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13th June, 2022

National Candy Month: While Jelly Beans and Jelly Babies May Be Sweet, They Possess A Powerful Punch

President Ronald Reagan of the United States is known as the unprecedented biggest fan of jelly beans, but what if, at one point, The Beatles loved jelly beans more than this president who has a mural of jelly jeans made of him –or so Americans thought–. Since June is known as “National Candy Month” and “National Soul Food Month,” we reflect on The Beatles’ first American tour, where the entirety of America misinterpreted The Beatles’ soul food candy, and how this led to the Beatles enduring a jelly bean beating during their tour. 

President Reagan eating jelly beans during a cabinet affairs briefing in Cabinet Room, 1985.

This “Jelly Bean Controversy” began in 1963 when George Harrison told the TV host in an interview that Jelly Babies were his favorite sweet, and that John Lennon had “stolen his Jelly Babies”. Jelly Babies originated in Lancashire, England, in the nineteenth century, and they are multicolored soft sugar jelly sweets molded in the shape of plump babies. This minor conversation led to more jelly babies being shipped to The Beatles than they knew what to do with. The average person dreams of being barraged by their favorite sugary sweet, so why were The Beatles annoyed by this sudden influx of candy? Because not only were their mailboxes invaded by jelly babies, but also their stages of performance, as they were pelted by jelly babies from all directions. 

This is why the Beatles’ upcoming American tour in 1964 seemed like the perfect escape from those wretched jelly babies, since jelly babies are an English sweet. The Beatles were correct that  traveling to the “Land of the Free” meant that they were free from their jelly babies nightmare, but they did not expect to encounter a more powerful “jelly” candy, the jelly bean. A New York Newspaper mistakenly reported that jelly beans were The Beatles’ favorite candy, bringing their jelly-candy attack problem overseas to the US. During their first U.S. concert in Washington D.C. on February 11, 1964, The Beatles were in for a rude jelly bean awakening, as they were again ambushed with candy, but instead by small, hard, bullet-like Jelly Beans. 

The popular English sweet 'Jelly Babies' were invented in 1864.

“That night, we were absolutely pelted by the f*****g things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on you from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, traveling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished. You’re blind aren’t you? We’ve never liked people throwing stuff like that. We don’t mind them throwing streamers, but jelly beans are a bit dangerous, you see! Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.”

George Harrison, The Beatles Off The Record, Keith Badman

Beatles fan, or 'Beatle-maniacs,' during the height of Beatlemania.

Luckily for Ringo, he was able to use his drumming position as self defense from the jelly-candy fire because he had protection from his drum set. 

In a letter George Harrison wrote in 1963 to 15-year-old girl fan Lynn Smith, George Harrison expressed his discontent opinions on the jelly bean and jelly baby fiasco:

“We don’t like Jelly Babies, or fruit gums for that matter, so think how we feel standing on stage trying to dodge the stuff, before you throw some more at us.… besides it is dangerous. I was hit in the eye once with a boiled sweet, and it’s not funny.”

The Jelly Bean projectiles continued throughout the Beatles’ first American tour. In August of ’64 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, the concert came to a halt twice due to an unrelenting attack of Jelly Beans on the Beatles. In fact, multiple Jelly Bean tossing fans were kicked out of their concert at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit.

15 billion jelly beans are exported per year, which means that about 1.25 billion jelly beans will be enjoyed this June for National Candy Month. As we celebrate this month of sweets, we remember how Brits and Americans alike turned seemingly harmless sugary delights into rainbow bullets of destruction for The Beatles. While jelly beans were a luxurious candy for American President Ronald Reagan to indulge in, jelly beans were small weapons used against the Beatles by crazed and adoring fans.

Jullea Powell - Beatles fan guest-writer

Jullea is a high school student journalist and writer from the United States that aspires to be a corporate attorney. If she’s not writing, she’s singing “I Am The Walrus” while driving.

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