The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

February 6, 2014

Memories of the Beatles' US television debut

It was 50 years ago today (almost) that this mop-topped band began to play (in America).

The Beatles made their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," America's must-see weekly variety show, on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964. And officially kicked off Beatlemania on this side of the pond.

More than 70 million viewers were tuned to the program, airing live from the Manhattan studio now housing the "Late Show With David Letterman."

Here are recollections from some notable viewers and participants — including one Beatle.

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Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall were an up-and-coming husband-and-wife comedy team that specialized in carefully crafted character sketches. They were thrilled when they landed their first appearance on "Sullivan."

Unfortunately, they were booked on that first Beatles show — slotted just before the Beatles hit the stage for their second set. Needless to say, the studio audience — packed with teenage girls — wasn't interested in watching grown-ups doing comedy.

Charlie Brill: "Mr. Sullivan called us into his dressing room after dress rehearsal. He said, 'You're doing a very sophisticated piece of business and my audience is 14-year-old girls. They won't understand it. So why don't you show me everything you have, and we'll rebuild your whole act.'"

MM: "The biggest laugh we got was when I ad-libbed, 'I was backstage and I stepped on a beetle.'"

CB: "That got a roar."

MM: "And I thought, 'Oh, boy, are we in trouble!'"

CB: "After we finished, we stood in the wings and watched, but I couldn't hear anything. The screaming from the audience was so intense that I didn't even know what the Beatles were doing."

MM: "Now I feel like it was an honor to be on that show with them, but our performance wasn't what we wanted it to be. We never look at the recording of it."

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