“The invasion took place at New York’s Kennedy International Airport …. And that’s the way it is, Friday, February 7, 1964.”  Showing clips of The Beatles, that was Walter Cronkite’s sign off the day The Beatles landed in America.  Of course, when he dubbed it an “invasion” he was referring specifically to The Beatles impact on America, but the label was a portent of the musical phenomenon that would transform American culture for the rest of the decade.  The Beatles arrival was covered by all the news outlets and contributed to the mounting anticipation of their first live television appearance in the states, scheduled for Sunday night, February 9th on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The scheduled appearance was a product of the “Beatlemania” which had spread throughout Britain in 1963.  The Beatles had their first #1 in the UK in February with “Please Please Me” which was followed in May with “From Me To You”  and “She Loves You” in September.  Their immense popularity was boosted by numerous appearances on British television and four national tours.  It was common at the time for music shows in Britain to feature American performers.  On The Beatles second national tour of Britain, Tommy Roe and Chris Montez were the headliners, but as somewhat of an embarrassment to The Beatles, the crowds were screaming for the British group.  By the middle of the third tour, The Beatles replaced Roy Orbison as the top bill on the program.  Increasingly, the audiences were filled with hysterical teenage girls.  On October  13th The Beatles appeared on the British variety show, “Sunday Night at the London Palladium” and the newspapers the next day described the audience response as “Beatlemania” – the name would stick.

American television host, Ed Sullivan, witnessed Beatlemania at Heath Row Airport on October 31st when a crowd of teenagers was waiting for The Beatles return from a tour in Sweden, so when he was contacted by Brian Epstein (Beatles’ manager) in November regarding a possible appearance on his show, he was interested.  When negotiations were completed, Sullivan signed the group to three appearances for a total of $10,000, with the first show scheduled for February 9th.

The Beatles had had some prior exposure to U.S. audiences.  On November 18th, the NBC Huntley/Brinkley report had aired a four minute segment about the group from correspondent Edwin Newman.  The telecast included clips of performances of “From Me To You.”  The report was filled with sarcasm – “one reason for The Beatles’ popularity is that it’s almost impossible to hear them.”  Reporting that the Beatles may be “bringing their Mersey sound to the United States,” Newman quipped, “show us no Mersey.”  CBS also had a segment on The Beatles that aired on the CBS Morning News on November 22nd and was to be repeated that night – the Kennedy assassination pre-empted that viewing.  But Cronkite resurrected the piece and it aired on December 10th. Correspondent Alexander Kendrick’s report wasn’t as deprecating as the NBC piece, as he acknowledged their pop achievements.  But he couldn’t help but characterize them as “non-heroes making non-music with non-haircuts.”   Some of Sullivan’s advisors had discouraged him from signing The Beatles, noting that a couple of their records had been released in the U.S. and had gone nowhere.  But Sullivan was encouraged by the national attention and when Cronkite aired the CBS segment, Sullivan called him up to ask him what he knew about “those bugs, or whatever they call themselves.”  The Cronkite showing placated any qualms Sullivan had.  However, the next airing of a Beatles performance irritated him and he almost cancelled the contract.

Taking note of the attention The Beatles were garnering, Jack Parr purchased clips from the BBC and aired them on his show on January 3rd.  Parr’s introduction of the group was also in the sarcastic vein as he gave a commentary on clips of The Beatles’ screaming fans:   “These guys have these crazy hairdos and when they wiggle their heads and the hair goes, the girls go out of their minds.  Does it bother you to realize that, in a few years these girls will vote, raise children and drive cars?”  Then he showed the filmed performance of “She Loves You.”  Following the polite applause of the audience, Parr quipped, “It’s nice to know that England has finally risen to our cultural level.”  Sullivan was initially enraged as he had been assured that his program would be the first to air The Beatles and declared he was cancelling them.  But he soon realized that all the exposure was making The Beatles an even greater attraction and he cancelled the cancellation.

On Sunday night, February 9th, 1964, Ed Sullivan gave this introduction:  “Now yesterday and today our theater's been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that the city never has the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool, who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you're gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now, and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles. Let's bring them on.”  John counted them in and they commenced their set with “All My Loving.”  That was followed by “’Til There Was You.”  These were two of the more reserved numbers in The Beatles repertoire and although they still elicited some screaming responses from the teenage girls in the audience, the impression is that the reaction was based more on the anticipation than on the actual performance.  But the third song was “She Loves You” and the screams got louder with each “yeah, yeah, yeah.”  In the second set The Beatles performed “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

“The Ed Sullivan Show” was a staple of American television viewing from 1948 – 1971.  For those who were not part of that generation, it’s difficult to imagine the appeal of the program.  For one thing, it was a “variety show.”  During that generation of television, such shows were common.  Most would feature a number of guest stars performing and appearing in sketches.  “The Ed Sullivan Show” was different in that Sullivan was not a performer – in other shows such as Red Skelton or Dinah Shore, the hosts would perform with the guests.  Sullivan was the host that chose the acts and introduced them.  His show was also notable in that it was truly variety, from opera singers to clowns to acrobats.  Sullivan had once before made a cultural impact when he televised Elvis Presley in 1957.  In his decision to present The Beatles to America he commented, “I made up my mind that this was the same sort of mass hit hysteria that had characterized the Elvis Presley days.”  This all meant that when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan they were seen by a cross-section of America, not just the teenagers.  The Nielsen ratings indicated over 70 million viewed the show.  Of course, it was the teens that reacted most enthusiastically.

The Beatles would appear on Ed Sullivan eight more times.  Their second appearance came a week later – it was taped and shown via satellite from Miami Beach where they were performing.  Their third appearance, the next week was actually two segments that had been taped the afternoon of their first performance.  Those would be their only “live” appearances.  Future performances would be shown via film and video tape.  Some see The Beatles as the forerunners of the music video that would become so popular in the 1980’s.  Their other Sullivan showings:

5/24/64 – filmed performance of “You Can’t Do That” and interviews about their upcoming movie, “A Hard Days Night”
9/12/64 – six songs that were actually taped on 8/14 in England, including “Yesterday”
6/5/66 –recorded videos of “Rain” and “Paperback Writer”
11/26/67 – videotape of “Hello, Goodbye”
2/12/67 – videos of “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”
2/15/70 – videos of “Two of Us” and “Let It Be”

After Elvis Presley, Ed Sullivan continued to book rock and roll acts as part of his “variety.”  After The Beatles, he increasingly booked the British imports.  The Dave Clark Five appeared on March 15th, 1964 – they would make a total of 18 showings.  The Rolling Stones would appear six times, the first on October 25th, 1964.  And most of the other acts of the British Invasion would find their way to the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater.  Amazingly, that February 9th performance was the only “live” show by The Beatles on that stage.  But Walter Cronkite was right – it was an “invasion.”   

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Note that the producers had the boys' names super-imposed -- hard to imagine not knowing the names of the Beatles, but at the time most of the American fans did not.
The Beatles became headliners on the national tours in England in 1963.

Above: The audio of the Nov. 18th, 1963 NBC report
Chet Huntley introduced the NBC segment on The Beatles that aired on November 18th. The reporter was Edward Newman. Both exuded a patronizing, dismissive view of the group and their music.

Above: The audio of the CBS report on The Beatles
Walter Cronkite's airing of The Beatles on the "CBS Evening News" gave Beatlemania in the U.S. a big boost. As a result of the program, Marsha Albert called disc jockey Carroll James asking him to play "She Loves You." He told her nobody actually had any Beatles singles as they hadn't been released in the U.S. yet, but he'd try to get a copy. He did a week later and started playing the record -- that spurred record sales which prompted Capitol to release "I Want To Hold Your Hand" early. The result was a lot more people already being familiar with the music before The Beatles televised performance -- prompting more people to tune in that Sunday night .... reportedly 73 million people (a record for a single show at that time).
Jack Parr's view on The Beatles was perhaps the harshest of them all. Parr: "I brought them here as a joke."
The Beatles rehearsing for their second appearance on Ed Sullivan which was shown via satellite from Miami Beach.

“I think the whole world was watching that night. It certainly felt that way. You just knew it, sitting in your living room, that everything around you was changing. It was like going from black-and-white to color. Really. I remember earlier that day, in fact, a kid on a bike passed me and said, ‘Hey, the Beatles are on TV tonight.’ I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, and I thought to myself, ‘This means something.’ [The Beatles] came out and just flattened me. To hear them on the radio was amazing enough, but to finally see them play, it was electrifying.” -- Tom Petty