronkite ran a short feature about the Beatles on the CBS Evening News. His friend Ed Sullivan seems to have called him asking if he knew whether the band were any good (Cronkite didn't). Jack Paar ran a clip of the band performing in the UK on his show in January, 1964, which infuriated Sullivan, who had hoped to be the first to present the band on TV. The Beatles performance on Sullivan's show was their first live performance on American television, however, and Sullivan need not have worried: his broadcast was the record setter.
"A Hard Day's Night" was the Beatles' first film performance and was hastily arranged after the band had a hit in the US in January of 1964.
The arrangements for the Beatles' first feature film began with United Artists no later than October of 1963. UA had lately released the James Bond film, Dr. No (1962) and the Beatles deal was the brainchild of UA's Bud Ornstein, who was aiming to capitalize on the band's UK success and was betting Beatlemania would spread to America. The plan was to release a soundtrack album in the US at a time when Capitol was still not interested in releasing Beatles music there; the film was originally expected to be a money-loser and was primarily meant to promote the record. When the Beatles did break in the United States, Ornstein seemed like a genius. The warm-up show in Washington, DC, however, became the first Beatles film to appear in theaters. CBS filmed this concert and most of it played in U.S. theaters nationwide one weekend in March of 1964, months before the premiere of A Hard Day's Night in July. Once the Beatles became hot in the US, Capitol quickly made plans to record the Carnegie Hall shows for future release. The plan was abandoned after the American Federation of Musicians refused to allow Beatles British producer George Martin to work in the venue.
Follow John Covach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JohnCovach