History Blog

Posted: January 31, 2018

When The Beatles Landed at Forest Hills Stadium

Composed by: Michael Perlman, Forest Hills, NY

One of the most memorable concerts in the history of Forest Hills Stadium, America’s first tennis stadium and the birthplace of the U.S. Open, was when The Beatles took the stage on Friday, August 28 and Saturday, August 29, 1964. In what was regarded as the “citadel of tennis,” they made quite a landing by helicopter on the grass courts, and over 16,000 fans commanded a chorus of screams each night, and yet thousands more had to be turned away.

The Beatles land in a helicopter on what is now grass court G5, Courtesy of the West Side Tennis Club Foundation

The Beatles, born in Liverpool, and comprised of John Lennon (1940 – 1980), Paul McCartney (born 1942), George Harrison (1943 – 2001), and Ringo Starr (born 1940), were nicknamed the “princes of pandemonium,” and embarked on a 30-day tour throughout the U.S. and Canada, earning well over $1 million. This was also a particularly extravagant time to live in or visit Queens, since the Forest Hills Music Festival was in its fifth season, and nearby, the 1964 World’s Fair was in full swing in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

On May 1, 1964, fashionable fans held up signed Beatles portraits, anxiously waiting outside the Forest Hills Music Festival Ticket Office at 118-30 Queens Boulevard for tickets to go on sale, and police officers kept a close eye on lines that were explained as “fantastically long.” A poster in the window advertised “The Beatles’ Second Album” featuring “She Loves You” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” In addition, a sleep-in took place at the stadium, for fans hoping to have their first chance at tickets.

May 1, 1964, Teenage girls waiting through the night at the Forest Hills Music Festival office for Beatles tickets to go on sale, Courtesy of WSTC Foundation

A ticket cost between $2.95 and $6.50, but the experience… priceless! As July rolled around, Beatles fans hoping to obtain free admission would visit a Randforce circuit theatre in Queens or Brooklyn and write in 25 words or less, “Why I want to see The Beatles.” The submission deadline was August 21, and the greater the entries, the greater the chance. If a contestant’s name was drawn, they would find two complimentary tickets in the mail for “The Beatles’ personal appearance.”

The Beatles concert ticket, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, August 28, 1964

Opportunities to win tickets continued. On August 14, columnist Lou O’Neill of the LI Star-Journal Sports Department wrote, “I’d just love to give away a choice pair to the Beatles’ concert. (Wot, that noise is a concert?). But the give-away has one string to it: we gotta help the Mets!” Alongside being a Mets booster, O’Neill made the main qualification of the Beatlemania-Metsomania sweepstakes consist of a 50-word entry. He asked, “Well, you Beatlemanians or Metsomanians, how would you help the Mets?” He went on to say, “The best letter, the best or most novel idea in the opinion of the judges, will win two up-front seats for the Beatles’ bash in Forest Hills on Friday, August 28.”

The well-known Alexander’s department store in Rego Park among other branches was in tune with the times. For one week, patrons could purchase Beatles Capitol LP albums at 20 percent off, which included their first album, “Meet The Beatles!” A.S. Beck, a shoe chain, also advertised the 1964 Forest Hills Music Festival to win free tickets.

AS Beck welcomes fans to the 1964 Forest Hills Music Festival featuring The Beatles, Courtesy of WSTC Foundation

A few weeks in advance, Walter Kaner, a noted journalist with the Long Island Star-Journal wrote “Police Face Hard Day’s Night,” and said “The Beatles may sing rock ‘n’ roll, but they’ve got the cops moaning the blues.” He pointed out that police brass, Port of Authority and Traffic Department officials set a strategy session at the Forest Hills Inn on August 20, to map plans in anticipation of a significant turnout.

The Beatles arrived at 2:55 AM on August 28 at Kennedy Airport from Cincinnati, as part of their North American Tour, and had an estimated 3,000 screaming teens, mostly girls who anticipated that very moment. In no more than two minutes, they ran from the plane into their limousine. Police confined the fans to a 30-foot-high observation deck, which was 200 feet away from where the plane landed.

Photo by LI Star-Journal

When they arrived at Hotel Delmonico on Park Avenue and 59th Street, barricades could not prevent Beatlemaniacs from storming through. Not only was Ringo Starr’s shirt ripped, but his St. Christopher medal, a token of protection from harm while traveling, vanished from his neck. On Cousin Brucie’s WABC Radio broadcast from inside the hotel, Ringo made the appeal, “Cousin Brucie, somebody took my medallion. It means more to me than almost anything. I’ve had it since I was 10 years old.”

The crowd lingered outside the hotel and heard the broadcast on transistor radios. A deal was made, where anyone who returned the medal would meet Ringo, John, Paul, and George, and in turn, WABC received phone calls from 155 girls who claimed to have the medallion. Fifteen-year-old Angie McGowan was willing to make the sacrifice, arrived at the studio, and handed the medallion to Cousin Brucie. She explained to the Associated Press, “I grabbed him around the neck to kiss him, but I was shoved back into the crowd. Then I looked in my hand. I thought I had a button, but I discovered it was a medal.”

At a press conference, The Beatles praised American girls, American money, American journalists, and ultimately America. Then they stepped back into a limousine to a heliport in lower Manhattan, and en route they were to Forest Hills Stadium, guarded by 200 police officers inside and another 300 officers on patrol in the surrounds. Private detectives were on scene, four ambulances were stationed, and fire hoses were in operation to dampen outbursts that venture beyond. The lineup of over 16,000 fans began much earlier in the day. The Beatles made landfall in a helicopter on grass court G5, and screaming girls nearly produced enough energy to lift the helicopter back into takeoff.

The Beatles’ setlist for each concert consisted of “Twist and Shout” (The Top Notes cover), “You Can’t Do That,” “All My Loving,” “She Loves You,” “Things We Said Today,” “Roll Over Beethoven” (Chuck Berry cover), “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “If I Fell,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Boys” (The Shirelles cover), “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Long Tall Sally” (Little Richard cover). The master of ceremonies on the first night was the WMCA Good Guys, and Murray The “K” on the night that followed. The Stan Rubin Orchestra offered pre-show entertainment.

The Beatles at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, August 1964, Courtesy of West Side Tennis Club Foundation

On the first night, one unique attraction was 17-year-old Mary Fuller of Darien, Connecticut, who dreamt to come face to face with George, so dense wooden barriers and police officers guarding the stage, set apart from fans by a 1,000 square-foot open area, proved to be no match. She emerged from the rear, took the stage with bare feet, and she hugged George. The Beatles stopped playing and stared in wonderment until police intervened, leaving their positions unguarded. She said, “I had to see George. It’s very complicated but I had to talk to him about something, and I wanted to make sure to see him.” Another 17-year-old, Al Tarallo of Yorktown Heights, also forced his way on stage, and later explained to officers that he sought to present the Beatles with a painting of them. He said, “I love those guys, and when I was up there, I asked John if he minded me coming up. He said he didn’t, so I feel a bit sorry, but not too much.”

In preparation for the second concert, The Beatles and their crew got energized with 48 frankfurters and 6 salamis which were provided from Nathan’s Famous of Coney Island. “Many carried huge signs, some up to 15 feet long. Cries of ‘Ringo for President’ filled the air,” said New York resident Laura Schaefer, an August 29 concertgoer who shared her experience with the Brooklyn-based Home Reporter and Sunset News. “The show started and WINS disc jockey Murray the ‘K’ came on stage. He announced such acts as ‘the Exciters,’ ‘The Righteous Brothers,’ and “Jackie De Shannon. Finally The Beatles came on. Girls screamed and threw popcorn, jellybeans, and candy hearts.” She later explained, “The Beatles sang many songs, some from their picture ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ The songs were barely audible, but all the girls reasoned, ‘you can hear them at home on records, but you are only able to see them once.’” She reminisced girls exchanging addresses and crying as the helicopter began transporting them back to Manhattan.

The Beatles at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on August 28, 1964, Courtesy of West Side Tennis Club Foundation

For the two-night engagement, each Beatles set’s duration was 30 minutes, and they exited by helicopter as quickly as they arrived. The Beatles earned $1,500 a minute on average. Police officers had counterfeiters on their radar due to confused seating arrangements, and fire officials charged that if the 500 folding chairs were not removed from the field, a concert would have been blocked. Jazz Clarinetist and bandleader, “King of Swing” Benny Goodman was in the audience, amused at the pandemonium, and felt he never saw anything quite like it in his wildest popularity heyday. Legendary actress Thelma Ritter, who was often spotted near her Forest Hills Gardens home at 65 Greenway Terrace, told the LI Star-Journal, “If I didn’t see it, I’d never believe it.”

A few years ago, an elder West Side Tennis Club member shared one of those unbelievable moments with Linna Hunt, a 47-year Club member and architect. “After The Beatles exited their helicopter which landed on the grass tennis courts, a young female fan quickly chained herself to the helicopter. With plans to fly back with The Beatles after the concert, the Club had to find a chainsaw to extricate her!”

Beatles fans on Aug 28, 1964 at Forest Hills Stadium, Photo by Long Island Star-Journal

After the concerts ended, the cleanup proved to be no ordinary challenge. The grass was concealed with boards, but Beatles fans managed to leave behind a trail. “I don’t know why, but I think it was a custom for fans to throw jelly beans at Ringo,” said Jim Sheridan, the WSTC groundskeeper for 54 years, who began to reminisce. “I was 14, had working papers, and I was only able to work at certain times, which consisted of no nights or when school was in session. I remember my father lamenting the jelly bean situation, where thousands of jelly beans were tossed all over. Overnight it rained, and there was a gooey mess on the courts the next morning. I also remember some fence damage from having a helicopter land on the grass courts.”

His late father, Owen Sheridan, who was the chief groundskeeper, told the Associated Press, “Jelly beans and broken glass slipped through the boards. We tried to suck them up with an industrial vacuum cleaner, but we couldn’t get them all.” He continued, “Finally, we had to hire 18 men working three full days to pick the jelly beans up one by one. The beans filled six 2-by-2 foot boxes.”

Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Contests continued in September 1964, such as one coordinated by Robert Wicks, editor of the entertainment department of the Queens Ledger. To obtain a free  photograph of The Beatles, any reader who was convincing enough in 50 words or less, why they should own a photo of The Beatles, were sent copies of the press photos taken by photographer William Santic at the Delmonico Hotel.

Fast-forward to 2018, some of the 32,000-plus concert attendees shared their experiences with exuberance. Forest Hills resident Janet Czerne Weiss recalled a challenge obtaining tickets. “I sent away for them almost immediately, and after several weeks received a letter stating that there were no more tickets, so my dad and I went to the ticket booth, spoke to someone, and we were able to get several tickets.” That was a wish come true for friends Bev and Wendy, fellow Beatlemaniacs, who decided to send The Beatles four Forest Hills High School sweatshirts. “I doubt they ever got them, but somewhere in the world, four people are walking around with FHHS sweatshirts,” she chuckled.

“My academic record the first year was affected by less time studying and more time listening to the Beatles. She recalled taking along their FHHS ‘Booster’ shakers, which certainly came in handy. “It’s palpable and very contagious, and even if you don’t want to scream, you can’t help yourself. There was a strange type of energy in that arena, and anywhere having to do with The Beatles.” She also has a vivid recollection of The Beatles circling in the helicopter. “This got everybody even more excited. The boys ran out onstage, started singing, and you were also kind of blinded by the thousands of camera flashes going off.”

Old Westbury resident Anne Kropf, who was raised in Forest Hills and graduated from FHHS in 1962, attended with her friends Judy and Carol of Oceanside, and had an up close and personal experience near the stage.“There was lots of screaming anytime one of them shook their head, making their hair move. They looked stunned sometimes and exchanged lots of looks of amazement. The fascination was partly the accents, partly the cute clean-cut look, and the clothes that were unlike what any of our American groups wore at the time. Many girls had a favorite Beatle, which made the music much more personal.” She takes pride in knowing that she owned all Beatles albums, and added, “I still have some of The Beatles trading cards.”

Forest Hills Music Festival presents The Beatles with Alexander’s ad, Courtesy of West Side Tennis Club Foundation

Jeannette Sinibaldi, a native Forest Hills resident who could not resist attending both nights, was joined by her friend Neme. They waited on line at the Queens Boulevard ticket office for the first concert, and for the second, they each offered the security guards $5. “They snuck us in, and that night, we also took my friend’s younger sister, who was in grammar school. We were in junior high school, came from good families with educated parents, and earned 50 cents an hour for babysitting, but my parents gave me the money and I was grateful. Kids were allowed to do things on their own without all the fears of today.” As a repetitive listener to Beatles records, she was ready for an eventful weekend with her father’s navy binoculars in hand, and then they made their way over the 67th Avenue footbridge, a frequent route. “I would listen to Murray the ‘K’ to keep track of their tour on my little transistor AM radio, which I saved up for with my birthday money. I was a ‘Paul girl.’ This was way before it all changed with Sgt. Pepper.”

WSTC member and current Delray Beach, FL resident Bob Wolfang, who became a ball boy, score keeper, and served on the Board of Governors, first joined as a junior at 18 in 1964, the same year as the concerts. He reminisced, “My friends and I entered the Clubhouse, went out to the terrace, and snuck into the stadium, dodging the police in the dark. I remember an ivy-covered stadium and a dignified Club set against the Tudor style of Forest Hills. It attracted names such as Trini Lopez, Barbra Streisand, and Johnny Mathis (among that season’s performers), but despite all the musicians, The Beatles are ‘The Beatles.’” He continued, “They came in by helicopter, and if we would have realized what a moment in history that was, along with a performance of that magnitude, I can ask ‘Why didn’t we take a camera?’”

Another Forest Hills fan, Patty Bugland, attended the first night. She was raised in a humble house at 68-17 Exeter Street, where her top-floor bedroom faced the stadium. She explained her parents’ personalities as “very conservative WWII military parents.” “I was not allowed to return the following night, so I ate my poor little 13-year-old heart out!” That summer, a stadium worker rented her home’s basement, which was her pass to obtain a front row seat.

Her hair was similar to the group’s wives and girlfriends’ hair which was waist-length with long bangs, and she wore Yardley of London makeup which made her feel pretty. “The energy and frankly the insanity of the other Beatlemaniacs were electric! Sawhorses stood between us and the stage, and in front of us was a line of security with arms linked, but I would have never even tried to rush ahead. Since I had a well-known crush on Paul, mooning over him from 100 feet was just fine.” She wound up next to Russell Sage JHS 190 classmates. “Since I wore red-coral pants, my father spotted me on the news. His landlady just bought an RCA color TV, and since he repaired TV sets on the side, he was checking it out and saw me in living color. Then I got it with both barrels the next day, since my parents thought that ‘nice young ladies’ went to concerts and sat properly, but we were all so excited!”

She continued, “Even as I look back almost 54 years later, seeing them was the experience of a lifetime, and if you could see me smiling, you’d know even more. This was a genre of music which defined that phase of music, and my parents were convinced that ‘no one would even remember them in 5 years.’ Hah!”

Autographed pictures printed on official Beatle Wear shirts & hats, 1964 publication ad, Courtesy of West Side Tennis Club Foundation

 

WSTC Grass Court G5 where The Beatles’ helicopter landed in August 1964, Photo by Michael Perlman, January 2018