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It Was 50 Years Ago Today: The Beatles' “Ed Sullivan Show” Debut

Photo Credit: Thomas Weschler

On February 9, 1964, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would take the stage at The Ed Sullivan Show to play what would become one of their most iconic performances of all time.

The weeks leading up to the so-called "British Invasion" saw American radio stations playing every Beatles track they could get their hands on in preparation for their arrival.

The Beatles' music had spread like wildfire across the U.K., in turn spilling over into the U.S. and turning Americans into some of their biggest supporters, eventually taking their first album, Meet The Beatles, to the top of the charts for 11 weeks straight.

On February 7, the band deplaned at John F. Kennedy airport for their first U.S. appearance, greeted by the screams of an estimated 3,000 fans. 

Two days later, the group would appear in front of their rabid fans on the extremely popular Ed Sullivan Show.

Not only did the crowd drown out the host with their excited cries, but Americans proved that Beatlemania was no fad, when 73 million people tuned in to see The Beatles play hits like "All My Lovin'" and "I Saw Her Standing There."

But for Detroit photographer Thomas Weschler, who was then just 15 years old, The Beatles’ appearance on the show was just “a good way to ingratiate [himself] with the girls in [his] new high school.”

During one of the most-viewed broadcasts in television history, Weschler – armed with a Brownie Super 27 – took photographs of the band from his TV screen and sold them at his school, a move that would kickstart his career as a professional rock ‘n’ roll photographer. 

Years later, Weschler still has both the negatives and the camera that started it all, saying he treats the both of them “like gold” and that it “seems like it hasn’t been 50 years.”

While his talents have had him photographing an untold number of musical greats, he hasn’t had the opportunity to photograph any of The Beatles in person. He came close in 1971 when he filmed a black-and-white clip of John Lennon at the Free John Sinclair Rally in Ann Arbor.

Weschler praises The Beatles for their longevity and looks forward to them being “around much longer.”

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of this momentous occasion, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited at the Grammys and later returned to the Ed Sullivan Theater for an interview with David Letterman that will air tonight on CBS.

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