The Real Man Who Discovered the Beatles

Monday, July 20, 2009

Last night I watched a pretty interesting retrospective of Walter Cronkite's career and I learned something that even I as a huge Beatles fan did not know.

I actually knew that Ed Sullivan was not the first to introduce America to the Beatles, although he certainly takes a lot of the credit. I always thought viewers' first glimpse of them on American television came via Jack Paar, who played a clip of them performing on his show in January 1964, about five weeks before their infamous Ed Sullivan performance.

Well, turns out we can scratch Paar as the official purveyor, too. It was actually Cronkite who ran a story on the Fab Four on the CBS Morning News show on November 22, 1963 - which happens to be the day President Kennedy was assassinated. You can probably guess what happened next.

The Beatles segment was supposed to be re-aired that night on the CBS Evening News, to expose it to a different audience. But Kennedy's death meant that all programming was off the table the night, and the segment didn't repeat until early December.

Recalling his role in music history, Cronkite had this to say in the book "The Beatles Are Coming" by Bruce Spizer: "We decided to broadcast Kendrick's Beatles piece on our Evening News program. Shortly after we were off the air, I got a call from Ed Sullivan, who was a friend of mine. He was excited about the story we had run on the long-haired British group. He said, 'Tell me more about those, what do they call them? Those bugs or whatever they call themselves.' I didn't remember the group's name and had to look down on my copy sheet for the Evening News broadcast to tell him, 'They are called the Beatles.' Ed wanted to know what I knew about the group, which was next to nothing. I told Ed I would query my guy in London. I sent my query to Alexander Kendrick and requested he contact Ed. I don't know what happened after that, but soon Ed was announcing that he would have the Beatles on his show."

The rest, as the old saying goes, is history. And as Cronkite would say, "That's the way it was."

Cronkite's teenage daughters got to meet the Fab Four. On the special last night, he said (and I'm ad libbing this a bit from memory), "They never paid much attention to their father's job before, but after this event, I was pretty much their hero."

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