It began in 1964 as a Time magazine photo assignment for Henry Grossman to cover the Beatles’ debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It developed over the years into a deep friendship between Grossman and the group, one that allowed him rare access to document the members’ public and private moments during the height of their fame.
“I wasn’t into rock ‘n’ roll so at first they were just another assignment,” said the 76-year-old Grossman, recalling how he plugged his ears with tissues during another Beatles concert that year in Atlantic City. “It was like being in front of a jet engine with all the screaming.”
That relationship resulted in unique photos of the Fab Four, which have now been collected in a recently published book, “Places I Remember: My Time With the Beatles,” from Curvebender Publishing. It is nothing if not monumental: a 13-pound, 528-page tome drawn exclusively from Grossman’s vast collection of nearly 6,000 images from his years with the band from 1964 to ’68.
Hollywood Star Walk: The Beatles
Grossman traveled with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to concerts in the U.S. and Europe. He accompanied them back to England where he was invited into their homes and met the families.
“‘Yes, they were pervasive but I went back [to England] because I liked them,” Grossman said by phone from New York City, where he lives. “They were intelligent, witty, fun-loving and charming. They weren’t smarmy.” Looking through the book, Grossman said, “was like visiting old friends.”
Of the 1,000 photos in “Places I Remember” only a dozen or so have been published. They were tucked away for four decades until editors and amateur Beatles historians Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew discovered Grossman’s treasure trove of photographs.
They were searching for images for their 2006 book, “Recording the Beatles,” when they came across one of Grossman’s photos from the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” session in an encyclopedia.
“He didn’t have a website then so I started cold-calling all the Grossmans listed in New York City until I found him,” said Kehew by phone from Providence, R.I., where he was on tour with the Who. (Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, is the band’s drummer.)
After their book was published they brought Grossman a copy and asked if he had any more pictures. Did he ever.
“He brought out a stack of contact sheets 13 inches high. It was unbelievable!” said Kehew, who is also a Los Angeles-based record producer. “I know the Beatles archives at EMI and Apple and they don’t have this kind of quantity.” He knew immediately that he wanted to help Grossman release these photos to the world.
Presented in chronological order, the pictures include such seminal Beatles moments as the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band recording session at Abbey Road Studio. Grossman provides detailed text along with an introduction by McCartney. (Limited editions are being sold for $495, with signed copies by Grossman selling for $795, on the publisher’s website, https://www.curvebender.com.)
His rare access mixed with his child-like curiosity combined to produce images that revealed a fuller side of the Beatles’ lives, whether it was the artwork on Harrison’s wall, meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for the first time or Harrison and Lennon casually strumming their guitars in the living room while 2-year-old Julian Lennon looks on.
A native New Yorker, Grossman was influenced by his father, renowned etcher Elias Grossman, who created portraits of Albert Einstein, Gandhi and Benito Mussolini. While attending Brandeis University he built an impressive résumé, taking portraits of notable guest speakers at the school such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Marc Chagall and John F. Kennedy.
This caught the attention of editors at Newsweek, Time and Life, who advised him to take more storytelling pictures. “That was the start of me being a photojournalist,” he said.
Grossman had a photo assignment from the London Daily Mirror that took him to the Bahamas where the band was filming “Help.” It was there that they formed a close bond.
“I ate breakfast with them, worked with them and hung out,” he said. Some of his favorite pictures are from this time including one of Harrison sitting at the table eating breakfast. Something about the way he looked caused Grossman to pull out his camera and take a picture. “I call it my Hamlet photo. He’s open and vulnerable, what I’d expect Hamlet might look like.”
Another series shows McCartney telling stories and joking on a motorboat. “He’s laughing and gesturing and John is roaring with laughter,” said Grossman, who would serenade the lads with “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from the musical “Oklahoma!,” which would lead them to imitate him any chance they had.
Just a few years older than the band members, Grossman didn’t think of them as icons. “He felt they were fairly normal and good people and enjoyed being with them because they were so charming and fun,” Kehew said. “Henry has that same spirit, very easygoing. I think the fact that he was less impressed with them made them more comfortable. He wasn’t a lackey.”
Grossman went on to do other things besides photography. In 1968 he began studying singing and opera, ending up as a tenor for two years at the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway in “Grand Hotel” for a run of more than 1,000 performances.
His work with the Beatles is just a small fraction of the famous people Grossman has photographed. “His collection of the Kennedys is as deep as it is with the Beatles,” Kehew noted. “He’s just the tip of an iceberg that has been under water all this time.”