Forty years ago the Beatles came to Philadelphia. And nothing would ever be the same.
At the very moment the riot is breaking out in North Philadelphia, the Beatles are camped at the Hotel Delmonico in New York for a two-day run at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Something is happening in the hotel room that, had he found out, would have given Rizzo apoplexy: Bob Dylan is passing a joint to John Lennon. This act of stoner generosity will almost single-handedly light the fuse of the psychedelic '60s.
Dylan just assumed the Fab Four were all seasoned pot smokers, having mistaken the "I can't hide" line in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for "I get high." Lennon warily hands the joint to Ringo Starr. Blissfully unaware of pot-smoking etiquette, he proceeds to bogart it down to the ashes. Another joint is quickly rolled.
Giddy with the "profound" philosophical insight of the newly high, Paul McCartney announces he has figured out the meaning of life. He asks an assistant for a pen and a piece of paper. He simply must write this down before he forgets it. The next morning he's disappointed to discover that the only thing written on the piece of paper is the cryptic phrase, "THERE ARE SEVEN LEVELS."
The next night, after another breathless run-for-your-life backstage escape, the Beatles helicopter from New York to Atlantic City for a few days of surf-and-sun R&R prior to their concert at the A.C. Convention Center. But the Beatles are fast becoming prisoners of their own fame, and the several-thousand-strong teen mob that rings the perimeter of the Lafayette Motor Lodge on North Carolina Avenue keeps them roombound for the duration of their stay.
The Beatles tell reporters they're playing Monopoly, but the truth is a bit more decadent. Invited up to the Beatles' suite on the first night of the A.C. stay, Larry Kane is taken aback when he enters the room and sees a line of 20 heavily perfumed women in low-cut dresses and painted faces. Standing off to the side like a lion tamer, a man in a suit turns to the Beatles party and says, "Take your pick."
"You heard the man," cackles Lennon. "Take your pick."
The next night, on the way to the venue, the Beatles are nearly torn to pieces when a mob of teenagers surrounds the motorcade and smashes its way into one of the chase cars before police break through and restore order. The next day the Atlantic City police smuggle the Beatles out of town in the back of a Hackney's Fish truck while a decoy motorcade takes off in the opposite direction. Several miles west of Atlantic City, the Beatles switch transport, trading the fish truck for the comparatively cushy confines of a chartered bus heading to Philadelphia. The Jersey roads are lined with teenagers hoping for a glimpse of the passing motorcade.
The vigil outside Convention Hall begins with four teenage girls who show up at 2:30 on the morning of the concert. Police quickly dispatch a cab and send them home. But reinforcements soon follow, and by 3 p.m. more than 1,000 teenagers are outside Convention Hall chanting, "WE WANT THE BEATLES!"
A contingent of crewcut boys stage a wildly unpopular anti-Beatles protest, holding up signs that make the hard-to-argue claim that the Fab Four are unfair to barbers. Oh, that hair! Nobody older than voting age can get over that outrageously "long" Beatle hair. Local columnist Rose DeWolf refers to them as "the barber-shy quintet." A wag from the Inquirer had earlier opined, "The haircuts look like some drunken barber had at them with a soup bowl and pair of tinsmith's shears."
Word has slipped out that the Beatles are staying at the Warwick Hotel. Sandy Hankin and her gal pals from the Northeast have prepared for this eventuality. Just about every day in August--when they weren't busy seeing A Hard Day's Night 28 times--they would take the bus and the El into Center City and case out the back entrances and freight elevators at the Warwick and the Bellevue Stratford, befriending maids who promised to divulge the Beatles' room numbers. By mid-afternoon there are 400 girls waiting outside of the Warwick.
At 3:51 the Beatles' caravan slips into the back entrance of Convention Hall, somehow eluding the notice of the feverish crowd out front. Four cots are set up in the Beatles' dressing room--Rizzo had nixed any plans to stop at the Warwick before the show--along with five bottles of J&B scotch, 25 fish-and-chips dinners from Bookbinder's and bagload after bagload of the 50,000 fan letters, including 88 marriage proposals, sent in by WIBBAGE listeners. When it's all over, the radio station will give away the cots as prizes to station callers, along with the Beatles' unused toilet paper.
The first Beatle Hy Lit greets is Paul McCartney, who asks the not-unreasonable question, "What is a Hy Lit?" Hyski smiles and tells him it's a cologne, baby.
The Beatles' handlers try to clear the dressing room, but Hyski isn't gonna get kicked out of his own party. He reminds his guests that he paid for everything they see around them. Okay, say the handlers in polite British accents, everybody but Mr. Hyski has to leave.
Behind the toothy grins and urbane Goon Show wit the Beatles produce on cue at every strobe-flashed airport, hotel and press conference, there's a little-publicized dark side to Beatlemania--menacing letters, bomb hoaxes, telephoned death threats.
A week before the Beatles arrive in town, psychic Jeane Dixon--who rose to prominence by foretelling JFK's assassination in Dallas--predicts the Beatles' plane will crash on the flight out of Philadelphia. The prediction rattles the Beatles' cage--especially Lennon, who gravely confides to Larry Kane that he can't stop thinking about Buddy Holly dying in a plane crash.
George Harrison gets Dixon on the phone and asks her about the prediction. He reports to the Beatles' touring entourage that Dixon was "reassuring," and told him it was safe for the Beatles to fly. During downtime at Convention Hall, Kane pulls Harrison aside.
"George, we've been hearing things, and reading about this woman who's predicting a plane disaster," Kane says.
"Uh, normally I just take it with a laugh and a smile and a pinch of salt, thinking, you know, she's off her head," Harrison replies. "But, y'know, it's not a nice thing to say, especially when you're flying almost every day. But just hope for the best, and keep a stiff upper head, and away we go. If you crash, you crash. When your number's up, that's it.
PW's Music Issue 2014