This post has been updated. See note below for details.
The connection between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the eruption of Beatlemania in the U.S. a little more than two months later when the group showed up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” has long been established. The joy in the group’s new sound and look, played out on the faces of Sullivan’s audience full of screaming teenagers, gave a grieving nation a much-needed reason to smile once again.
What’s less well-remembered is that the Sullivan show was not the group’s first TV exposure in the U.S. In fact, before that historic night, even before talk-show host Jack Paar showed a performance clip of the Fab Four on his show a month before they arrived in the States to play live for Sullivan, Mike Wallace and CBS News were the first to tell a national audience about the phenomenon of Beatlemania then sweeping England.
That was on Nov. 22, 1963.
“The CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace” profiled the Beatles in a segment that was scheduled to be repeated on the nightly news show hosted by Walter Cronkite. But when President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas that day, every other topic went onto the back burner.
So much so that Wallace himself even forgot about the piece he’d aired shortly before a national tragedy occurred.
As Beatles scholar Martin Lewis pointed out shortly after Wallace died last year, “As the world mourned JFK and became engulfed in the awful news, the light-hearted story that Mike Wallace had presented just two hours earlier faded very rapidly.”
“Wallace himself forgot all about it,” Lewis wrote in a remembrance of Wallace’s legacy. “But 18 days later one man did remember it. Mike Wallace’s senior colleague at CBS News -- Walter Cronkite.
“Cronkite was looking for a way to lift the spirits of the devastated American public with a cheerful segment. And he recalled the film clip that Wallace had introduced on his Morning News show that dreadful Dallas morning,” Martin wrote.
“Cronkite decided to resurrect the story and on Tuesday, Dec. 10, he re-aired the sparkling five-minute film clip of the Beatles enchanting their British fans,” Lewis wrote. “To a nation still reeling from the massive emotional trauma of JFK’s assassination, the exuberant optimism of the Fab Four offered solace and the glimpse of a New Beginning. The film clip triggered an astonishing chain reaction that kick-started Beatlemania in the USA.”
As Lewis notes, Beatlemania undoubtedly would have arrived sooner or later anyway.
But Mike Wallace and CBS News were there first.
And it was 50 years ago today.
Update at 2:00 p.m.: The date of the initial broadcast of the Beatles’ story on “The CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace” was rediscovered about 10 years ago by New Orleans-based Beatles scholar and author Bruce Spizer, who provides a richly researched full report on the events leading to that broadcast on his Beatle.net web site here. Spizer also includes a link to the video of that segment, which can be seen here:
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2