Five Beatles authorities from different corners of the seemingly infinite Fab Four universe gathered Thursday at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles to revisit and analyze the group’s impact on popular culture in conjunction with the museum’s just-opened exhibit “Ladies and Gentlemen … the Beatles.”
Museum executive director Robert Santelli moderated the discussion among Debbie Gendler, a 13-year-old fan when Beatlemania erupted in the U.S. who was in the audience for the group’s history-making live U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show”; former KRLA-AM deejay Bob Eubanks; historian and author Bruce Spizer; and super collectors Chuck Gunderson and Russ Lease, who also co-organized the new exhibit with museum officials.
“We’d noticed there were museum exhibits on Lady Di’s dresses, the Titanic,” Gunderson said at the outset of the 90-minute session in the museum’s 200-seat Clive Davis Theatre. “Chocolate,” inserted Lease, prompting Gunderson to add, “and we thought, ‘Why not the Beatles?’”
So, Gunderson noted, over a period of several years, he and Lease and two other collector friends pooled their memorabilia into what became “Ladies and Gentlemen … the Beatles.” It premiered two years ago in New York and has visited several other cities before reaching Los Angeles, and will travel next to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.
But Gunderson pointed out the special L.A. connection stemming from the fact that out of roughly 90 days total that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr spent together on U.S. soil during the Beatles tours in 1964, 1965 and 1966, “They spent more time in Los Angeles than any other city.”
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Consequently, the show has been tailored to emphasize the group’s L.A. experiences, most prominently including four concerts that Eubanks, wearing his other hat in the mid-’60s as a concert promoter, organized at the Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium.
The show’s arrival in Los Angeles also serves as a run-up for the coming documentary “Eight Days a Week” detailing the band’s U.S. tours, a film directed by Ron Howard and slated to open in general release in September.
The exhibit, which occupies most of the Grammy Museum’s main exhibit space on the second floor, surveys far more than the live performances. It features a wealth of what Gunderson and others call “Beatle tchotchkes” – the merchandise that was ever-present in the early days of the group’s relatively short eight-year career.
Beatle wigs, lenticular rings and lapel buttons, bubblegum trading cards, Revell model kits and 45 rpm single cases occupy a full display case.
Others are tickets to various concert dates and show both the geographical range the act covered – “Brian Epstein thought the U.S. was about as big as the U.K.; he had no idea how big this country was,” said Gunderson – and the astonishing, at least by 2016 standards, ticket prices that typically ran from $2.50 to a top price of $7.
Candid photos taken by their U.S. tour manager Bob Bonis, unpublished until just a couple of years ago, are displayed on yet another wall.
Asked by Santelli to single out some of the most noteworthy items they’ve collected, Gunderson cited a set list a fan saved from a 1960 performance by the early Beatles, well before Ringo Starr completed the lineup by replacing drummer Pete Best in 1962.
Eyeing the roster of songs after the presentation, Gunderson said, “I find it very interesting they included the Everly Brothers’ ‘Cathy’s Clown,’ which would have just come out at that time.”
Lease pointed to the suit formerly belonging to Starr that he acquired just last December in the auction that Starr and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, conducted through Sotheby’s to downsize their possessions and to generate money for their nonprofit Lotus Foundation.
Lease noted that the suit had been worn by Starr during the first 40 minutes of the band’s 1964 debut film “A Hard Day’s Night,” but that even the Julian’s Auctions house in Beverly Hills that conducted the auction missed the fact that it was also what Starr wore on the cover of their 1964 British album “Beatles for Sale.”
“A piece of clothing from an album cover trumps one that was used in a movie,” he said.
Eubanks shared anecdotes about his experiences working with Epstein and the four Beatles during their L.A. concert appearances, and after Gendler noted how much the group’s appeal initially seemed to be among teenage girls like herself, Eubanks added that, “As their music developed, it got better and better, and they appealed to both adults and teens.”
The show is the fourth Beatles-related exhibit the Grammy Museum has hosted since it opened in 2008, following solo exhibitions highlighting the lives and music of Lennon, Harrison and Starr, respectively.
The new exhibit runs through Sept. 5. Hours and ticket information are available at the Grammy Museum website.