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Beatles Memorabilia from the Ed Sullivan Show

Beatles Memorabilia from the Ed Sullivan Show

Here's the story of The Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the items of rare memorabilia which survive from that really big show...

You could argue that, in the U.S at least, the 1960s actually began on February 9, 1964.

The decade which saw counter-culture take over the mainstream, and rock 'n' roll take over the nation, sparked into life that night, as an estimated 74 million Americans sat down in front of their television sets and watched four lads from Liverpool change the world.

They say everyone can tell you where they were on November 22, 1963 when JFK was assassinated. A lot of them also remember where they were a few weeks later, when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

"I think the whole world was watching that night. It certainly felt that way," said Tom Petty, just one of a generation of musicians who were inspired by the performance.

"You just knew it, sitting in your living room, that everything around you was changing. It was like going from black-and-white to color. Really. I remember earlier that day, in fact, a kid on a bike passed me and said, ‘Hey, the Beatles are on TV tonight.’ I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, and I thought to myself, ‘This means something.'"

The Beatles and Ed Sullivan

(Image: Wikipedia)

During their two spots the band performed five songs - All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and I Want To Hold Your Hand.

In the studio the audience screamed, and at home kids were transfixed. Some parents watched warily as their children were hypnotized, noting the suspicious glint in George's eye and the dangerous length of John's fringe.

"I think that was really one of the big things that broke us - the hairdo more than the music, originally," said Paul McCartney, 30 years later. "A lot of people's fathers had wanted to turn us off. They told their kids, 'Don't be fooled, they're wearing wigs.'"

During the evening Ray Bloch, Musical Director of The Ed Sullivan Show, reportedly said "The only thing that’s different is the hair, as far as I can see. I give them a year."

He, along with many others from an older generation, thought they were watching another flash-in-the-pan fad that would soon disappear back to England.

But the youth of America knew they were witnessing the start of something completely new – new music, new hairstyles, new clothes and new ideas. It was four years late, but the 60s as we know them now had finally begun.

For many collectors, owning memorabilia from that night is the holy grail – like standing in the exact spot where lightning has struck, the ground still warm beneath your feet.

Here are just a few of the surviving artefacts from that really, really big show...


Also on tonight's show...

How do you follow one of the most iconic rock and roll television performances in history?

With a little close-up magic, that's how.

Fred Kaps was the Dutch sleight-of-hand magician who had the unenviable task of following the Fab Four that night, and he did so with aplomb (after Sullivan had quietened down his screaming audience a little).

To this day Kaps is remembered in magic circles as one of the best in the business, and he remains the only magician in history to have won the FISM Grand Prix Championship (essentially the World Series of Magic) three times.

magician fred kapps

(Image: Wikipedia)

Following the show Kaps performed one of his greatest tricks – getting the band to sign his autograph book. The inscriptions suggest their paths may have crossed before whilst touring throughout Europe:

"To Fred best wishes and see you on another tour! George Harrison", "All the best, Fred - keep smiling and touring! Paul McCartney", "lots of luggage Fred from John Lennon".

He also procured the signatures of Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor, and – uniquely – Ed Sullivan himself.

It's believed this autograph book is the only item signed by both The Beatles and Ed Sullivan during the show, and was described by experts as "one of the most important and historic autographed items in existence".

Aside from album covers, it's also the world's most valuable piece of signed Beatles memorabilia, having sold at Heritage Auctions in 2014 for $125,000.

Beatles Ed Sullivan show autograph book sold at Heritage Auctions
(Image: Heritage Auctions)


Kaps wasn't the only autograph hunter on the show's bill that night.

Another was Noreen Fay, a member of the vaudevillian acrobatic troop Wells & The Four Fays who closed the show after The Beatles had caused more havoc with their second set.

Earlier that day during dress rehearsals for the show, Fay approached the band and got the signatures of John, Paul and Ringo on her copy of the rehearsal call sheet.

However, her trophy was incomplete as George Harrison was forced to miss rehearsals through illness. As he battled against a streptococcal sore throat in his hotel room, both press officer Neil Aspinall and production assistant Vince Calandra stood in for George as the director planned the camera blocking.

Harrison rose from his sick bed to perform on the night, but unlike Kaps, Fay never approached the band after the show to complete her set. The autographed sheet still fetched a healthy $11,250 at Heritage Auctions in 2014, but its value would have been considerably more if George Harrison hadn't had such a sore throat.

Beatles signed Ed Sullivan Show call sheet sold at Heritage Auctions

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

However, even without autographs the same documents were of value to collectors. Another set of unsigned rehearsal call sheets from Fay's collection also sold in the same auction for $4,062.

These sheets record the full running order of the show, including commercials for Aero Shave, Anadin and Pillsbury, along with the times for other acts such as comedian Frank Gorshin and the Broadway cast of Oliver (including a young Davy Jones, later of The Monkees).

Fay may not have got a full set of autographs, but she did get another memento during the rehearsal – a unique 8mm film featuring footage of the band and the pandemonium they caused.

"I have never seen any scenes to compare with the bedlam that was occasioned by their debut," said Sullivan. "Broadway was jammed with people for almost eight blocks. They screamed, yelled, and stopped traffic. It was indescribable ... There has never been anything like it in show business, and the New York City police were very happy it didn't - and wouldn't - happen again.”

Hearing a commotion outside her dressing room window, Fay realized the band were arriving and captured their arrival in a limousine, surrounded by fans and police on horseback.

She later filmed a short clip of the band rehearsing on stage, and their equally dramatic exit from the studio as a photographer tried to sneak into their car and fans chased them down the street.

The resulting two reels of previously unseen, silent colour footage sold at Heritage for $5,625.


This one's for all the people at home

The Beatles' appearance is considered such a watershed moment in pop culture history that even memorabilia from those who weren't there can be valuable.

For the Beatles' debut performance, CBS received an estimated 50,000 ticket requests for the 728 available seats, and a week before the show Sullivan himself jokingly announced “Coincidentally, if anyone has a ticket for The Beatles on our show next Sunday, could I please borrow it? We need it very badly.”

Beatles ed sullivan show ticket rejection slip sold at Heritage Auctions(Image: Heritage Auctions)

The vast majority of those requesting tickets received the standard CBS ticket rejection slip, and most were tossed in the trash. However, this particular ticket rejection form and was kept for decades by a Beatles fan, who probably cursed their luck every time they looked at it.

As the only example bearing the magic date of February 9, 1964 offered at auction, this piece of ephemera fetched an impressive $2,000 at Heritage merely by its association to the performance.

Aside from the 700 or so lucky audience members, the show also offered VIP tickets to important guests and studio executives. Unused examples from the February 9 show can sell for thousands of dollars, with this single VIP ticket realizing $9,375 at Heritage in 2013.

Beatles ed sullivan show unused VIP ticket
(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Another unused pair sold at Julien's in 2010 for $5,120, along with a memo between CBS employees which shows that, immediately after the performance, people already recognized the tickets could make an "interesting souvenir" from a night that would go down in history.


Ringo's the Star

As for memorabilia from the Fab Four themselves, just one item has ever hit the market, but it was centre stage for the entire performance – Ringo's iconic 'Beatles' drum skin.

When the band flew out to America for the first time on February 7 they were travelling light. Most of Ringo's drum kit remained back in the U.K, with just his snare drum, cymbals and the freshly-painted drum skin making the journey.

Upon arrival the band acquired a new kit and attached the Drop T logo skin, which was then taken over to the CBS studio for rehearsals and the show itself.

ringo starr beatles ed sullivan show drum skin sold at Julien's Auctions(Image: Julien's Auctions)

After the performance the kit made its way to the capitol, for The Beatles' first U.S gig at the Washington Coliseum, then back to New York for two further shows at Carnegie Hall, and finally down to Florida, for another live appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (this time broadcast live from the Deauville Hotel in Miami).

When the band returned from America on February 22, the drum kit was sent over to Abbey Road studios and the skin was eventually packed away.

Twenty years later it found its way out of storage and into an auction at Sotheby's, where it sold for $9,000 to Australian collector and restaurateur George Wilkins.

Then in 1994, after 10 years on display, it was offered at auction again at Sotheby's. It wasn't the only Beatles drum skin on sale that day. The iconic painted skin from the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band also hit the block, making headlines when it sold for just over $80,000.

There were also slight questions about the authenticity of the Drop T skin, and nobody really knew if it was the same one used on the Ed Sullivan show, as it was one of seven hand-painted examples featuring the iconic 'Drop T' logo to be used throughout the band's career.

However, collector and Beatles expert Russ Lease had done his homework, and was prepared to take a $44,000 gamble on it.

He then spent years meticulously researching the different skins used by the band, and gathered enough evidence to prove beyond a doubt that his was the famous 'Ed Sullivan' skin.

Mounted on a replica bass drum, it hit the auction block for a third time at Julien's in 2015 with an estimated value of $1 million – and sold for $2.19 million.

The winning bidder was Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts and one of the world's leading music memorabilia collectors, who had previously paid millions for several guitars owned by the Fab Four.

And he wasn't finished there.

A few months later in December 2015 he spent another $2.2 million to get his hands on Ringo's first complete Ludwig drum kit, used at hundreds of gigs and to record dozens of their early hits.

"It took over 4 million dollars and 45 years, but we finally got them back together," Irsay later said of his Beatles instrument collection.

"I know it's a symbolic thing, but it really means a lot to me."

There are a few million others who would share the sentiment.

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