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A Visual History Of Beatlemania

A new exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first visit to the United States.

In 1964, the Beatles made their first trip to the United States. When they arrived on February 7th at New York’s JFK airport, they were greeted by 4,000 screaming fans and 200 journalists. Several people in this hysterical mob got injured. It was the largest crowd the airport had ever seen. That Sunday, television king Ed Sullivan presented the Fab Four to an audience of 73 million people, breaking viewership records.

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The 50th anniversary of the British Invasion is being celebrated in an extensive new exhibition at the New York Public Library: Ladies and Gentlemen … The Beatles!

Paul and John before the show, Detroit, Michigan, August 13, 1966. Photo by Bob Bonis.

“Little in America was untouched by The Beatles in the 1960s,” exhibition curator Bob Santelli, Executive Director of The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

The Beatles’ influence stretched well beyond the music. The Fab Four sparked the reign of anti-haircut haircuts like the Mop Top–which toy manufacturers soon turned into wig designs. (The hairstyle was deemed illegal in communist Brezhnev Russia because it signified rebelliousness and so-called “hairies” would be arrested and forced to have a hair cut in police stations.)

There was also the fashion: collarless Nehru jacket, ankle-high, Cuban-heeled Beatle boots, round glasses, bellbottoms, and, of course, all that paisley. Wing Dings released a line of tennis shoes printed with the Beatles’ faces. Beatles lunch boxes and T-shirts flew off the shelves at Woolworth’s.

In the art world, the Beatles helped popularize the psychedelic styles of graphic designers like Milton Glaser, Peter Max, and Heinz Edelmann, the art director of the band’s Yellow Submarine film. Lennon himself dabbled in drawing, and once Yoko came along, the band’s artistic influence was cemented with its “WAR IS OVER!” poster campaign, which inspired trends in minimalist protest poster graphics that persist to this day.

Press conference at Maple Leaf Center, Toronto, Canada, September 7, 1964. Photo by Bob Bonis.

Along with over 400 Beatles-related objects and paraphernalia, the exhibition also includes candid behind-the-scenes photos taken by former manager Bob Bonis, photos that have never been exhibited before. They reveal the Fab Four at their most unguarded–Paul and Ringo reading on a plane; John and Paul practicing in a dressing room. An oral history recording booth lets visitors add their own voices to the Beatles’ legacy, because 50 years later, these Brits with bowl cuts are still arguably “more popular than Jesus,” as Lennon boasted in 1966.

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Ladies and Gentlemen… The Beatles! is on view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center from February 6th to May 10th.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.

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