For most of us old enough to remember, the Beatles’ introduction to the United States 50 years ago this month begins and ends with Ed Sullivan and a grainy, black-and-white TV screen.
Not so for Steve McManus, 67, of Saco. He actually crashed the party.
“If you think it’s interesting enough, I’d be glad to fill you in with all of the details,” offered McManus in an email last week.
Do tell, Mr. McManus, do tell …
It was Feb. 16, 1964. One week to the day after the Beatles electrified the nation with their first performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York City, they were in Miami Beach for an encore appearance with Sullivan on a show to be broadcast live from the waterfront Deauville Hotel.
McManus was 17, a senior at Fort Lauderdale High School. He worked part time as a bagger at the local Publix Supermarket along with his best buddies, Bob Saxon and John Kreitner.
But on this particular Sunday, the three boys found themselves barreling 30 miles south to Miami Beach in a 1958 Chevy Impala, white with all-red interior, they’d borrowed from John’s sister.
“We just wanted to see what all this hype about the Beatles was all about,” said Steve.
They arrived just after noon. A dress rehearsal for the evening show was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and already, the line – almost all trembling teenage girls – stretched for several blocks south of the Deauville Hotel entrance on Collins Avenue.
The three boys waded through the crowd if only to soak in the spectacle for a while. Tickets to rehearsal, let alone the live TV performance that evening, were nowhere to be found.
That is until two older women, apparently there to see headliner Mitzi Gaynor perform, got tired of the hot sun and the mayhem and approached Steve, Bob and John.
“We’re leaving,” one of them announced. “Here, boys, do you want these two tickets?”
“So here we are, three guys with two tickets and we never even got to the point of trying to decide who was going to make the sacrifice and not go in,” recalled Steve. “We didn’t even know what the inside of the hotel looked like, but we couldn’t imagine that many people fitting inside there.”
Good call. Local merchants had handed out far more complimentary tickets than there were seats available in the Deauville’s Napoleon Ballroom, leading to a near-riot when police stopped letting people in as dress rehearsal time approached.
But back to the boys.
Heading north on Collins Avenue past the hotel entrance, they spied a service alley leading down to a basement-level set of gray doors. Doors which, upon taking a closer look, they discovered were unlocked.
“So we went right in and found ourselves in the kitchen,” Steve said. “John was in the lead, so we just followed him.”
No one in the bustling kitchen blinked an eye. (“Maybe they thought we were dishwashers or something,” said Steve.) Finally, the trio came to another door and walked out into a small subterranean shopping area with a small clothing store, a gift shop, a magazine shop and a uniformed Miami police officer at every stairwell, elevator and exit.
The place was in total lockdown.
The boys lingered in the magazine store – each buying an 8-by-10 glossy, shot just the night before, of the hotel manager mugging with the Fab Four out by the hotel pool. They checked out the overpriced bathing suits. Almost an hour passed and, much to their pleasant surprise, nobody gave them the heave-ho.
“I don’t even remember the police making eye contact with us,” Steve said. “They must have figured we were hotel guests or something because we weren’t trying to get in. We were in!”
The problem was the elevators up to the main lobby were off limits, as was the stairway. But then something miraculous happened.
“This old guy comes down the stairs from what must have been the pool,” Steve said. “He’s dressed in a big white bathrobe, he’s got a bald head and he’s smoking a cigar. He must have been somebody – he had two guys with him – a guy on each side.”
And he was headed straight toward Steve, Bob and John.
“You guys want to see the Beatles, don’t you!” the guy barked, acting like he owned the place.
“Yeah!” responded the boys in unison.
Up the elevator they rode to the main lobby. As the door slid open, the boys stared open-mouthed at the throng of teenyboppers straining against the police line and velvet ropes just inside the main entrance, begging to be let in.
“Get these kids over to the ballroom,” ordered the bathrobed benefactor through his clenched cigar.
“Yes, sir,” the bellhop replied.
“So the bellhop escorts us across the big lobby, right in front of all these people, right up to the entrance to the ballroom, where they have more guys with more velvet ropes,” said Steve.
No questions asked, the gatekeepers beckoned the boys under the ropes, whisked them through the doors and suddenly there they stood, open-mouthed, in the pin-drop silent ballroom.
“We’re all by ourselves. Not a soul in the room,” said Steve. “The stage is all set up. There are big TV monitors in the corners and it’s just the three of us. No one else.”
Then all hell broke loose.
The crowd rushed in, Steve remembers to this day, “like a wave hitting a beach.” And Steve, Bob and John rode that wave – actually, it was more like running for their lives – all the way to the front row, less than 20 feet from the stage.
Mitzi Gaynor, the comedy duo Allen & Rossi, The Volantes unicycling act … that stuff’s just a blur.
John, Paul, George and Ringo? They’re forever burned on Steve’s brain.
“The place just went crazy,” he said. “Girls screaming, crying, fainting. To my left was this young woman up on a guy’s shoulders. It was unbelievable, I’m feeling it in my chest even as I talk about it right now. It was extremely exciting.”
Sullivan actually thought he could control the crowd with a predetermined set of hand signals. Yeah, right. Every moment the Beatles were visible – even when George Harrison playfully peeked out from behind the curtain as Sullivan issued his pre-show instructions – produced pure pandemonium.
The Beatles sang “She Loves You,” “This Boy,” “All My Lovin’,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me to You,” and the red-hot “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Through it all, Steve, Bob and John sat there, as if in a dream, sensing even as it unfolded that this moment was larger than the sum of its parts.
“Suddenly, we knew what this Beatlemania was all about,” said Steve. “If you were standing there, you couldn’t help but feel it.”
Echoed Bob Saxon in an interview from Florida on Friday, “I have to admit we were pretty caught up in it. Three geeky guys sitting in the front row, 15 feet from John Lennon.”
Steve eventually joined the Navy, met and married his wife, Rose (who’s from East Benton), and moved to Maine in 1976. He’s now retired after a career in architectural design and drafting.
Bob, 66, stayed put in Fort Lauderdale and, as president of International Yacht Collection, has become a big shot in yachting the world over.
John Kreitner, 67, also still in Fort Lauderdale, is a retired mailman.
They keep in touch to this day – Steve and Bob spoke by phone within hours of John Lennon’s murder in 1980.
“We saw him,” Steve told Bob. “He actually looked at us while he was singing that day.”
Now for the truly maddening part: To a man, none of them can recall what happened to the pair of unused tickets the two kind ladies gave them just before fate took over. Tickets which, based on Steve’s perusal of eBay last week, could now fetch upward of $10,000 apiece in a supercharged Beatles memorabilia market.
“The best we can figure is that John might have tossed them in the trash on the way out of the lobby,” Steve said. “If only I’d known.”
Still, if it’s any consolation, the tickets are only slips of paper. In the end, they had nothing to do with the still-vivid memory of the day three supermarket bag boys piled out of a ’58 Chevy, sneaked through an open door and stumbled upon history in the making.
Go ahead, eBay. Try putting a price tag on that.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: