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Los Angeles | L.A. THEN AND NOW

DJ Mortgaged His House to Bring the Beatles to the Bowl

August 22, 2004|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

A long time ago -- as one of them pointed out on a CD -- they were Fab. More than 40 years ago, a KRLA disc jockey named Bob Eubanks watched the Beatles sing on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and days later decided to mortgage his house to bring them to Los Angeles for their first local appearance.

By February 1964, when the nation's youths were riveted to black-and-white TV screens, the simplicity and innocence of the 1950s had ended. On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated, plunging the nation into grief and signaling the end of an age. Tail fins had shrunk, McDonald's had replaced the local malt shop and the Beatles were displacing Elvis Presley in popularity. The stirrings of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and nascent feminism were calling the values and ethics of a nation into question.

Less than three months after Kennedy's death, the Fab Four set foot on American soil, bringing a desperately needed infusion of youthful optimism. Shockingly longhaired for the time, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr made their American television debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" as teenage girls shrieked and fainted. Beatlemania was born, and Eubanks, who was watching in his Hidden Hills home, was inspired.

"The electricity on the Ed Sullivan show that night came through my television and struck me like lightning. It was so cool," said Eubanks, who later became TV host of "The Newlywed Game." When Eubanks heard the Beatles were planning a U.S. tour and had not committed to play Los Angeles, "Right then I decided I would find a way to book them and bring them to town," he wrote in his book "It's in the Book, Bob!"

Eubanks worked as a doorman at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood before landing a job as a deejay at KRLA in 1960, when he was 22. KRLA was the city's second-most-listened-to top-40 radio station, broadcasting from a bungalow at the old Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.

Eubanks and a partner also opened several Cinnamon Cinder nightclubs for young adults, booking rising stars such as the Beach Boys, Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder. In 1963, Eubanks bought his first house in Hidden Hills. Within weeks of seeing the Beatles on TV, Eubanks mortgaged his home for $25,000; several banks had turned him down after he told them what he planned to do with the money.

County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn pulled some strings to secure the Hollywood Bowl as the venue. KRLA became the "official" Beatles station. Disc jockey Dave "the Hullabalooer" Hull became president of the station's Beatles fan club.

When tickets went on sale in April 1964 -- four months before the concert -- all 18,000 were snapped up in less than four hours by screaming teenagers who had waited in line all night. Singer Nat King Cole's daughter, Natalie, 14, and her brother, Kelly, joined their friends in line as their father's chauffeur crept along the curb in a limousine, keeping an eye on them. Ticket prices ranged from $3 to $7.

To add to the delirium, the Beatles' first movie, "A Hard Day's Night," was released 10 days before the concert. Fearing a deluge of frenzied fans, the Ambassador Hotel canceled the Beatles' reservation, and Lockheed Airport in Burbank refused to let their plane land.

A fellow celebrity stepped in. British actor Reginald Owen rented the Beatles his two-acre Bel-Air estate for four days for $1,000. It was there that Lennon jumped into the pool fully clothed, and the foursome played cowboys and Indians with toy pistols -- a gift from Elvis Presley. Still, screaming girls surrounded the mansion on St. Pierre Road.

The slavish hysteria repelled some more serious fans. A group of teenagers from Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley picketed the airport as the Beatles arrived and the Hollywood Bowl before the concert, begging fans to quiet down and listen to the music. They might have saved their breath. On. Aug. 23, 1964, the Beatles opened the concert with "Twist and Shout" and "You Can't Do That." The screams, Eubanks wrote, were deafening. No one could hear a thing over the crying, shrieking girls.

The Beatles played for 30 minutes, ending with "A Hard Day's Night" and "Long Tall Sally." They bowed, waved and raced off stage, without encores, into Eubanks' white Plymouth Barracuda, which a car dealer had given him in hopes of getting a photo of the Beatles in it.

The next day, the Beatles helped raise $10,000 for the Hemophilia Foundation of Southern California at a Brentwood party hosted by Capitol Records -- which had earlier turned away the Beatles, saying in an infamous 1963 memo that their music "wasn't suitable for the American market."

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