To connect with the Beatles, all they needed was imagination — and a helicopter
If only, even for one day, you could blink yourself back in time — to when you felt freest, when you felt boldest, when the sheer power of youth made you certain you’d succeed.
More than half a century ago, as the Beatles took the world by storm, a group of teenage girls made a pact. They would find a way to meet their idols, face to face, when the band arrived in L.A.
Who cared that theirs was a dream shared by a million screaming, bawling fans? These girls didn’t cry. They plotted and succeeded, pulling off a caper so audacious that Life magazine pinpointed it as the moment when “Beatlemania reached its apogee.”
Who wouldn’t want to try to relive that glory?
And so even though one of their crew, Sue Candiotti, said she couldn’t make it, Paula (Glosser) McNair, 67, flew in from Salt Lake City, and Californians Kay (Zar) Crow, 66, and Michele “Mikki” Tummino, 67, made their way south, determined to recapture the thrill of their wild quest.
Crow remembers its start, lying in her bedroom in 1964, listening to her little gray Zenith transistor radio, hearing “I wanna hold your hand...” In seconds, the Hamilton High 15-year-old was dialing a friend on her turquoise Princess phone, convinced that the world as she knew it was shifting.
When news broke that the Beatles would play the Hollywood Bowl that August, young Kay turned detective. To be ready to track down the Beatles, she decided, she’d practice finding other bands first.
She’d heard that another new British group, the Rolling Stones, was coming to town. Out came the Yellow Pages, starting with “A” for “Ambassador.” “Long distance calling for Brian Jones,” she said in a bad British accent, and struck gold when the Beverly Hilton operator told her that Jones hadn’t checked in yet.
When she and a friend arrived to stake out the lobby, they stared down two other girls: Mikki, still in braces, and Paula.
By then Paula was asking people to declare their loyalty to the Beatles by signing their names on pages of notebook paper, which she taped end to end into an ever-thickening scroll.
It’s how, she said, she spent much of her time at Woodrow Wilson High in El Sereno. “I even went to my algebra teacher, who told me: ‘I wish you put as much attention into your schoolwork.’”
That evening, Kay met Brian Jones and offered to take him sightseeing. The next day, she left school early to do so, after a friend sent a telegram: “Your uncle Brian Jones is in the hospital.”
More sleuthing and sightseeing with bands followed. When the Beatles arrived, Kay quickly sussed out that they were staying in Bel-Air.
She and a friend were at a Beverly Hills bus stop when Paula pulled up in her father’s 1959 DeSoto with four other girls and asked Kay if she knew how to find the band. Paula had the car. Kay had the info. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Get in!” Paula told her.
Outside the gated house, the car was allowed to stay parked as long as it was running. The girls had to give up their stakeout a few times to refuel — gas for the car, Ben Franks French fries and Cokes for themselves.
The next morning, when the band was due to leave for LAX, a limousine pulled out. But Paula suspected it was a decoy. Soon the gates opened for a beige Lincoln Continental.
When the Continental’s driver ran red lights, so did newly licensed Paula, following straight onto the 405 Freeway. She got close enough to the Continental in the next lane over for Mikki, body half out the back window, to make contact, waving Paula’s scroll.
As sirens wailed, George Harrison rolled down his window and accepted the tribute.
Police pulled the DeSoto over. But the officer, who chewed Paula out for going 85 mph, only issued a $7 ticket for following too close.
When the Beatles returned to Los Angeles in 1965, the girls still were intent on meeting the moptops face-to-face.
They had read that the Beatles would be staying in Benedict Canyon. They drove its twisty street for days. But when they finally found the spot, security guards turned them away.
So again Kay turned to the Yellow Pages, for helicopter rentals — and found pilot Russell O’Quinn, who agreed to take them over the house for $50 an hour. The girls alerted the media, and on Aug. 25 flashbulbs popped as, one at a time, they took off from the roof of the Federal Building — where O’Quinn had permission to land — in the two-seat copter.
The girls had sent the band a telegram, saying they’d take a wave as a sign that they could visit later that day. After several passes and still no sightings, the Beatles waved from the pool. On her turn, Mikki lunged forward as if to leap in, but O’Quinn grabbed her belt.
When the helicopter landed for good, the girls again drove to the house. Again, they were rebuffed. So Kay called DJ Sam Riddle and made one final plea on air.
She got a call from Capitol Records, inviting the girls to the Beatles upcoming press conference.
On Aug. 29, at the Capitol Records building, they squeezed their way to the front row.
Out came the band, Harrison right in front of Kay. She told him that they were the helicopter girls. He asked, “Is your father rich or something?” John Lennon signed a book for Paula. The girls took it all in wide-eyed.
On Friday, those same eyes filled with tears again and again as they met at Camarillo Airport to pose for photos in front of a similar helicopter. So much had happened to them — children, grandchildren, arthritis, cancer.
O’Quinn, now 87, made the trip from Tehachapi — and got a big hug from an older, wiser Tummino who thanked the pilot for saving her life. Her family stood nearby, taking photos.
“She’s always been a ball of energy,” said granddaughter Grace Silva, 19. “She’s the one who’s influenced my imagination.… She taught me that anything’s possible if you just put your mind to it.”
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