Tough Act to Follow

Editor’s Note: This is the first of at least a few posts inspired by a class I’m taking on the Beatles. More details below.

Fred Kaps. Frank Gorshin. Tessie O’Shea. Wells and the Four Fays.

What do all of these people have in common?

They had the misfortune of performing on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Just like these four people:

This term, I’m taking a class called “The Beatles and Their Times,” and it is the greatest class ever (hyperbolic but truthful). I wish it was four hours long instead of two. I read the textbooks for fun. (The books are here and here. Both are great; the former is indispensable if you’re a Beatles die-hard.)

Today, we watched a few clips from that February 1964 episode; the first of the band’s several Ed Sullivan Show appearances through the years. Of course, it’s always a treat to watch them: Observing each Beatle’s unique stage presence, laughing at the insane reactions of female audience members, realizing halfway through the song that you’re sort of singing out loud and your seat neighbors would probably like you to stop.

We also watched Wells and the Four Fays’ indescribably strange acrobatics routine (it started with a woman in a gorilla-esque costume and ended with a guy and girl doing a hybrid boxing-gymnastics bit, if that gives you an idea). As if that wouldn’t have been ridiculous enough on its own, they performed right after the Beatles’ final song of the night; talk about a tough act to follow.

Thinking that would make an entertaining blog post – hey, look at these poor people who had to perform after the Beatles! – I spent more time than I care to admit searching for their routine online (in class, we watched from a DVD set of the full Ed Sullivan Show episodes on which the Beatles performed). With no luck, I realized that was the story: Performing on the Ed Sullivan Show was a big deal, but they leave behind no evidence for today’s average American to consume.

I wonder what went through their heads when they heard the Beatles would play. Were they mad about being thrown from the limelight? Or were they excited by the potential for a larger audience?

What really gets me, though, is how many people watched. Sixty percent of the nation’s television audience! 60! I don’t see 60% of Americans ever watching the same thing at once these days; people even DVR the Super Bowl. As weird as that Wells and the Four Fays routine was, it would have survived in some small way had it been performed today, likely in the form of a mocking Twitter hashtag and a few YouTube clips.

I feel a little sorry for the acts whose performances so paled in comparison to the Beatles that they only survive as footnotes in stories about the Beatles. Mostly, though (here comes the fangirl!), all this thinking about TV ratings and YouTube just has me appreciating the Fab Four even more. We may have more choices as far as entertainment today, but it’s really about the quantity-or-quality debate. It can be fun to watch everyone get their fifteen seconds fame, but it’s a blast to watch people who got fifteen minutes (and then some) while truly deserving it.

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2 thoughts on “Tough Act to Follow

  1. Pat Curtin says:

    Yes, well, ahem. I can remember being 8 years old and glued to the tv to watch that show. You’re right, I don’t remember any weird gymnastics, but I instantly fell in love with George. It was an infatuation that lasted for at least another 5 or 6 years or so. And to think that male hair that fell below the top of the ears was absolutely revolutionary.

    • Paige Landsem says:

      Pat,

      Why was I born in the wrong decade? To be able to say you watched it live must be beyond cool.

      Paul has always been my favorite Beatle, but this class has given me a new appreciation for George’s adorable-ness. (Also, we watched a clip of them arriving at a performance and someone in the crowd had a sign that read “Beatles: Unfair to Bald Men.”)

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