I was a Beatlemaniac: Remembering The Beatles' American invasion

Story highlights

  • 'Beatlemania' hit the United States 50 years ago
  • Its influence touched lives and spread throughout the globe
  • Diane Salsbery is a lifelong collector of Beatles memorabilia
  • Kurt Bentzen of Denmark learned English thanks to The Beatles

For Rebecca James, the onset of "Beatlemania" meant one thing: a lot of waiting.

"I waited eagerly for them to arrive in the U.S." she said. "I waited for them appear on 'Ed Sullivan,' for each album, for my concert tickets, for the concert, for class to end so I could listen to my Beatles records. They were worth the wait."

The Indianapolis resident was a freshman at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri, on February 9, 1964, the night The Beatles made their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

"A group of us went to a professor's house to watch," she recalled. The band performed on the variety show for three consecutive Sundays, and James dutifully tuned in each time. "They were cute, funny and talented," she gushed.

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Of course, James didn't just watch The Beatles on TV and listen to their records at home. On September 3, 1964, she and a friend joined the throngs of other Beatles fans at a concert in Indianapolis. "We were in the nosebleed section at the Coliseum and barely heard a note for the screaming," James remembered. "The amplifiers were very small by today's standards." She still has the ticket and photos from that day.

Those screaming fans were just the beginning. The Beatles' arrival in the United States -- 50 years ago next month -- marked the start of John, Paul, George and Ringo's history-making path of pop culture dominance.

More on "The Sixties: The British Invasion"

'I had it and I lived it'

For Diane Salsbery, The Beatles' "Ed Sullivan" appearance marked the beginning of an obsession that lives on today. Her home in Phoenix houses a massive collection of memorabilia, including all the original albums, the script of their film "A Hard Day's Night," (which she saw eight times upon its initial release), collectible Beatles dolls, and a Beatles poster from "16" magazine.

She remembers the early days of "Beatlemania" as "magical for me and millions of other teenage girls."

"We all watched the 'Ed Sullivan Show' on our black and white TV sets and fell in love with their music, youthful energy and appearance. Looking back they were very clean-cut looking, but our parents didn't think so!"

Salsbery grew up in a small town in West Virginia, where she said it was difficult to listen to the latest music. "My brother rigged up a wire from his bedroom window across the creek behind our house so we could pick up the BBC on an old shortwave radio," she remembered. "He was also in a band and when they would rehearse down in our basement I would sit on the steps and pretend they were The Beatles rehearsing!" And Friday nights meant "Beatles sleepovers" for Salsbery and her friends, when they would listen to Beatles albums and daydream for hours.

"Talk about Beatlemania, I had it and lived it."

The next year, she took the opportunity to see the quartet perform in person. She traveled by bus the long distance from West Virginia to New York to see The Beatles perform what would become a legendary concert in Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965.

"It was a very hot, humid evening with thousands in the audience all chanting 'We Love You Beatles, Oh Yes We Do' while waiting," Salsbery said.

"When The Beatles ran out onto the field, the sound in the stadium was incredible, with over 55,000 screaming teenagers, myself included."

"It was an amazing feeling seeing them. None of us knew it would be an historic concert; we were just caught up in the moment seeing The Beatles." By that point, The Beatles' popularity "across the pond" had made its way to other countries around the world, showing just how much of a cultural touchstone that February concert would become.

Beatlemania spreads worldwide

Living in Ontario, Canada, in 1964, Rita Stamp was just as crazy about The Beatles as her American counterparts. One of her most treasured memories is opening a pack of bubble gum and finding a photo of the "Fab Four" themselves. The surprise caused quite a commotion among her siblings but her mother wasn't quite as pleased.

Stamp remembers her mother telling her to calm down "and stop being so crazy over these young boys." She didn't approve of their long hair.

Despite her mother's feelings, Stamp, then 14, quickly plastic-wrapped her photo of the Fab Four and displayed it on her bedroom wall until she left home two years later. "Since then, it has become a special piece of memorabilia that I hold close to my heart," said Stamp. "It represents a piece of my childhood, and that is priceless."

Beatlemania didn't just affect women. Kurt Bentzen of Copenhagen, Denmark, became a Beatles fan in 1963 and is still one today; he attended a Paul McCartney concert as recently as 2009.

At age 12, and knowing very little English, he stood transfixed one day in the schoolyard while hearing a song.

It turned out to be The Beatles' "She Loves You." Bentzen was hooked. He and a friend found it in a music booth at a record store; he listened to it 25 times and learned the lyrics by heart.

After listening to many of their records, Bentzen said The Beatles taught him how to speak English.

"The lyrics got more sophisticated and so did our vocabulary," he said.

Bentzen said he "almost fainted" when hearing the lyrics, "Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs / Of every head he's had the pleasure to know."

"Pure poetry."

Bentzen, a management consultant, credits the Fab Four for his success in life. "Now many years later I have lived in eight different countries and professionally traveled the world. I got the jobs because during interviews my English was superior to other Danes."

Meanwhile in Venezuela, "The Beatles changed everything: Social lives and music," according to Marina Lares of Caracas.

Lares explained that Beatlemania influenced how young people behaved in Venezuela in the early 1960s. "The boys let their hair grow longer" and began to form rock bands, she said. Girls started to wear miniskirts, boots and attended parties without chaperones for the first time.

"Adults and adolescents used to dance 'merengues' and 'boleros' with the Billo's Caracas Boys, a famous Venezuelan Latin music orchestra, but since Beatlemania, adolescents wanted to dance to rock more than anything else," Lares recalled. "Parties started to be different, since the music was different, and in a way part of our identity changed."

Of course, there were also the ever-present Beatles posters in her room. Although they were thousands of miles away, Lares' teenage memories sound identical to the ones that Salsbery and others described. "My bedroom was the meeting location to hang out and listen to their fabulous music that marked our lives forever," she said.

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