Beatlemania: A Family Tradition

HARD DAY'S NIGHT, A (1964)

My mom’s first experience with The Beatles was like most people of her generation; her first glimpse of the mop-topped foursome was on February 9, 1964, on America’s favorite Sunday night pastime, The Ed Sullivan Show. Mom was only nine years old and hadn’t heard The Beatles’ music, and wasn’t even quite sure who they were, but the two-set spotlight on Sullivan was enough to excite her. Her friend Jeannie called her on the phone in advance of the Sullivan episode and told her she just had to watch this amazing band. Jeannie, likely telling my mom, “They’re cute! They dress alike, and have these adorable haircuts…and they talk so different!” Jeannie was the same age as Mom, but had siblings much older than her, so she knew about the band because of them. Taking her friend’s advice to heart, Mom made sure to tune in for The Beatles’ performance. As soon as Paul sang those first few words from “All My Loving,” the young girls on television and at home collectively lost it. Moved by the spirit, Mom began flailing her arms and kicking her legs. In her frenzied state, she failed to notice that one of her shoes was dangerously close to flying off her foot. Next to the chair she was sitting in sat her mom, my dear Granny, undoubtedly smoking a cigarette with the ash perfectly curled on the end, with a cup of coffee perched on the flat wooden arm of the sofa. (Apparently my grandparents always had a pot of coffee on and drank the stuff around the clock.) Mom continued to kick her feet until her shoe flew off her foot, hitting Granny’s full coffee cup, causing it to fall and shatter all over the floor. According to Mom, my Granny thought the whole situation was a hoot, which sounds about right.

HARD DAY'S NIGHT, A (1964)

That was just the beginning of Beatlemania for my mom. She and Jeannie each “married” their favorite Beatle. Actually Jeannie snagged Paul first, so Mom moved on to George. They each had a kid, with names like Paulette and Georgina. Mom bought loads of teen magazines filled with full page photos she could hang on the wall. A few months after that initial appearance on Sullivan, in July 1964, The Beatles released their first feature-length film, A Hard Day’s Night. Mom went to see the movie with Jeannie at the Rogers Theatre in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Rogers, which opened in 1951, had over a thousand seats and was the first in the city to not have a balcony. In a sold out theatre, packed with young girls, my mom spent the next 90 minutes screaming her head off. The whole event played more like a concert than a movie. She was completely enthralled, but in her own words, “I couldn’t tell you what that movie was about if my life had depended on it.” The only thing she could attest to was that “all of them were just so stinkin’ cute.” It wasn’t until twenty-five years later that my mom actually watched A Hard Day’s Night, and that was when she sat down with me for my first viewing.

HARD DAY'S NIGHT, A (1964)

The first time I watched the film, I have to admit I wasn’t completely sold. I was probably eleven or twelve at the time, and I shamefully balked at anything in black and white, unless it was old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Sure, I loved the music and seeing the Fab Four in their original Beatle environment, but I just couldn’t understand the story. Or the humor. I preferred the utterly ridiculous Help! (which I still love, albeit for different reasons now), also directed by Richard Lester, but in glorious, crisp color. I think I preferred the obvious separation of personalities with each of the four, in contrast to the more subtle approach in A Hard Day’s Night. I also didn’t quite understand the humor behind the gentle mocking of the Beatle devotees and their crazed behavior. It wasn’t until I revisited the film in my twenties, and then again around its 50th anniversary in 2014, that I finally appreciated its dry, subtle wit and outstanding performances from not just John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but the incredible supporting cast, including Wilfrid Brambell (“He belongs to Paul”); Norman Rossington; John Junkin; and my absolute favorite, Victor Spinetti, who, along with that itchy-looking, hairy sweater, wins all the awards for MVP. For the 50th anniversary, I attended the world premiere restoration of A Hard Day’s Night at the TCL Chinese Theatre at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. A group of my closest friends and I sat together, dead-center in that stunning theatre, bathing in the crisp, beautiful black and white cinematography of Gilbert Taylor (Dr. Strangelove, Repulsion, Frenzy, The Omen, Star Wars: A New Hope). I noticed little things about the film that I never had before, like Ringo sitting in the studio’s commissary reading a trade paperback copy of An Anatomy of a Murder, complete with the Saul Bass poster cover from the 1959 Otto Preminger film starring James Stewart. A hilarious bit, especially in conjunction with Paul’s grandfather filling Ringo’s head with nonsense, ultimately leading the drummer off on a quiet, leisurely walk through London…within a few short hours of the band’s live broadcast. Of course, let’s not forget the music, the majority written by songwriting partners John Lennon and Paul McCartney. From the title track; to the upbeat “I Should’ve Known Better” sweetly serenaded to a group of school girls in a giant cage on a train (including George Harrison’s future wife, Pattie Boyd); to the pure happiness of the proto-music video “Can’t Buy Me Love,” my friends and I found it impossible to sit still in our seats. We didn’t scream our heads off like those girls at the Rogers Theatre in 1964, but we sang along and clapped nonetheless. Although we can never replicate the special Beatlemania era, knowing about my mom’s experience as a little girl made mine all the more special.

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Upon its release, A Hard Day’s Night received both critical and audience praise. The film, which gives us a glimpse of the typical crazy day in the life of a Beatle, also earned two Academy Award nominations: one for original screenplay, the other for ‘Fifth Beatle’ George Martin’s musical score. In recent years, A Hard Day’s Night has welcomed much deserved recognition as a clever, brilliantly written and directed cinematic masterpiece, not to mention establishing the prototype for both the rock and mock documentary styles. A Hard Day’s Night is also original reality programming, giving audiences in 1964 a cleverly edited, if slightly exaggerated, sneak peek into the lives of their favorite musicians. Audiences also caught a glimpse of themselves, those rabid, screaming fans chasing the Fab Four down the street, and it just made them love The Beatles even more.

HARD DAY'S NIGHT, A (1964)

Today, Beatlemania has a different meaning. Unlike 1964, we are under a constant barrage of celebrity gossip, viral cat videos and any number of distractions that barely hold our already-strained attention spans. I was worried that when I started introducing my now six- year-old daughter, Ellie, to The Beatles’ music, she would be unimpressed. How could something so seemingly simple still be relevant? Would being two generations removed from this phenomenon still have an impact on a kid who has everything at her fingertips? Her response was heartwarming; she almost immediately immersed herself in their music, asking for books about them, posters and calendars for her walls and video clips of their performances. Ellie sat in my lap as we watched A Hard Day’s Night together, and although I know she didn’t understand much of the humor (John sniffing the Coca-Cola bottle, George’s sarcastic observations on ‘fresh’ marketing strategies and Ringo’s precariously placed selfie camera falling off the rock into the pond, etc.), she thoroughly enjoyed the sight gags, their matching suits and of course their music. Although, thankfully, she’s not screaming and clawing her face off in a frantic, blissful lust over a group of adorable, identical-looking guys, Ellie’s appreciation isn’t any less than my mom’s when she was nine, or mine when I was eleven. While the mania has been tempered over time, The Beatles, their music, movies and the fascination that accompanied it over fifty years ago have endured.

Jill Blake

17 Responses Beatlemania: A Family Tradition
Posted By Flora : November 5, 2016 12:24 am

My mother wasa teenager when the Beatles were on Ed Sulivan show, so they are her era. I am a Beatles fan myself, and I enjoyed seeing A Hard Day’s Night. Actually, I listen to Mom’s generation of pop music much more than I do my own era. Music out now that I listen to tends to be either jazz or classical.

Posted By Flora : November 5, 2016 12:25 am

I forgot to mention that Mom’s favourite Beatle is George Harrison.

Posted By LD : November 5, 2016 7:10 am

Welcome Jill. I also saw The Beatles for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show with my girlfriends and reacted the same way as so many other young girls. It was the start of Beatlemania in this country and the British Invasion. Their music consumed us. I think it’s important to note their appearance was less than 3 months after JFK’s assassination and they were a much needed breath of fresh air.

A couple of years ago Criterion released A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and I bought it. Seeing it for the first time in decades I was surprised how vivid it remained in my memory, including Spinetti’s mohair sweater. They became popular for a while in the 60′s, I had two, and yes they were itchy and could only be worn with another garment underneath. Overall, the film was better than I remembered and it evoked a lot of memories. A time machine in a way. But, for me, all it really takes to trigger those memories is the opening chord of the song.

Posted By Doug : November 5, 2016 8:06 am

Jill, welcome; Beatlemania may never reach the furor of the Sixties, but the boys will always be heard, passed on from one gen to the next.
In the extra features of “Pirate Radio” Richard Curtis describes how greatly the Beatles impacted his world when he first heard them. In a separate feature the Pirate Radio crew make a pilgrimage to Abbey Road just to see the studio where all of the music was created.
Decades from now, more people will know the Beatles than remember The Rolling Stones…and I think that is fine.

Posted By Helen : November 5, 2016 8:45 am

I’m so proud of you. This is a great article. I wish you continuing success.

Posted By Cool Bev : November 5, 2016 11:36 am

I was in third grade when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I started growing my hair out the next day.

Posted By Janie : November 5, 2016 12:58 pm

This does bring back great memories, when all you wanted was to hear their great music and pick the one Beatle that was all yours. That was Ringold for me, I felt we connected in a sweet innocent way, I ran to little store after school and got my first Beatle cards, I kept them for your years. I have treasured their music and sometimes I always wanted them to stay together. I love this article which brought back the innocence of just loving the music and the Beatles. They have with stood the test time and the music is still great, different and almost innocent according to today’s standards.

Posted By LD : November 5, 2016 3:38 pm

A vivid memory after the Sullivan show was going to school the next day and seeing guys who previously wore their hair ala Elvis or James Dean. They were called “greasers” because they used so much hair product. They combed their hair forward like the Beatles but unfortunately did not wash the grease out of it first. It was as bad as it sounds. No, actually it was worse.

Posted By Lana_SHON : November 5, 2016 4:02 pm

Great article. Thanks!

Posted By AL : November 6, 2016 6:29 pm

Jill–I was in the music-biz and a HUGE Beatle fan when they exploded onto the scene. However, when they broke up it so devastated me that I lost all interest in popular music…

Posted By EricJ : November 7, 2016 3:52 am

My mom would have been in college by the time Beatlemania hit Ed Sullivan, so likely in the same group who thought “Yeah, yeah, yeah” was a silly trend to go with the haircuts, and wondered what had gotten a hold of those crazy kids.
Years later, when I showed her A Hard Day’s Night, she listened to the scene of their singing “If I Fell” at the TV studio, and noticed that the early B/W-era songs were all about close harmony. (The earliest-dating song in “Yellow Submarine” is Nowhere Man, and you can tell the difference in hearing a Sullivan-era song with twanging guitars and smooth harmony, compared to the psychedelic post-Sgt. Pepper songs.)

Her opinion’s been a little improved ever since.

Posted By robbushblog : November 7, 2016 1:03 pm

My mom was 16 when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Her favorite Beatle was George, but she was never a huge fan. My dad never really liked them much at all. He may have liked a few of their early songs, but he was of the opinion that popular music went downhill with the British Invasion and the popularity of folk music and hippie culture. I tend to agree more with my dad’s views on music. I like a lot of the Beatles early stuff, but don’t much care for the psychedelic stuff. Possibly my favorite Beatles song is in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT: “And I Love Her”. Great tune.

Posted By George : November 7, 2016 10:41 pm

My parents were of the Frank Sinatra-Rosemary Clooney generation, so they had zero interest in the Beatles. I was 4 when they played Sullivan’s show, so I had little or no awareness of that event.

A few yeas later, though, I was a huge Monkees fan! Maybe there will someday be a discussion of HEAD here.

Posted By robbushblog : November 7, 2016 11:43 pm

I posted earlier that my dad didn’t like the Beatles and my mom – who was 16 at the time- liked they alright, but was never a huge fan. She was actually a bigger fan of Dean Martin and Fabian than she was of the Beatles. My dad preferred Nat King Cole and Roger Miller to the Beatles. My dad was 20 when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan.

Interesting trivia about the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan: Although more people watched the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan, Elvis’s appearance had a higher share of the TV audience. Had there been as many TVs in American homes in 1956 as there were in 1964, Elvis’s actual viewers would have dwarfed the Beatles’ appearance, and that was with the controversy surrounding Elvis regarding his “lewd” and “vulgar” dance moves. Can you tell that I prefer Elvis?

Posted By Jill Blake : November 10, 2016 7:53 pm

Thank you all for the warm welcome. I’m very excited to get to know you all and talk about movies!

I loved reading all your personal accounts of being introduced to The Beatles. It’s so great that people from all backgrounds can have this shared experience.

George– I’m a Monkees fan, too. And so is my 6 year old. I haven’t shown her HEAD yet, though. I’d love to write about that movie here. It is in the Criterion Collection, so once the rest of the collection is available at FilmStruck (tomorrow, the 11th!) maybe it will be available to stream. If so, I’ll make sure to write something up on it. Stay tuned!

Posted By George : November 10, 2016 10:35 pm

Thanks, Jill. I really didn’t pay attention to the Beatles until sometime in the ’70s, when I was in middle school. They had broken up by then. I bought the collections “Beatles 1962-1966″ and “Beatles 1967-1970,” and FINALLY realized how great they were.

Posted By Jackie : February 4, 2017 6:19 pm

Great article, Jill! Although I loved the Beatles with Paul being my fav since he was so cute and the way he shook his head. But by far no one can come close to Elvis. Think I’m just too old. Giving the Beatles their fair share, I did give my son’their hair cut and not Elvis’. Dont’t think Scott would be liking his Mom today!

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