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01st February, 2024

Beatlemania: 60 Years Since They Landed In the USA, a Look Back by Merle Frimark

 ← Back to '60th Anniversary of The Beatles in the USA'


All Beatles studio photos ©Merle Frimark/Getty Images
All additional photos ©Merle Frimark
Story Copyright ©Merle Frimark (Printed with permission)

 

As I recall, the first time I heard a Beatles song was on my small transistor radio at home in Queens, New York in December, 1963. It was I Want To Hold Your Hand.  Like any other young teen, I became transfixed. Wow!  Who are they?

I was a faithful listener of the famed DJ, “Cousin” Bruce Morrow on WABC Music radio, the top station in New York back then, and listened intently as he played the record for the first time! He’s since become a great friend. Just recently he told me a fascinating story about how he received The Beatles very first record at the time.  

The record was delivered to Bruce at WABC Radio. Into the studio walked a record company executive along with a security guard.  The security guard had an attaché case attached to his wrist.  What was in the case he so carefully guarded?  The actual record of I Want To Hold Your Hand for Bruce to play on the air that night!  He was informed he could not play it on the air until 9:00 PM exactly!  

Once it aired, I believe BEATLEMANIA truly began, most certainly in New York.  The Beatles and WABC Radio became synonymous and thereafter referred to as:

W A BEATLE C!  

As The Beatles began to release more records, the fever continued to grow and grow. Everyone at school was obsessed and could not wait for the next song to come out.

As each single and album was released, we all ran to the music store to buy them.  We devoured every magazine article that came out about them and waited with bated breath to see more photos of them.

It was around this time that I joined The Beatles fan club and looked forward to receiving the Beatles Monthly magazine in the mail.  

The hysteria surrounding The Beatles continued to grow wildly.

February 7, 1964.  Woo Hoo!  The Beatles were coming to America and New York! They landed at the newly renamed John F. Kennedy airport.  As much as I really wanted to go out to the airport that day, my parents would not allow it nor would they drive me there!   I watched it all unfold on the TV news that evening - the huge gaggle of fans that turned up clearly was not anticipated by the Beatles team at the time. To this day, every time I see footage of those screaming fans at the airport, I get a chill!

Sunday, February 9, 1964.   The Beatles first live US TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  The anticipation for this event is, to this day, indescribable.  

Like millions around the US that Sunday night, I sat in front of our black and white television, with my parents, and watched.  The Ed Sullivan Show was a Sunday night ritual for us and most of America.  I would have given anything to have been in that audience but at my tender young age I had no idea how to even get there (we lived just outside Manhattan).  

When The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, little did we know our lives would be changed forever in that moment.  

Their arrival and this single national television appearance (viewed by some 73 million people, a record at the time), truly began America’s still enduring love affair with The Beatles.

In August, 1964 I somehow found out where The Beatles were staying, took the subway and went to stand outside the Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue along with thousands of others!   Traffic stopped.  The police were numb!  At one point, the boys popped their shaggy heads out the window to wave at the sea of adoring fans.  

When I heard that the incomparable US promoter Sid Bernstein had booked The Beatles to play their first outdoor stadium concert at Shea Stadium in New York (August 15, 1965), I immediately sent in my $5.65 to his post office box, and got my ticket in the mail!  I did this again for their Shea concert August 23, 1966.


Merle's tickets to The Beatles concerts at Shea Stadium.


Over 55,000 people screaming at both Shea concerts and we could not hear them which frustrated me as I really wanted to hear what they were singing.  Even the band could not hear themselves.

During these early days of Beatlemania, we were flooded with all kinds of Beatles memorabilia.  As if by magic, loads of Beatles merchandise became available including Bobble Heads, figurines, photos, posters, magazines, t-shirts, Christmas records, books and items that had a British flag were enormously popular!






As all this continued to unfold, in early 1967 I discovered The Beatles had an office in Manhattan.   As I was most curious, one day after school I took the subway into the city and went to the office building in Times Square.   As I got off the elevator, the sign on the door read “Beatles (USA) Limited / Nemperor Artists, Ltd.”  

It was very quiet. I knocked on the door and walked in.  The woman at the reception desk said “Hi. Are you here to be interviewed?”  I was a rather fearless teen and said yes.   Of course, I had no idea what I was to be interviewed for!

They were looking for help going through the sacks and sacks of Beatles fan mail.  They hired me immediately. Each day after school I would hop on the subway and go into the office to work for several hours.  All with the blessing of my parents!

Heading the small office and staff was the late Nathan M. Weiss, an American attorney, and US business partner of Brian Epstein.  Both their names were on the office door.  (later APPLE Corps was added).

I remained working there part-time until I graduated high school when they offered me a full-time job!  I accepted, with the consent of my incredibly supportive parents, and took college classes in the evening.  Nat and staff saw something in me and I continued to be promoted and given more responsibilities.  

I eventually became assistant director of Beatles (USA) Ltd (the US Fan Club) with the guidance of Freda Kelly in Liverpool.  Freda and I remain close friends today.

Though The Beatles stopped touring in 1966 they continued to release records. One of my responsibilities was to call the music trade publications every Monday, to get the “chart reports” for their releases (i.e.: #1 with a bullet). I would then send the chart report information via Telex machine directly to the London office.

I will never forget the day a demo of “Back In The USSR” arrived in the office before it was released.  We immediately played and blasted it out over and over!  WOW.  Such excitement!

In July of 1969, I took a two-week vacation and went to London, paying for my flight and hotel.  It was not my first time in London or the UK.  While there, I spent time at the Savile Row office, often filling in at the reception desk.


Merle at John’s desk.


Lots of folks coming and going (Mal Evans, Peter Brown, Tony Bramwell), fans waiting outside for a mere glimpse of ANY Beatle that might pop in. I also took the train to Liverpool, where I spent time with Freda Kelly, who took me to meet Ringo’s parents, the lovely Elsie and Harry Graves.   

It was the late Derek Taylor, the Beatles Press Officer, and a great mentor to me, who arranged for me to go to EMI Studios where The Beatles were putting the finishing touches on the song “Come Together” for the Abbey Road album.  

On Wed. July 23, 1969 I was off to EMI Studios (later renamed Abbey Road) where I became a fly on the wall and took some candid photos of the boys in their element.   The beloved and ever-present Mal Evans was there of course, greeted me warmly, put me at ease and reminded all that I was from the New York office. Hoots and hollers!  I quietly moved around trying to be invisible and shared a few winks and glances with John and Paul. John had just returned to the studio following a car accident in Scotland. I brought some white flowers for him and he took one and put it on top of the amp next to him. (Photo) Everyone could not have been nicer. 

Here are a few of my studio photos taken that day. 




I had no idea that within a year The Beatles would go their separate ways.  

In 1970, as things were winding down, I left the office and took a job with a major theatrical PR firm in New York where I worked on such landmark productions as the musicals HAIR, GODSPELL and many more…. the beginning of a long and successful career. Today I head my own entertainment marketing/public relations company in New York.

August, 1980. I was cycling in Central Park (near where the Imagine Circle is today) and noticed John and baby Sean sitting on a bench. I stopped to say hello. He seemed so very happy.  Four months later he was gone.

I do believe that fate has played a major role in my life and career. I am so grateful to have stepped into the world of The Beatles at this pivotal time in history.  

On a personal note, I became close to Sid Bernstein (and his family) in later years. I sadly announced Sid’s death in 2013 (age 95).

If it wasn’t for Sid’s persistence pursuing Brian Epstein to bring The Beatles to America, and that famous handshake across the pond, the music business – and our lives - just might have taken a very different turn.


Merle Frimark

Merle Frimark, who heads her own international marketing and public relations company based in New York, began her career as a teen working in The Beatles’ New York office.

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