Post Series, September 14-20, 1964
The Intimate Portrait--By Paul Sann, Executive Editor
Monday, September 14, 1964
THIS is Ringo Starr, the one with the mournful look and the big nose and the four rings on his fingers, talking to a newspaperman last Saturday morning as the Beatles' chartered Lockheed Electra jet spanned the skies from hurricane-ravaged Florida to Boston:
"I had a beard then. One day I'd be a scruffly article, you know, and then I'd shave and then I'd let it grow again. And then one day--it was in August, 1962--John Lennon called me and he said 'You're in, shave your beard'--I had a beard again--'but keep your sidies.' That's sideburns, you know.
"So I went in and we rehearsed for two hours and I sat in with the Beatles in a place in Port Sunligh, outside of Liverpool, and the crowd kept chanting RINGO NEVER, PETE FOREVER, because I was taking Pete's place on the drums, you know. I didn't mind because only half of them hated me, so it wasn't so bad. I had the other half of the audience and, anyway, it stopped after two-and-a-half or three weeks."
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AND THIS IS JOHN LENNON,THE ELDER STATESMAN OF THE
Beatles and the one who started it all, whatever it is, talking on the way to Key West the night the plane couldn't land in Jacksonville because of the storm:
"The only thing people know is that we were Teddy Boys in the early days, but we weren't. We dressed in the Teddy Boy style--long jackets and all that--but we weren't. We never got in trouble. We knew what we were doing, and we know now. We know we're going through something that doesn't seem to have an end--but it does have an end. We all know it can't last forever."
And Paul McCartney, the one they say has the choirboy look, on the way to Jacksonville when the hurricane let up:
". . . then we started composing songs. John had a song he had written and I had one--it was, 'I Lost My Little Girl'--and I'd sing him one and he'd sing me one and we would work on them on holidays and even sometimes when we were supposed to be in school. We'd just belt away--my father would be out working and he wouldn't know it.
"But none of us really felt any fervor about show business. Really, I don't remember ever thinking that it would be so bad if we didn't make it. . ."
And George Harrison, the lead guitar, who is supposed to be the quiet Beatle but really isn't:
"I bought a guitar from a schoolmate--I was 12 or 13, I think--but the trouble was I couldn't play it. I bought a tutor book but I couldn't understand the chords. Then I started fooling around with one of the screws and it fell apart and I put the thing in the closet. I bought a trumpet and I would play things like, 'When the Saints Come Marching In,' and oh, it was awful. Then my brother got the guitar out of the closet and fixed it and I got the hang of a few chords and I started practicing again. . ."
* * *
THAT'S HOW THE BEATLES, WINDING UP A WHIRLWIND BACK
-and-forth tour of the U.S. and Canada, which is shattering all of the records of show business and leaving hordes of prostrate and hysterical teenagers in its frantic wake, look back on the beginnings of it all, such a few years ago.
With their hair down (if it's possible to say such a thing about a Beatle), they can talk about those early days with all the warmth and earnest manner of any kids remembering something good--or something that came out good later on. In a public place, in the open, they can be quite different. There's a good example in what happened one night last week at Toronto's Maple Leaf Garden.
The Liverpool mopheads, between shows, were on stage in an arena empty except for a solid phalanx of reporters, photographers, radio and TV "newsmen" and disc jockeys and the inevitable cluster of teenagers and autograph hounds (there's no age limit on the autograph hunters) who manage to infiltrate all Beatle press conferences.
A reporter on the floor below Paul McCartney, who had just lit an English cigarette, had a question:
"I have observed that all the Beatles smoke. Don't you feel that in your present position you should quit smoking and set an example for other young people?"
Paul, the singing star, just staked the reporter to a blank stare. But George Harrison moved his own microphone a little closer. "We don't set examples for people," he said in his heavy Liverpool accent.
Ringo Starr, who hardly ever answers a press conference question unless it is specifically addressed to him (Q. Why do you wear so many rings on your fingers? A. Because I can't get them through my nose.) went a step further than George.
"We even drink," he said, rolling the "r" to make the word more ominous.
* * *
IN MONTREAL THE NEXT DAY, IN THE FORUM, A GIRL REPORTER
went back to the Toronto theme:
"Don't the Beatles feel," she asked, "that they should be setting an example at the present time for youth all over the world?"
John Lennon, betraying nothing on his face, answered the girl with six words.
"We're not here to set examples," he said, brushing a tuft of brown hair away from his right eyebrow. He made the word "examples" harsh enough to show his irritation.
In Jacksonville, Fla., a few days later, another reporter wanted to know whether the Beatles had any thoughts about the kind of contribution their particular brand of entertainment might be making to the culture of the times.
John answered that question, too.
"We don't make any contribution," he said.
There's a nice variety of other short answers for other questions, like the one reserved for reporters--or just plain visiting strangers--who ask how much the Beatles happen to be worth now. "A lot," John said in Toronto when a reporter wanted an exact count on the collective wealth of the four boys.
In Montreal, the same question brought forth this answer from the No, 1 Beatle: "We ran out of fingers to count on." Now that may seem flippant, which it is but then the new Liverpool millionaires don't like to be asked what Beatlemania amounts to in dollars and cents.
* * *
THE BEATLES DON'T MIND READING STORIES WHICH SAY THAT
Beatle byproducts (everything from wigs to T-shirts to nighties to motor scooters) are supposed to bring in $50,000,000 in America alone this year. Or that Beatle records, Beatle public appearances, the Beatle movie ("A Hard Day's Night") and their piece of the Beatle byproducts is producing an estimated
$14,000,000 for Beatles Ltd. in 1964.
They just don't want to be asked what their individual shares shake down to. They feel that that's nobody's business, here or in England--except, of course, for the Crown's tax collector and Brian Epstein, the reformed Liverpool merchant prince who discovered them in 1962 and had the magnificent foresight to keep a whopping 25 percent of the take for himself.
They feel, in a word, that it's their sound, admittedly inspired by such Colonials as Elvis Presley and Bill Haley and Little Richard and Negro Rock and Roll groups, and their money.
For that matter, there's another problem.
There's no way to count it when it comes in so fast from so many sources. And that's not the worst problem you can have when you're a kid--John and Ringo are 24, Paul is 22 and George is 21--out of a working class family from the great slum called Liverpool.
TOMORROW: How it all began.
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