On February 9, 1964 the Beatles appeared twice on the Ed Sullivan Show, performing two songs in each set. Upwards of 74 million people were tuned in. It was the lowest crime rate in 50 years, and New York City police reported that not a single hub-cap had been stolen that night.
In the final months of 1963, the Beatles had already become a phenomenon in the UK and Europe. In October the band appeared on “Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium,” a popular show on the BBC, and 15 million viewers were drawn to their TV’s. Teenage girls screamed senselessly inside the theater and out, prompting the Daily Mail to coin the phrase, “Beatlemania.” On October 31, Ed Sullivan and his wife were at Heathrow in London and inquired about the thousands of girls gathered on the airport rooftop and lining the windows. Ed Sullivan was told it was a band called the Beatles. The stage was set for the British Invasion.
Forgotten to history is that the deal Ed Sullivan made with the Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein was for appearances on two consecutive Sunday nights, the first in New York on February 9th and the second a live remote show on the following Sunday night from the Deauville Hotel on Miami Beach. And a taped segment that could be shown after the shows. The deal was for $10,000, a sum Sullivan often paid for one performance for headliner acts.
Also forgotten to history is that on the night of February 9th in New York City, a young married couple who toured the country with their comedy routine could barely contain their excitement at being booked on the Ed Sullivan Show. “The streets were roped off and there were throngs of people,” recalls Charlie Brill for KTRH News. “And we didn’t exactly get it,” says his wife Mitzi McCall, completing his sentence. “I thought the crowd was there for impressionist Frank Gorshin,” says Charlie. “We didn’t know Frank was that popular,” says Mitzi. “We never heard of the Beatles.”
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Once inside the building they learned that they would appear right before the Beatles second appearance on the show. They did a dress rehearsal onstage in the afternoon, not knowing that every single CBS executive was in the audience. As they worked toward their final punch line, an announcement came over the loudspeaker, “McCall and Brill to Mr. Sullivan’s office, NOW!”
Sullivan explained that the audience would mostly be 14 year old girls, who wouldn’t get the humor of the routine they had rehearsed. “Show me your other acts,” Sullivan told them. So Charlie and Mitzi hurriedly ran Ed Sullivan through their entire nightclub act. “Okay, take the girl from the first scene,” he said. “Put her in the second scene and open with that, then segue into the second part of the third scene and close with the thing about the dancer. That was funny.” Charlie and Mitzi left shell-shocked in a daze.
They were trying to hurriedly re-craft their performance in their dressing room when there was a knock on the door. It was a young man with unusual long brown hair.
“Give us a coo-glove,” the man said. “What?” asked Charlie. “What?” mirrored Mitzi.
Pointing at the soda machine, laughing, the man repeated, “Give us a coo-glove.”
The couple was paralyzed with embarrassment, until the man stepped inside and took a Coke from the machine, smiling, “Give-us-a-coke, love. I’m John.”
The rest of the night was a horrible blur for the comedy pair. Girls screamed through their entire performance, they couldn’t hear one another, their timing was off, and everything that could go wrong was compounding by the seconds. Finally, blessedly, they took a quick bow and left the stage to an escalation of shrill screaming from adolescent girls.
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Charlie and Mitzi were humiliated. It was their biggest break in show biz and it was a nightmare. They decided to escape to Miami rather than face family and friends.
Days passed in the Florida sunshine and they were able to find the humor of their experience. They were in a rental car one night, waiting in line for restaurant valet parking, when another car pulled alongside. The man in the backseat rolled down his window, so Charlie rolled his down.
“What are you doing here?” John Lennon asked with his Liverpool accent.
“Trying to get away from you,” Charlie smiled meekly, sinking down into the seat.