The Beatles debut on American television? Heck, that's an easy one. Everyone knows that.
On Sunday night, February 9, 1964, the Beatles made their first American TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. 73 million Americans (almost half the population) watched this show, which attained the highest ratings, up to that time, in the history of television. 73 million of us sat in front of our television sets, electrified, enraptured, shocked or disgusted (depending on the viewer).
Many were already Beatle fans. Others were simply curious. Most of us were fascinated. A huge percentage of the girls and the women watching were probably stirred in a sexual way. There were plenty of male viewers, a few of which may have been turned off, but most were in a state of hypnotized awe. Nothing sexual (at least for most of the guys), but just that rare feeling that we were witnessing something that was going to change our world, our universe- forever. How right we were!
This was, indeed, the Beatles "actual" first-ever appearance on American television.
Or was it? Let's talk semantics now. What was the very first occasion where the Beatles were seen on American television?
The Beatles landed in America two days earlier and their arrival was covered by the major news networks of the time. The film of the Beatles arrival was shown on the news by at least two of the three major networks that evening. (The story goes that Walter Cronkite, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, did not deem the footage worthy of being shown on his nightly broadcast). In fact, the Beatles themselves watched their US arrival on the TV news that very evening, in their hotel room.
But earlier that year, on January 3rd, a TV talk show host named Jack Paar, showed a brief clip of the Beatles performing in England. As the film footage showed hysterical girls swooning and screaming, Paar made several sarcastic remarks. As they showed the Beatles singing and shaking their mop top haircuts, Paar made a few semi-snide cracks at their expense. Although, to be fair, Paar did call them "nice boys" and say they were "witty."
Many Beatle historians regard the Paar show as the authentic Beatles first appearance on US television. But let's go back a bit earlier in Beatles TV history.
On November 16, 1963, all three of the major US television networks sent a film crew to capture a Beatle concert in Bournemouth. The concert captured the standard (for England anyway, as the Beatles were already a huge phenomena there) clips of the Beatles singing, strumming their guitars, shaking their mop tops, and the girls in the audience screaming, dancing, and almost fainting in a wild frenzy.
The footage was, indeed, shown on the NBC evening news on the beloved Huntley-Brinkley Report. This was on November 18th, 1963.
CBS waited until the morning of November 22nd, and a filmed clip interview of the four Beatles was shown on that soon-to-be fateful Friday, in the morning. (The clip had been scheduled to be re-broadcast later, that same evening).
By an unbelievable coincidence, president John F. Kennedy was assassinated later that very day. Obviously, with 24-hour coverage of the JFK assassination being broadcast, the clip of the strange group from England was shelved. Almost three weeks later, on December 10, 1963, the clip and interview of the Fab Four was finally shown on The CBS Evening News.
This broadcast helped generate the Beatlemania frenzy. A teenage girl saw the news broadcast and called a Washington DC radio disc jockey named Carroll James. She requested a Beatles record called “I Want to Hold Your Hand" to be played on James' popular radio show. James himself had also seen the news clip on the Beatles and willingly complied. The constant airplay of this record helped grease the wheels of impending Beatlemania in America.
So, technically, that November 18th NBC news report of the Beatles on The Huntley-Brinkley Report was "the first" appearance of the Beatles on American television.
Wait, not so fast there, Sherlock. Let us backtrack a few months earlier.
We find ourselves in September of 1963, a time when the Beatles were virtually unknown in the states. It was on Dick Clark's popular dance show American Bandstand that we do, indeed, see the Beatles for the very first time.
It was on the popular “Rate a Record" segment of the show, where Clark would play five different records to a panel of teen judges, for the purpose of rating them. Five records were played, as usual, that day, to the teen panel of judges. The Beatles' latest record “She Loves You" was played.
It rated a "73" out of a possible 100. Of the five records played that day, “She Loves You" came in third place. As Dick Clark held up a photograph of the Beatles, the teenagers giggled and snickered. The trademark "mop top" haircuts were so odd, so unusual, for that time, the sight of these four long-haired weirdos brought forth a mixture of surprised and derisive laughter.
Little did any of these teens realize that in a few short months, most of them would be worshiping these Liverpool singers, in an almost god-like fashion. Most of the boys would be growing or trying to grow Beatle haircuts themselves. And most of the girls would be throwing away their Elvis records and fantasizing about John, Paul, George and/or Ringo. Long hair and all.
And as we now know, every teenager who was present on American Bandstand that fateful day in 1963, is undoubtedly still bragging to his or her respective spouses, friends, co-workers, children, and (possibly) grandchildren, that “I was there" the first time the Beatles were ever shown on American television.