The Hollywood Bowl's Beatles Tribute
By Michael Ventre
Can you hear me now? On August 23, 1964, the Beatles first played the Hollywood Bowl—although “the eternal shriek from 17,000 healthy, young lungs” made their 25-minute set virtually inaudible.
When they visited Los Angeles for the first time in the summer of 1964, the Beatles went to the Whiskey A Go Go, where George Harrison hurled a glass full of water at an annoying photographer and instead soaked actress Mamie Van Doren, who happened to be walking by. They attended a party in their honor at the Brentwood home of the mother-in-law of then-Capitol Records head Alan Livingston, where well-heeled parents paid $25 a pop (the money went to charity) to have their kids meet the lads, and where stars like John Forsythe, Edward G. Robinson, Groucho Marx, Rock Hudson, and Jack Benny joined the mop-top madness.
But the single most important event of their stay in LA—the one that leaps off the tip of every music-obsessed tongue whenever that time and place and those Liverpudlians are mentioned—was their concert at the Hollywood Bowl. And on August 22, 23, and 24, the Bowl will observe the 50th anniversary of that seismic happening with an equally seismic tribute. Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, an über-Beatles fan, will serve as ringmaster and musical director.
“I’ve heard many stories from George, Ringo, and Paul about their experiences in the USA back in 1964, but the news footage of the Hollywood Bowl remains embedded in my mind,” recalls Stewart, who was a close friend of Harrison. “Olivia Harrison [George’s wife, who told Stewart she was at the Bowl, although she and George would not meet until years later] just recounted to me how crazy it was: ‘Girls jumping into the pond at the front and swimming to the stage, limos with the roof squashed and windows gone, total hysteria.’”
The Beatles first played the Bowl on August 23, 1964 (they returned to the Bowl the following year and played two nights there). As their shows went, it was typical. They opened with “Twist and Shout,” played 11 more songs to the sellout crowd of 18,700, closed with “Long Tall Sally,” and left after about a 25-minute set. As usual, the Beatles had difficulty hearing themselves sing or play. That concert was recorded to become a live album (released much later, in 1977), although their producer, George Martin, later lamented, “the eternal shriek from 17,000 healthy, young lungs made even a jet plane inaudible.”
Yet that concert was historic, primarily because the Beatles themselves considered it so. “That’s the only place they wanted to play,” says radio and television personality Bob Eubanks, the promoter of that original show, who was then a local disc jockey for KRLA. “They wanted to play the Hollywood Bowl because it was the premier place. It still is.” Tickets for the show ranged from $3 to $7, he recalls. They were only available at two outlets: the Bowl box office, and the Automobile Club of Southern California. The event sold out in three and a half hours, Eubanks says, which was lightning speed in pre-Internet days.
“I happen to think the Hollywood Bowl concert in ’64, next to Woodstock, is probably the most famous concert of all time,” Eubanks adds. “That’s my personal opinion.”
While other acts of the day, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, were commanding $10,000 to $15,000 per show, Eubanks says he and his business partner at the time had to take a loan out against a piece of property they owned in order to meet the terms set down by Beatles manager Brian Epstein: $25,000, plus 60 percent of anything over $40,000 at the box office. But, as many years of raves would attest, it was worth it.
Debra Rittmiller, a lifelong resident of Burbank, was 12 in 1964. She not only attended that show, she went to another Beatles concert in 1966, at Dodger Stadium. “I saw them on TV,” she remembers. “I bought their records. Total Beatlemania. I’d get together with my girlfriends, play their records, and scream. We went to see A Hard Day’s Night and we screamed in the theater. At the [Bowl] we were way in the back. You couldn’t hear them sing at all. Everybody was screaming. We had binoculars. It was fantastic.”
In The Beatles Anthology, John Lennon said about that show: “The Hollywood Bowl was marvelous. It was the one we all enjoyed most, I think, even though it wasn’t the largest crowd—because it seemed so important, and everybody was saying things. We got on, and it was a big stage, and it was great.”
Neither Stewart nor Johanna Rees, presentations director for the Bowl, will reveal any secrets about what they have planned for the anniversary festivities. But given the subject matter, it’s a no-brainer that a fab time will be had by all. “It’s fun to work on a show where every song is a great song,” Rees says. And at the Hollywood Bowl, no less. “When I leave town and I tell people [I work for the Bowl], they say, ‘Oh, where the Beatles played,’” Rees explains. “For people who have never been to LA, the Hollywood Bowl is famous. The Beatles’ appearance cemented it in people’s heads. They go together.” The Beatles’ 50th at the Bowl, August 22–24, 323-850-2000
photography courtesy of the music center archives/otto rothschild collection
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.