Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Beatle

Monday, January 18, 2010

First of all, Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! I hope everyone in the States has the day off to observe MLK's legacy.

I was thumbing through some old Beatles books last night when I came across these funny pictures of the Beatles meeting Cassius Clay in February 1964 (shortly before Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali.) The Beatles were in Miami making their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was doing a special broadcast from Florida.

It was a huge photo opportunity for both - Clay was preparing to fight Sonny Liston, and the Beatles had just made a big splash in their States with their debut Ed Sullivan appearance a few weeks earlier - and an unusual pairing. The Beatles originally wanted to meet Liston, who had no interest in reciprocating the pleasure ("I don't want to see those bums," he reportedly told the Beatles photographer, Harry Benson) but Clay happily obliged.

One newspaper report from 1964 says that the Beatles were happy to meet with Clay and vice versa, and that when the Beatles entered the boxing rink chanting "yeah yeah yeah" that Clay pretended to be scared and said, "no no no" in response. But that isn't how Benson, who took several of these photographs, described it. In his book "The Beatles: In the Beginning" Benson said that the Beatles were acting quite cocky and confident now that Beatlemania had swept the States, and believed that they were going to be meeting some dumb boxer. But Clay ordered the Beatles around the ring, telling Paul, "You may be the pretty one, but you're not as pretty as me." He poked fun by positioning them into photo poses that made it look as if he were beating them up.

You can practically hear their heads knocking against each other in this photo.

Ringo looks like he's crying in this one:

Poor Beatles. They were not amused. Benson said that they refused to speak to him for a few days, and that Lennon later remarked "That man made a fool out of us." Lennon may have written a song called "I'm the Greatest", but on that day in 1964 it was The Greatest who upstaged the Fab Four.


  1. What a fantastic set of photos! And a rather sad story, if it's true that the Beatles were disrespectful of Ali. Grrr. :(

    Hope you had a great MLK Day!

  2. HA! What great candid photo's! Ali was like that though.. he would never be upstaged...dechedr by ANYONE!!

  3. These are great. Oh, Ali, cocky from the beginning.


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