A “Beatlemaniac” remembers The Beatles’ heart-stopping TV performance

We can be highbrow when we talk about our baby boomer generation and all the important forces that influenced us. But truth be known, one of the big ones wasn’t a war, or an invention, or a significant advance in science. No, it was a quartet of young men with long hair. And for a boomer like Carol Viau, they changed everything. Carol is a former editor of The Mountaineer in Waynesville, North Carolina, for which she wrote these Confessions of a Beatlemaniac.

To paraphrase the lyrics from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” it was “50 years ago today…” Baby Boomers will remember the wave of Beatlemania that swept through the U.S., marked by the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. The four lads from Liverpool changed the face of rock-and-roll and left their mark on pop culture.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

I was a Beatlemaniac. Actually, I had advance indoctrination into Beatlemania from my pen pal, Jennifer Morgan (now Smith), who lived in Abergavenny, Wales. Jen sent me a Beatles album in the Fall of 1963, just as the buzz about the Beatles was starting.

I was glued to the TV set on that February night, as were 74-million Americans, to see The Beatles’ first live performance in the U.S. The television rating reportedly was a record-setting 60-percent share — numbers unheard of today.

The Beatles in America and on TV for the first time.

The Beatles in America and on TV for the first time.

In my hand was my dad’s Polaroid camera, and once Ed Sullivan said, “Ladies and gentlemen… The Beatles,” I began snapping away. My dad came into the room to see what was going on, and said the pictures would never turn out. But they did, and I captured remarkably clear images of theyoung Beatles, on the verge of stardom.

Rare color photo of The Beatles with Ed Sullivan.

Rare color photo of The Beatles with Ed Sullivan.

Teens had their favorite Beatle. Mine was George, the “quiet one.” Others liked “cute Paul,” John, the “rebellious one,” or Ringo, the character with rings on almost all his fingers. Their mop-top hair was considered long — imagine that. And girls screamed through their concerts. I was one of those teenaged girls, crazy for the Beatles.


The Beatles in 1964.

“What had happened to my intelligent daughter?,” lamented my dad.

For those who didn’t live through the 1960s, it’s hard to describe the influence the Beatles had on pop culture. They changed everything.

We lived in Hammond, Indiana, a suburb of Chicago, and when the Beatles toured in 1964 and 1965, I went to both concerts in Chicago. Yes, I saw the Beatles live, twice. The first time, my sister Barbara and I had 10th-row seats. I have a faded color picture I took with a Kodak Instamatic camera to prove it.

No one could hear much of the music at that concert — the girls’ screams were so loud. When John, Paul, George, and Ringo came onto the stage, they were met by ear-splitting screams from the audience.

Carol Viau today.

Carol Viau today.

In high school, we passed notes to each other in classes, fantasizing about what it would be like to meet the Beatles. The band’s influence continued through my college years, with the release of albums including “Rubber Soul” and the iconic “Sgt. Pepper.” As the Beatles changed into the psychedelic phases of their music, so did the pop culture of the young.

Sadly, only two Beatles survive today, but Paul and Ringo performed together at this year’s Grammys. A tribute to the Beatles, “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles,” will air on February 9th on CBS, marking the 50th anniversary of their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan show.

I’ll be watching, hoping to hear “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “She Loves You.”

To all Beatles fans who know what I mean, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

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  1. Great article – thanks for the memory! 😀 I was nine years old and living in London, Ontario at the time. Ed Sullivan was a weekly Sunday night tradition at our house and I was glued to the TV that night, for sure! The Beatles had been popular in Canada since the summer of 1963 already.

  2. Thanks, Debbie, it’s amazing how many people tell me they were watching that night. Glad I could rekindle that happy memory of youth!

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