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When I Saw Them Standing There

Lives changed forever after Ed Sullivan brought the Beatles into American homes 50 years ago

I knew February 9, 1964, would be special. I had no way of knowing that from that day on, my life would never be the same.

“Young lady,” Mom said reproachfully as she spied me sitting several inches from the black-and-white TV screen, “I told you not to sit so close.” A tad on the overprotective side, she continually warned me about potential dangers, such as breaking my neck or being hit by a car. At least she hadn’t said the TV could poke my eyes out.

“Who’s on tonight, anyway?” Dad inquired, looking for program listings in the Sunday newspaper. I ignored the question, sensing that if I answered, he would only laugh and ask, “What’s a Beatle?”

The Beatles were a “fab” new singing group from England, and girls, including me, at Neal Elementary School in San Antonio were obsessed. We’d heard a few of their songs on our tinny transistor radios. The energy and joy in their music was irresistible. And those Liverpool accents were so groovy!

Fan magazines plastered photos of the Beatles on their covers. We were charmed by what our fathers disapprovingly referred to as “that long hair!” In those days, long before the Internet, songs on the radio and magazine photos were about all we had. We longed to see them perform, watch them move, hear them talk and joke around. That’s why their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” was so important to us.

I sat on the floor directly in front of the television, some impulse deep inside urging me to get as close as I could. Mom’s warning fell on momentarily deaf ears. I leaned forward, waiting. Time stood still until I heard Sullivan say those magic words:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!”

That night I fell in love for the first time—with Paul McCartney. I loved Daddy, but this was a totally different thing. Never mind that I was a little kid, a bit on the chubby side, and wore glasses. None of that mattered. As far as I was concerned, Paul and I were meant for each other. Across America, millions of other girls felt the same. More than

23 million households tuned in to that historic broadcast. That amounted to about 73 million people, then the record for the largest TV audience.

That night was just the beginning. The “Fab Four” enchanted fans wherever they played as they crisscrossed America during a time now referred to as the British invasion. Each new single and album led us down a new, exciting path. We couldn’t get enough of them. We wanted more.

That wish was granted when the group’s first movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” premiered in the fall of 1964. I went with a classmate who became utterly superfluous as the curtains opened at the Woodlawn Theatre and the movie began. What a feast for the eyes to watch them cavorting onscreen so much larger than life! Most of the girls in the theater screamed whenever their favorite Beatle appeared. I sat soaking up every word, every movement. No drug could have produced such a high. I longed to see them in person, but San Antonio wasn’t even a blip on the Beatles’ radar screen.

As the years passed, I reluctantly accepted the fact that I’d never see them perform live. I discovered other artists and musical genres, but no one ever broke the spell that John, Paul, George and Ringo cast over me. Molly, a college friend, shared my feelings. One night, we watched a video of “A Hard Day’s Night.” As the closing credits rolled, she turned to me and said, “I guess this is the closest we’ll ever get.”

It was, until May 29, 1993. The Beatles had broken up years before, but Paul McCartney would perform the inaugural concert in San Antonio’s new Alamodome. Imagine—Paul in San Antonio. Finally! The fact that I had since moved to Dallas was no impediment.

On that magic night, Molly and I were tiny specks in a crowd of about 48,000 rapturous McCartney maniacs. No matter. I was there. Paul was there. Yes, I was grown up now and the throes of Beatlemania were in the past, but this was what I had waited for and dreamed about for so long. Whenever we heard the beginning notes of a Beatles song, we started screaming and calling out, “We love you, Paul!” It wasn’t quite 1964 revisited, but it was close enough for us. In a roundabout way, my dream had come true.

Molly and I still talk about that night every now and then. It doesn’t seem possible that 50 years have passed since the life-changing February night when we saw the Beatles for the first time. The halcyon days of my childhood sped past, leaving little-girl dreams far behind. Like everyone else, I’ve lived through tragedies and triumphs. Beatles songs often served as the soundtrack for my celebrations. During tough times, I drew strength from them, too.

I still know that young dreamer who fell in love with a Beatle. She bubbles up inside me whenever I hear a Beatles song or go to one of Paul’s concerts. Suddenly, I’m a girl and it’s 1964 again. If that’s not magic, I’d like to know what is.

Lori Grossman is a Dallas writer.