How Chick and Chuck Saw the Beatles

In the winter and spring of 1964, a ticket to see the Beatles in concert was a precious totem. Just because you wanted one didn’t mean you could get one. National General Corporation, one of the country’s largest theater chains, which had branched out into movie distribution and closed-circuit TV, realized it could help meet the demand for the Beatles, and clean up in the process. The Beatles’ first live show in America, in Washington, D.C., two nights after their famous first appearance on The Ed Sullivan show, had been filmed by CBS. National General packaged the film with concert footage of the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore shot elsewhere, and planned to show the whole thing closed-circuit in theaters on the weekend of March 14 and 15, 1964.

National General produced an ad for the film that was to be shown in participating theaters—an ad largely eliding the fact that the ticket kids would be buying was to a movie and not an in-person show, although it eventually comes clean. It also tells viewers, “don’t confuse this with home TV.”

According to an article at the Pop History Dig, the film played in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Washington, as well as El Monte, California, Portland, Oregon, Norfolk, Virginia, Oak Park, Illinois, San Jose, California, and most likely several other cities where National General owned theaters. A contemporary report said that National General made $4 million—equivalent to a lot more than that today.

Excerpts from the film were featured in The Beatles Anthology, but the whole thing as seen on that March weekend 46 years ago is most likely lost. Excerpts from the Washington show have been released on DVD, but reviews I can find for the releases (the five-disc 2008 set Turn Left at Greenland and a 2003 release by Passport Video) are negative, criticizing the sound and video quality. A higher-quality film apparently appeared on the Internet sometime last year.

For more extremely fascinating stuff on the early days of Beatlemania in America at the Pop History Dig, click here. Word of warning: Once you start clicking links at the Pop History Dig, you’re going to be at it all day.

(While fooling around with the clip above at YouTube, I found another one in which John and George do an endorsement for Marlboro cigarettes. There’s precious little on the web to indicate whether it was an actual commercial, paid for and put on the air by Marlboro to sell cigarettes, or a clip from somewhere else that’s been labeled as a Marlboro commercial after the fact. If you know, you’ll have to tell me.)

News News: Huey Lewis and the News is a band we like a lot around here, so we’re glad to hear they’re releasing a new record later this year. It’ll be their first since 2001, is made up of Stax covers, and was cut at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where a number of Stax releases were made. The band’s earlier album of cover songs, Four Chords and Several Years Ago, was great, so this new record clearly has a chance to be pretty good, too. There’s no word on when it will be released, but we do know that the band is going on tour later this spring. More here.

At WNEW.com: I hear Rumours.

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3 responses

  1. Love the cigarette commercial with John & George!!! Very funny – very 1960s. Thanks for finding and sharing.
    Best,
    Dave
    Author of “The Beatles In Cleveland”

  2. On a similar topic, I recently read about a TV show the Beatles made in 1964 called “Around the Beatles,” which the boys in the band apparently thought was pretty good. Do you know anything about that? I suppose a DVD release is too much to ask for.

  3. […] will force them to take a train to Washington, D.C., for the first date on their American tour, on Tuesday at the Washington Coliseum. On Wednesday, the Beatles will return to New York to play Carnegie Hall. On TV tonight, ABC airs […]

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