- by Karen Tintori
Are you as boggled as I am that 50 years have passed since a record 70 million of us sat around our black and white television sets to watch “The” Ed Sullivan Show? I watched that night with a mix of exhilaration and worry. I was already a Beatles fan, and this was my first chance to see them perform, but I was seriously worried that I’d never get to see them perform live here in Detroit. On the advent of The Beatles’ arrival in the US, one of the fraternities at the University of Detroit had adopted brush haircuts and begun a “Stamp Out The Beatles Campaign.”
Not 15 minutes after their plane touched down at Kennedy Airport on February 7, 1964, The Beatles faced the media at a press conference in the PanAm terminal. Three questions in, my heart nearly stopped.
“In Detroit there’s people handing out car stickers saying, ‘Stamp Out The Beatles.’”
Paul: “Yeah well… first of all, we’re bringing out a Stamp Out Detroit campaign.” His retort brought laughter.
“What about the Stamp Out The Beatles campaign?” the reporter pressed.
John: “What about it?”
Ringo: “How big are they?”
Big enough, I knew, that two different local companies were selling Stamp Out The Beatles tee-shirts.
Panicking that The Beatles would never play my home town, and seeing an opportunity to earn my first “on publication money,” I popped open the pebble-finish carrying case that housed my manual Smith Corona typewriter and shot off a 600-word editorial to The Detroit News’s weekly teen page, positing that there were more Beatlemaniacs in Detroit than Beatlephobes.
“Beatlemaniacs of Detroit, where are you?” I wrote. “It doesn’t seem fair that all Beatles fans should sit back while the anti-Beatles turn our favorites against us.”
About to pull the paper release lever and yank the white bond paper from the platen, I paused. And then I added another sentence. I asked everyone who agreed with me to send me their names – I was starting a petition asking The Beatles to not go through with Paul’s threat to stamp out Detroit.
I was 15 and had no idea I was launching a two and a half year journey to deliver my petition to The Beatles.
On February 19, 1964, The Detroit News published a short snippet about my response to the Stamp Outs on their teen page. No editorial. No $10 publication payment. We stopped counting phone calls at 250 on February 20th. In all, I answered 1,080 letters, asking kids to round up more names and to send me stamps to answer the letters. By July, I had completed the petition – 21,737 names in a bound book four pounds and 2-1/2” thick – working after school and chores, helped by my 13 year-old sister and a 14 year-old fan across town who’d read the blurb and who has become a 50-year-long best friend.
While seeking a way to mail the petition to The Beatles, I was invited to start a Michigan chapter of their official fan club and started an extensive journal devoted to my Beatles’ adventures to supplememt the diary I’d been keeping since I was 13. Overjoyed when The Beatles slotted a Detroit concert for September 6, 1964, I began to write anyone and everyone associated with them, even contacting every local deejay and the print media for assistance in getting the petition to them.
That September, I never got past the backstage curtains, was too doubtful of my aim to toss the petition on stage and I couldn’t convince anyone in security to take the petition from me. Post-concert, I listened to their Detroit press conference and reporters asking The Beatles if they still wanted to stamp out Detroit. No, Detroit was too marvelous to stamp out, they said, and then Paul asked, “What ever happened to the Stamp Outs, are they still around, does anyone know? I’m really curious.” The press hadn’t a clue while I stared at my undelivered petition in frustration and tears. I knew.
At 16, with a press pass from a suburban Detroit weekly and back-up credentials garnered from Ingenue Magazine, I attended the Maple Leaf Gardens press conference, taking numerous color photos and asking a question which became the press conference soundbite on CHUM radio. Ten feet from The Beatles. Still so far away. At the press conference’s end I asked their press manager Tony Barrow if I could give them the petition or in the alternative, would he. No. And, No.
Trying to get the petition to them, I wrote all The Beatles parents, beginning a long and chatty friendship with George’s mum (I have 21 handwritten letters from her, one from John Lennon’s beloved Aunt Mimi, and two long letters from Paul McCartney’s step-uncle, Robert Stopforth). In March, 1965, I managed to meet with Louise Harrison Caldwell, George’s sister, at her Detroit press conference. We spoke at length. She gave me her Chicago home address, promising to deliver the petition to them if all else failed.
In December, 1965, a local deejay who knew my saga invited me to bring the petition at 5 pm to Beatles’ press agent Derek Taylor, who was at the station. My father raced to the station, where we met up with my best friend and her parents. We could see Derek through the back door, but security wouldn’t let us in past hours.
In August, 1966, our Detroit concert seats were serendipitously directly above the stage entrance door. Petition in tow, I dodged police and security, finagling my way to the backstage curtain and demanding to speak with Tony Barrow.
“I don’t know if you remember me from Maple Leaf Gardens last year…”
“Paul is alone in the outer room right now,” he finally told me. “If I take you back there would you give him the book, and after a moment or so, leave? Paul’s the diplomatic one and he’d probably ask if you had to leave just yet, but even if he invites you to stay you have to take it upon yourself to say that you really have to go.”
I looked at Barrow, raised my hand and promised.
After a number of minutes visiting alone with Paul as he scanned the petition and commented on names he found unusual, he looked up and said, “You want to show the others, then?” I said that I did, “If it’s all right.” Paul had someone lead me to the dressing room, where I spent the remainder of that surreal half hour sitting next to George Harrison and talking with him, John Lennon, Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall (their school friend and roadie), with a “Hi” from Ringo Starr, who remained resting face down on a couch for the entire visit.
I didn’t ask anyone for his autograph, to my husband’s current dismay. No, I wasn’t one of those screaming fans, I was “sophisticated.”
Finally, Tony Barrow appeared in the doorway. We communicated with our eyes. My time was long up. I stood, stretched and announced that I should be going. On my way out, I said goodbye to Paul and headed for the door behind him. He reached out to stop me. “You don’t want to go that way. It’s the toilet.” “Pardon me?” “It’s the toilet, the door is that way.” Sophisticated, all right.
The nuns who taught me for 13 years (and who were chasing me to enter their order after graduation while I was chasing The Beatles) often told us, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” That August 13, 1966, two weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I told myself that if I could meet The Beatles, I could do anything I set my mind to.
With the advent of this 50th anniversary looming, I dug through the old camel back trunk my great-grandmother brought with her when she left Italy, now filled with my memorabilia, and I unearthed my diaries, the journal, the correspondence and the scrapbooks and have been on a nostalgic trip, reliving those adventures not via memory, but right along with 15, 16, 17 year-old me. Most surprising is the detail with which I filled those pages, recounting the sights, sounds, smells of every the entire press conference and that magic half hour backstage, every song they sang in the three concerts I attended. I was using my novelist’s heart and my journalist’s head even back then, and I’m grateful that I wrote those journal entries and that I kept them all these years. As I’ve shared bits of the Stamp Outs adventure here and there over the years, people always ask to hear the whole story and I’ve told them it’s a long, long one and that one day I’ll have to write a book. It’s time to tell more than just the Cliffs Notes version I’ve sketched out her. And so I am.
And then, in case George never told him about our visit, as he’d promised to, I’ll have to find a way to get it to Ringo.
Like 50 years ago, tonight I’ll be sitting in front of my television set — wide flatscreen color these days — to watch The Beatles on The Grammy’s hour-long golden anniversary celebration. The 15 year-old me inside will be holding my hand, probably tearing up, reliving a magical time in her life, and marveling that her older self can record the entire show instead of snapping grainy black and white images like those she took half a century ago and pasted in her photo album.
Will you be watching, too? What Beatles memories are stirring this weekend in you?