I Read the Journal-American Today, Oh Dear: Beatles Files Part 1

By Barbara Cohen-Stratyner
March 24, 2014
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles will be on view at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (LPA) from February 6 through May 10, 2014. A project of The GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE and Fab Four Exhibits, it commemorates The Beatles’ first tour of North America. The title and inspiration are taken from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 1964. It covers the brief time in which the Beatles toured for live concerts.

As part of the project, LPA developed the section of the exhibition on the first tour—the week of February 7-13, spent mostly in New York City. The Performing Arts Museum worked with the Music Division to locate material and curate what ended up as a 5-case mini-exhibition. It was based on the extensive research that the staff and last year’s interns began and the Winter Inter-session interns continued and finalized. This, the first of two blog posts on the research process, is on Beatles material on the Billy Rose Theatre Division. The basic ingredients for theatre division research are clipping files and photo files (divided by size). Karen Burke will do one on the Music Division and Archive of Recorded Sound.

Here are two blanket statements—if you have ever been on a class tour with me, you have probably heard them:

“The Library started collecting in the 1870s and started cataloguing on computer in the 1970s.”

“The easiest way to find anything in the Research Divisions is by name of person or name of production.”

The first warns you that not everything is in the online catalog. We knew that, since the subject fell into the 1960s, we also needed to consult the good old fashioned card files (located in the 3rd floor reference section. The second one means—start looking for material under the names of The Beatles, the titles of their film or hosting television shows, and “The Beatles (Singing group)” itself. We found both clipping files and MWEZs, which are boxes of so many clippings that they are re-organized and stored in an acid-free box. We followed our clipping discoveries with MWEZ boxes of fan magazines and souvenir magazines from 1965-1968 dedicated to Beatlemania. The photography files revealed photo-pages from magazines and a postcard—in each, the Beatles are wearing those identical Mod suits known from the first US album cover. Additional photography collections revealed that NYPL has a huge stash of fan trading cards, representing British, American and we think Finnish printings.

From these materials and those found in the Music Division, we decided to organize the central exhibition cases by day of the week. Each week was represented by newspaper articles from that day and spreads in fan magazines about that day’s activity. The Beatles and the screaming girls were followed from hotel to radio station to rehearsal by New York’s heavily-illustrated afternoon papers, most notably the soon-to-die Journal-American. That Hearst syndicate paper ran stories “dictated” by a different Beatle each day, but really written by Marjorie Farnsworth. Her best known book is on Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., who, I am sure, would have approved of the orchestrated publicity hubbub.

Like LPA, the GRAMMY Museum has an active oral history program and we will be collecting visitors’ memories throughout the project. We will also be presenting a wide variety of guest posts on this exhibition web site. Check them out—and leave a comment of your own.