Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

<==My handwritten playbill after seeing The Beatles at Forest Hills in August 1964. Ringo for President? Somehow it doesn't sound half bad . . .

So where were you on February 7, 1964? (Okay, okay. I know some of you weren't born yet but bear with me.)

I know exactly where I was and so, it seems, do many of the other girls who attended (were trapped in) St. Bartholomew's at the time.

So now I know how I'm going to be remembered by the people I went to school with back in Queens: as the crazy girl who cut class so she could see the Beatles arrive at JFK on a cold February day in 1964.

Of course, the truth is I didn't cut class. It was Monsignor O'Dwyer's birthday and he always gave us the day off after Mass . . . and after he climbed up into the tower and played "Give My Regards to Broadway" on the church organ. But I have to admit that cutting class makes a better story.

But every year around this time someone from back in the day finds me on the web and sends me a note: "Hey, do you remember the time you cut school and went to the airport to meet the Beatles?" They don't remember the Spelling Bee or the Speech Contest or even the National Honor Society. They remember the day I went to meet the Beatles.

Where was I on Friday, February 7, 1964? At Kennedy Airport, welcoming the Beatles to the U.S. This is how I described it (Verbatim, I’m sorry to say; please be kind! I was only 13.) on February 14, 1964 in my diary.


In case you don’t know it, there are four Beatles. They are Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison. To all American girls and girls all over the world, they are the young gods of pop music. Born in war-time in a scruffy English seaport called Liverpool where my grandmother was born, they lived a hard life, searching for success. Their giddy spiral rise to fame began with their first hit song, “Love Me Do,” which sold 100,000 copies in 1962. This was followed by a slew of consecutive #1 hits, rounded off with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” a million-seller BEFORE release! Already the rage of Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa, the Beatles sought to conquer the United States the way the Redcoats hadn’t been able to do.

So, on Friday February 7 1964, at 1:20 pm on Pan-American Flight 101 from London at Kennedy International Airport (which used to be Idlewild before JFK was killed in November), at the International Arrivals Building, the Beatles landed to the accompanying screams of 6,000 Beatlemaniac girls.

And I was there!!!!! It was a regular school day for us. Danielle and Kathy Cusack and Linda Z and Marita and Eileen Blaser and I went to school per usual but then Monsignor Dwyer got on the loudspeaker and gave us the day off for his birthday! We were so happy! He even climbed up into the tower and played “Give My Regards to Broadway” on the organ so the whole neighborhood could hear it. We got out of school at ten in the morning and decided to take the bus to the airport. We didn’t really know where we were going and lost Cusack when we changed buses. But we got there! All you had to do was follow the crowds. And, believe it or not, we got all the way up front. We were so lucky! Everyone screamed and screamed when the plane landed. And then we saw these four little people get out and we screamed some more, even thought we didn’t really know who was who yet. Suddenly the Beatles disappeared and everyone started running into the International Arrivals Building. I started running too but one of my shoes fell off and I nearly got trampled. But I’m okay now.

It was scary in the building watching them go through Customs. Everyone was pressed up against the glass window and screaming. But I saw the tops of their heads and I even saw Paul’s face! He is SOOOO beautiful. We saw two boys with Beatles haircuts in the cafeteria and we talked to them. So we sort of talked to a Beatle, maybe.

Right after that the Fab Four were taken in separate limousines to the plush Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue and given the whole 12th floor! For their whole visit, the Plaza was barraged by 1000s of crazy girls (but not me) trying to catch a glimpse of the English idols who occasionally waved from their windows, causing hordes of girls to faint! On their first night here, George Harrison was stricken with a bad cold and was bedridden. Beatlenuts mourned! Saturday morning, February 8, the three healthy singers went to Central Park to pose for pictures. Perhaps their most memorable day was Sunday February 9 1964. The Beatles appeared live on the coast-to-coast Ed Sullivan Show before their first American audience. They were greeted with roof-raising shrieks which were music to their English ears. They sang: 1) All My Loving (Paul!!!!) - 2) Till There Was You (Paul!!!!!) - 3) She Loves You - 4) I Saw Her Standing There - 5) I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

They celebrated their victory at the Peppermint Lounge where Ringo twisted it up with Twist Captain Marlene Klaire. Her verdict? “Gear!” Mine, too!

It was a different time and place. I wish I could find the words that would bring alive the sweetness of that moment. (I've often wondered if The Beatles would have been as big a success over here if we weren't still numb with shock from JFK's assassination. After months of grieving, maybe we needed what they had to offer.)
When I told my mother we were going to the airport to see the Beatles arrive, she said, "If you get to talk to them, why don't you invite them over for dinner? I can borrow extra chairs from Aunt Betty."
That's the world I lived in circa 1964.
OKC: 12" completed on sleeve #1 - top down sweater. I love love love this pattern.

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Blogger Wendy said...

Barbara, will it make you love me more if I tell you that I cut class in 1969 to go with my big brother to see the Beatles play "Get Back" on the roof of the building where Apple Corp was housed in London at the time? 3 Savile Row.

(We lived 12 miles outside of London -- my dad was in the Navy and stationed in London. It's not like we played hooky and flew to London from the U.S.)

To this day my mom doesn't know. Please don't tell her or my brother and I will get into trouble.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

When I was 50, I finally told my mother that when I was 11 I rode my bike across 8 (or was it 12) lanes of traffic on Queens Boulevard. Trust me. Don't confess. You WILL get into trouble.

And I didn't think it was possible to love you more but I do. What a cool, cool memory!!

I'm beginning to think we might be twins separated at birth (and six or seven years.) I mean, the Beatles, the night owl thing, the Swedish thing . . . now if I could only knit lace.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

There's a whole lot of stuff we never told our mom. and we never will. Becasue we WOULD Get into trouble!

If you embark on lace I'll be your number one cheerleader. :-)

1:27 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

OMG, I loved this, Barbara! You were a brilliant writer at age 13 too!

Three things especially:
1) Monsignor Dwyer sounds like a very cool guy.
2) I love your little aside about Kennedy Airport's naming history.
3) "Gear"???? Huh????

4:57 PM  
Blogger Fran Baker said...

It was four days before my 17th birthday (February 11 - you do the math), and I watched the CBS News with Walter Cronkite, who appeared totally baffled by the whole Beatles phenomenon.

7:26 PM  
Blogger AliceAnderson said...

What a great post! I wasn't alive in 1964... but it's so neat to read about that. My mom is a huge Beatles fan, but I've never seen such a "live" perspective. Thanks so much for sharing!

9:44 AM  
Blogger AliceAnderson said...

Oh, and I totally agree with Nancy...

>>2) I love your little aside about Kennedy Airport's naming history.

I never knew that.... and now I do. I'm fascinated by what I can learn on blogs.

9:47 AM  

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