10 Facts About The Beatles's 'Ed Sullivan Show' Debut

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1964, Beatlemania officially reached America. On February 7, 1964, the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison—boarded Pan Am Flight 101 at London's Heathrow Airport with an estimated 4000 fans on hand to wish them good luck on their first trip to America. When they landed at New York City's JFK Airport several hours later, another crowd of approximately 4000 (screaming) fans were waiting for them. But that was nothing compared to the number of people who would tune in to see the legendary rockers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. On the 55th anniversary of that historic television event, here are 10 things you might not know about the show.

1. the band didn't come cheap ...

Much like The Tonight Show today, being asked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s was a huge honor for up-and-coming (and established) artists in the 1960s. The publicity generated from an appearance on the show was enough for most talent to say yes. But The Beatles would only agree to appear if the show covered their travel expenses and paid them a $10,000 fee (which would be just over $80,000 in 2019 dollars). Sullivan and his producers agreed, but only if The Beatles would commit to making three appearances. They had a deal.

2. ... but they ended up being a relative bargain.

Though forking over travel expenses and an appearance fee wasn't the norm for The Ed Sullivan Show, it ended up being a great deal for the program, and proof that Beatlemania was just as thriving in America as it was in the UK. It's been estimated that close to 74 million people—40 percent of the country's population at that time—tuned in to watch The Beatles play.

3. Technically, it wasn't the band's American television debut.

While The Ed Sullivan Show marked the first time The Beatles had performed live on American television, it wasn't the first time they had appeared on American television. On November 18, 1963, NBC's The Huntley Brinkley Report aired a whopping four-minute-long segment on Beatlemania—the craze that was sweeping England. Just a few days later, on November 22, CBS Morning News ran a five-minute segment on the band's overseas popularity. The segment was scheduled to re-air that evening, but the news was preempted because of JFK's assassination. Walter Cronkite eventually re-aired it as part of the CBS Evening News on December 10, 1963.

4. more than 700 people got to witness it live.

While more than a third of America's population witnessed music history in the making the night The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 728 very lucky individuals got to see it all go down live as part of the show's audience. And when we say "very lucky," we mean it: the program received a record-setting 50,000 requests for tickets to the show.

5. Many people linked Beatlemania to JFK's assassination.

In terms of timing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the rise of Beatlemania in America were closely linked. While many people at the time decided that the band's popularity was in part due to the president's death—that Americans needed something upbeat and positive—others believe it's purely coincidental. In 2013, Slate ran a piece debating (and largely debunking) "the questionable connections between Camelot’s demise and Liverpool’s ascent."

6. the beatles weren't the evening's only performers.

Remember Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall? No? That's OK. Neither do the majority of the 74 million people who watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night. Brill & McCall were the unfortunate act who had to follow the Fab Four's Earth-shattering, industry-altering performance. The married sketch comedy duo pretty much bombed, as the audience was rather distracted. In 2014, couple—who will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this year—talked about that infamous night with CBS.

"For us, it went lousy," McCall said, laughing. "It was terrible.”

"We were doing a sketch," Brill added. "We couldn’t hear each other. Because of the screaming."

Though the appearance didn't do much to advance their career, ultimately, McCall said, it was "an honor" to be a part of it. "We were there when the world changed," she said.

7. One of the Monkees was on that night, too.

Davy Jones was also on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, but not as part of The Monkees. Jones was performing with the cast of Broadway's Oliver! Jones played the Artful Dodger, first in London then in New York, and ended up being nominated for a Tony for the role.

8. No, the crime rate did not drop.

You've surely heard that old legend that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically during The Beatles's appearance on the show. Apparently the whole nation was so transfixed by the lads from Liverpool that everyone preferred to tune in instead of running around committing felonies and such. It's a nice story, but according to Snopes, it's not true.

The rumor started when Bill Gold, a reporter from The Washington Post, snarkily remarked that while The Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere. It was meant to infer that The Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek. Gold ended up writing a tongue-in-cheek retraction on February 21, 1964:

"This week’s issue of Newsweek quotes my report from B.F. Henry that there’s one good thing about the Beatles—'during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.'

It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report was not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour—and all four of his hubcaps were stolen.

The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set."

9. That "very nice" telegram from Elvis Presley was not from Elvis Presley.

10th February 1964: A group of Beatles fans watching their heroes perform on the American television programme 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
Central Press/Getty Images

Wasn't it nice that Elvis Presley kicked off The Beatles's American "debut" with a personal telegram? Just before John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stage, Ed Sullivan announced that he had received a "very nice" telegram from The King, wishing the Fab Four "tremendous success." Notoriously known for being jealous of The Beatles, Elvis had actually done no such thing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was responsible for the note, and only sent it because he thought it would make Elvis look good. (Apparently, the disdain was mutual; when the band received the telegram prior to their performance, Harrison reportedly asked, mockingly, "Elvis who?")

10. Sullivan's musical director wasn't impressed.

The crowd (and a third of America) may have been going crazy when The Beatles performed, but Ray Bloch—The Ed Sullivan Show's musical director—wasn't as impressed. When asked for a comment about the performance by a reporter for The New York Times, he was blunt: "The only thing that’s different is the hair, as far as I can see. I give them a year."

8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

Fifty years ago, on July 24, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. In honor of its 50th anniversary, here are some facts about the stellar track.

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Ziggy Stardust Barbie Debuts for 50th Anniversary of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
Mattel

On July 11, 1969, David Bowie released "Space Oddity"—a song that captured the spirit of the space age in the weeks leading up to the Apollo 11 Moon landing and launched a stellar new alter ego for the singer. Though he wouldn't officially adopt his Ziggy Stardust persona until he put out his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars a few years later, the song laid the foundation for his career-long obsession with the extraterrestrial. Now, David Bowie's iconic Ziggy Stardust character is being honored by another icon: Barbie.

Mattel's new Ziggy Stardust Barbie was made to coincide with the 50th anniversary of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on July 11, 2019. The androgynous doll rocks Ziggy's signature style, from the black nail polish to the fire engine-red platform boots. The metallic, red- and blue-striped "space suit" with the flared shoulders is taken straight from Bowie's early-1970s wardrobe. And of course, it wouldn't be Ziggy Stardust without the gold astral sphere painted on the forehead.

Even the packaging will appeal to David Bowie fans. The box has been printed with a collage featuring real photographs of the musician taken early in his career. The product also includes a doll stand and certificate of authenticity.

The special Ziggy Stardust Barbie is a "Gold Label" collector's item, meaning it's only available in limited quantities. You can purchase one from the online Barbie shop today for $50 while supplies last.

David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
Mattel

David Bowie Barbie doll from Mattel.
Mattel

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