Monday, February 28th, 2022

Remembering When the Beatles Appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”

On this day in 1964, the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, one week after “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became their first #1 hit in America. While 728 audience members in the theatre experienced the Beatles singing to them in person, the estimated audience watching the much-hyped event at home was 73 million. Sullivan was in his 16th season on the air, and his program had long-ago become a staple of American popular culture on Sunday evenings. But this night was to be very different. It quickly became an entertainment event famous for having not only generated unprecedented anticipation, but for surpassing even the highest of expectations.

Below are just a few excerpts from my book “We’re Going to See the Beatles!” (Santa Monica Press, 2008), featuring the words of over 40 people I interviewed from across the country who were young Beatles fans at the time — some who watched the program at home, tape recording it or taking pictures off the TV screen — others who were fortunate enough to have been in the studio audience.

The reverberations felt throughout millions of households across the country that Sunday evening were immediate. For most parents watching the Beatles’ performance, it was in parts laughable, cacophonous, unseemly, or worse. For their children, however, it was nothing short of electrifying. By the time that single hour-long program began rolling its closing credits at 8:58 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Beatles had generated an emotional shock wave of such intensity that it instantly sent an entire generation of American teenagers into a state of sheer exhilaration. An overstatement, perhaps? Not according to those who experienced it and who can still recall that night in vivid detail, and with that same youthful passion.