Frizzi: It was 50 years ago that day

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Sometime in January of 1964, I was a 6 year old kid riding in the back seat of our 1955 Plymouth Plaza. We were living in the Brentwood borough of Pittsburgh at the time. We were either going to or from a grandparent's house. Or we were going to the store. My mother didn't drive at the time, so my father had to drive us everywhere, which was either to a grandparent's house, the store or to church. Other than that, we didn't go anywhere.

We probably had KDKA on the radio. All parents listened to KDKA, which has the distinction of being the first commercial radio station in America. We were probably getting our daily diet of local singers like Bobby Vinton and Perry Como when the DJ played a song that sounded like nothing I heard before or since.

"I want to hold your haaaaaaaaaand!"

My ears perked up. It was the first time I had ever really listened to music and I was hooked.

"I want to hold your haaaaaaaaaand! I want to hold your hand!"

Of course, my Dad hated it and made it known.

But it was the best thing I'd ever heard.

Not that we didn't have music around the house. Being Italian, we had to have Sinatra, Martin, Mancini and Como around the house. My Dad was a pretty decent tenor. I remember him lying on the couch and crooning songs like Tony Bennett's "Because of You".

But they, the parents, were not fans of Rock and Roll. I think my Mom may have had a crush on Elvis Presley, like all normal young gals of that era. Nonetheless, Rock and Roll wasn't within earshot.

The DJ on KDKA had played "I Want To Hold Your Hand" by some group called The Beatles because it was number one on the charts at the time. Plus, they were a novelty. They came from Britain at a time when virtually all music played on American radio stations was all, well, American.

The DJ said these guys had long hair over their ears and foreheads — just like girls!

Of course, the parents hated it. And if the parents hated it, the kids were sure to love it. Parents were mortified at Elvis and they sure weren't going to let their kids listen to Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard unless the song was "homogenized" by singers like Pat Boone.

All I know is that I had no interest whatsoever in music until I heard The Beatles on the car radio. I had to find out more about them. And there was no better source than my cousin, Bonnie.

Bonnie (her given name is Bonita) was the coolest, funniest person I ever knew at the time. Being12 years old, she was mature and sophisticated! She read Mad Magazine! Of course, she knew about The Beatles and even had their record! And she let me listen to it — over and over and over again.

Bonnie showed me a picture of them. She told me their names were Paul, John, George and Ringo. She thought Paul was obviously cool! He was holding a cigarette! Their hair resembled my kid sister's pixie haircut. I thought they looked like more like Moe of The Three Stooges, whose movies I watched religiously on Pittsburgh's top kids show, "The Paul Shannon Show."

Bonnie also shared with me vital knowledge. Their last name was not "Beatles"! Also, the name of the band was not spelled "Beetles" like the bugs but "Beatles" like a music beat — two very important facts for a budding young fan.

My Dad didn't like my newfound enthusiasm for this roving band of freaks. His older sister, my Aunt Lorie (Bonnie's Mom), just laughed it off. "Let those kids have their fun! Besides, they're just a passing fad. They'll go away just as fast as they came."

The next time my Mom took us shopping downtown, instead of getting a toy I bugged her into buying me my very own copy of "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

My seventh birthday was on Monday, Feb. 10. Mom announced they were throwing me a birthday party. It would have to be Sunday night. My Aunt Lorie and Uncle Bob would be there as well as my cousins.

So, the house was decorated with the usual kid birthday bunting. Mom was cooking my favorite meal of spaghetti and meatballs. AND there was CAKE! With MY NAME on it! I even had a big cardboard crown with sparkles that said "King For The Day!"

Soon came Sunday evening and everyone came over. Everyone that is, except Bonnie.

"Where's Bonnie?" I asked Aunt Lorie.

"Oh, she's staying at home, tonight! She's going to watch The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show!

A hush went over the room. My aunt put her hand over her mouth as though she spilled a state secret. I broke the grown-ups' stunned silence with "THE BEATLES? CAN WE WATCH THEM? CAN WE? CAN WE?!"

My mother came up to me and said, "Oh Honey! You don't want to watch that, do you? We're having a birthday party, just for you!" To which I replied, "But, Mom! We ALWAYS watch Ed Sullivan! And it IS MY BIRTHDAY PARTY!"

The room let out a collective sigh. My Dad snarled and fired up a Lucky.

So, we enjoyed my birthday supper and cake. The conversation consisted mostly of "Donnie, wouldn't you prefer to do anything besides watch The Beatles?"

Then, we all gathered in front of the family black-and-white Motorola TV.

(It would be years before I figured out that the reason I even had a birthday party that day was so the adults wouldn't have to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan! There was nothing else to watch on TV, except the last half-hour of The Wonderful World of Disney.)

Then, came the moment! "The Ed Sullivan Show - brought to you by Anacin and Pillsbury!" Ed really did have a "really big shew" this night. His audience consisted mostly of teenage girls. They all groaned when Ed told them to stay tuned for commercials for new Aero Shave and new Griffin Liquid Shoe Wax.

Then Ed introduced The Beatles and all hell broke loose.

The adults cringed in horror as the camera switched between these long-haired monsters and the kids that screeched adorably at them. Paul, the cute smoker, sang "All My Loving" and a cover of "Till There Was You" from the musical, "The Music Man."

"They've ruined a good song", snarled my Dad as he lit another Lucky. His Zippo made a loud clank as he slammed it shut.

Immediately after The Beatles left the stage, the commercial for Anacin aspirin came on. The announcer asked America if they were suffering pain from a headache, depression, tension, anxiety and fatigue. "Hey Jane!", my Uncle Bob shouted to my mother, "You have any Anacin in the house?"

Before The Beatles came back, we had to sit through magician Fred Kaps (so, I inadvertently got a magician to perform at my birthday party for free.) Then, we got to see another British act, the cast of Lionel Bart's musical, "Oliver." The "Artful Dodger" was played by a young David Jones, who would later reappear as the Beatle Paul-like British heartthrob on the TV show, "The Monkees".

Then, we learned of the scientific breakthrough of Cold Water All laundry detergent.

For the adults, came the highlight of the evening. Comedian and impersonator Frank Gorshin was a Pittsburgh native, having grown up in the neighborhood of Garfield. He was a rising national star. You had to feel sorry for Frank though, doing his night club act in front of a crowd of impatient screaming teens, but he did get a lot of laughs from the audience. Gorshin would reappear a few years later on the campy TV show, "Batman" as one of the guest villains, "The Riddler".

Following Gorshin was another Brit, music hall star Tessie O'Shea. Then, Ed introduced the husband and wife comedy team of Mitzi McCall and Charlie Brill. Ed Sullivan was known for husband and wife comedy teams like Ben Stiller's parents, "Stiller and Meara". Later on, McCall and Brill would be frequent guests on the 1970's game show, "The Match Game". This night, they performed a skit where a talent scout was interviewing prospects.

Mother: "My little girl was waiting outside. She used to be one of The Beatles".

Talent scout: "What happened to her?"

Mother: "Somebody stepped on her!"


After that, the folks from Pillsbury introduced us to the exotic thrills one could find in a pineapple lemon parfait cake made from TWO different homemade cake mixes. I asked my Mom if I could have that for my birthday cake next year. After all, the announcer said that it was "easy as a breeze to make!"

Finally, The Beatles returned with "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Without thinking, I blurted out the line of the night.

"I'm going to wear my hair just like theirs!"

That was it for Ol' Dad. He'd had it. His face turned beet red. He stubbed out his smoke. His bellowing shook the house. "No son of MINE is going to wear his hair like THAT!" He then got out of his chair and grabbed for his Perry Como album. He clutched it defiantly, as if to single-handedly try to return the world of music back to the sanity and dignity it once had. He staggered as he headed toward the stereo with the sole intent of cleansing his home of all that dratted caterwauling!

The adults looked at him with awe. My mother had tears of gratitude in her eyes. He was her hero! He would take his house back – the King of his own castle!

But I was "King For The Day!" My cardboard crown said so. And I turned toward my father and scowled a snotty youngster's scowl. For some reason, he withered. Then, he recoiled and put the record back in its rack. My Dad was a big fan of "The Twilight Zone" and must've thought that I was going to "wish him into the cornfield" as young Anthony surely would have. (Well, it is his fault that my middle name is Anthony.)

That man damn near fainted when Ed announced that The Beatles would be on his show the next two weeks!!

Why did I lock into The Beatles during that car ride? As I think about it later, it was the sound of their harmonizing. Their voices were unique. I love The Everly Brothers, who had greatly influenced The Beatles' style of singing. But I never went bat-crap crazy over "Wake Up Little Suzie" or "Bye Bye Love".

As I grew up, I followed everything Beatles. To my parents' chagrin, I asked for and always got the latest Beatles album for Christmas. When John Lennon and George Harrison were arrested on pot charges, my folks drew the line in the sand. "We're not buying you any more Beatles albums. They spend all their money on dope!" To which I replied, "But, Mom! Frank Sinatra hangs out with mobsters and hookers!"

And so I was cut off. You didn't blaspheme "Ol' Blue Eyes" in my parents' house.

Saner heads prevailed, however. My Uncle Bob came to the rescue and bought me "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" for my birthday.

For me, "Beatlemania" never went away. I've seen Paul twice in concert and I saw the second show ever of Ringo's first All-Star Tour. I have every Beatle album and every Beatle solo album released on Parlophone, Capitol, Apple, Zapple and Dark Horse.

I have Beatle albums older than my wife! I have them in vinyl, cassette and CD. I repurchased all of their albums when they were digitally re-mastered a few years back, just in time for Christmas! I even have a "Beatle bag" in my car loaded with CDs, just in case I absolutely, positively had to listen to Beatle music.

I've heard each song countless times and never tire of them. To this day I still hear something different and new!

This past Christmas, Heddy (wife) gave me "Live at the BBC" and "On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2." I'm playing it now. It's mostly cover songs. But to hear John Lennon belt out Ray Charles' "I've Got A Woman" and Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" with George Harrison's crisp guitar still sends chills up and down my spine.

It's been 50 years since The Beatles captured America with their legendary live performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." More than 73 million people joined my family and I in watching that performance and it's still considered one of the monumental moments in television. In the 1995 documentary "The Beatles Anthology" George Harrison recalled: "We were aware that Ed Sullivan was the big one because we got a telegram from Elvis and the Colonel. And I've heard that while the show was on there were no reported crimes, or very few. When The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, even the criminals had a rest for ten minutes."

This year's Grammy awards celebrated the occasion with appearances by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving members of a band who literally changed the world and still continues to influence a whole new generation of listeners.

That's not bad for being "just a passing fad".

About the Author
Donn Frizzi is a well-traveled man, if you consider Pennsylvania to southern Indiana to Texas and finally Peoria to be the definition of well traveled. But in each of his stops he gained certain insights that make him who he is — including a Pirates and Rangers fan who must travel to St. Louis to watch quality baseball without buying a plane ticket. Poetic justice, perhaps? A talented writer, Donn also can make a good point by putting pencil to paper and drawing with satirical splendor. We’re hoping to persuade him to grace our website with an occasional toon, as well.