Turn Left at Greenland: The Beatles Meet the Press
by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Curator of Exhibitions, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman CenterApril 16, 2014
When you enter the exhibition and walk past the stage set-up (accompanied by the sound of screaming girls), you see a line-up of microphones and a video clip of the Beatles landing in NYC for their first Q&A session with the American press. The Beatles were not only wonderful songwriters and singers, but they were experts at peppering their press conferences with wit—and avoiding real answers to meaningful questions.
As it happens, the press conference that we all memorized is fictional—not from a real encounter with the press, but from A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles' 1964 feature film. The Bibliocommons entry in the Library's catalog describes it as: "A lively, good-natured spoof of "Beatlemania" portraying a frantic 36 hours in the lives of the rock group." It was acclaimed Andrew Sarris as the "Citizen Kane" of rock musicals (according to another Bibliocommons citation). Nowadays, it would probably be called "meta." The exhibition, "Ladies and Gentlemen…the Beatles," gets its title from Ed Sullivan's introduction to their performance on his show. Having cemented their popularity (in England) and established their fame (in North America) on television variety shows, it is a film about making a television variety show.
It was hysterically funny and extremely popular with teens and parents alike. Although I love everything about the film, my strongest memory is the depictions of the press conference. Written by Alun Owen, but performed as if ad lib, it brought adult respect and recognition to the Beatles as social critics. "What do you call your hair cut?" elicted "Arthur," which inspired the Brit-style discoteque given that name. The impact of London fashion on American inspired the question "Are you a Mod or a Rocker?" It brought the response "a Mocker." We are using that line as the title on Thursday's public program—my conversation with Phyllis Magidson, Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Museum of the City of New York. John Lennon had the best lines, but even George Harrison got to shift his image from soulful to sardonic. Go see the film or request it from nypl.org. Listen closely and quickly to the press conference scene. Do you remember the question that elicited the title?
Today's image is another press Q&A session by Michael Peto and we used it in our exhibition of his photographs. It is used here courtesy of the Michael Peto Collection, University of Dundee. Peto was on location with the Beatles when they were making Help!, when their Queen's Honours were announced. He photographed them appearing on tv interviews about the awards. They remained, but the interviewer changed. This may be the third or fourth such appearance that day and they are clearly losing discipline. But they were almost as good at press conferences as they were at writing and performing songs so I take this blog post to honor that talent.