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Oh yeah: Hanging with the Beatles in Miami in 1964

Sharon Alford receives the best Christmas present in the history of Christmas presents, a boss portable hi-fi with fold-out speakers. A sophomore at Hialeah High near Miami, she can now listen to her new Beatles records endlessly. Lying in bed in February 1964, she studies the photo of beautiful Paul on the back of her new album, Meet the Beatles.

As the cutest Beatle, Paul can have his pick of any girl. Sharon is a pretty blond, but she has a practical streak. Can she really hope to win Paul's heart? Probably not. John is too brainy and unfortunately married. George isn't bad looking despite the caterpillar eyebrows but seems so darned earnest — he might prefer a serious, tea-drinking girl. Sharon gazes at Ringo's picture and thinks strategically. She might have a better chance with the goofy drummer, a short fellow with a prominent nose.

As far as Sharon is concerned, the most important thing in the history of the world is about to happen. The Beatles are headed her way. She got her first good look at the band on the Ed Sullivan Show, live from New York, last Sunday. Now a second Sullivan show, starring the Beatles, is scheduled at the Deauville hotel in Miami Beach in a few days.

The jet from New York is going to take off soon. Kids all over South Florida, feverish with Beatles Flu, leave obediently for school at 8 a.m. but instead bolt toward Miami International.

Sharon arrives with a friend at the airport early and sprints to the National Airlines Terminal. Marching outside, she stakes out a position on the observation deck and waits.

Hours drag by. Other kids show up. Soon there are thousands. And she has to pee. For a sight of the Beatles, and the possibility of making eye contact with Ringo, she defies her bladder.

At 3:50 p.m. the jet taxis to a stop directly in front of her. Kids stampede past hapless security guards in the terminal and mob the observation deck. Some even manage to escape security to reach the tarmac. It's exciting and scary.

Screaming erupts. Not normal screaming, mind you, "but high-pitched, hurt-your-ears screaming,'' Sharon later tells friends.

Ringo is the first Beatle to emerge, followed by the others. Ringo doesn't throw Sharon a kiss. The others don't make eye contact either. In fact, they appear shell-shocked. They wave and vanish into their limos.

 

 

It all happened half a century ago this month. Yet if you are a certain age — Sharon, a retired journalist, is 66 — memories are still vivid. Your hair may be gray, but it could be yesterday. You're a kid again. Your parents are alive and rolling their eyes about the racket emanating from your room. I Want to Hold Your Hand still sounds fresh while performed on the air guitar in front of the closet mirror.

You listen continuously to Rick Shaw, the celebrity WQAM DJ who talks faster than a tobacco auctioneer. He has been spinning Beatles records since they were released in America in late December.

If you're a girl you write notes explaining your love of a favorite Beatle, fold the paper until it's an impossibly small triangle, and flick it across the classroom to your best friend. Best friend flicks note about her favorite Beatle back at you.

If you're a young teen boy, you pretend to throw up when Mom suggests a trip to the barber. If you're older, you trade your ducktail for Beatle bangs and commence saving your bag-boy money for a cheap Silvertone guitar from Sears.

Roger Epstein, an eighth-grader at Nautilus Junior High in Miami Beach, wishes he could be one of the Beatles. What would it be like to play guitar? What if he met them? Perhaps their charm might rub off and he'd win himself a full-figured girlfriend.

"Come on!'' he chastises the gawky kid staring back at him in the mirror. "Don't be a dope.''

He picks up a favorite Spider-Man comic and starts reading.

 

 

At the Deauville, the screaming and weeping begin the instant the limos roll into view. The guy in charge of security is Sgt. Buddy Dresner of the Miami Beach Police Department. He has guarded Sinatra and Elvis. He supervised the guard detail when President John F. Kennedy visited the beach only a few days before his assassination in Dallas. Sgt. Buddy knows what he's doing.

The first limo is a dummy. The second limo, carrying the Beatles, speeds past the bewildered girls to the back of the building. That's how the Beatles escape the screeching, clutching throng. They slip into back elevators and are escorted to rooms where they must wonder if they are trapped in this tropical paradise.

If this were to happen today, they might be trapped. They might be ordering from room service during their stay. They might be texting their stockbrokers, playing video games with their posse, or maybe drag-racing under the influence like a certain pop star known for his own mop top.

But in February 1964 it's different. Miami is not New York or Paris. It still has some small-town virtues. And this is important: Sgt. Buddy likes the Fab Four. They're not spoiled rich kids. They're polite and funny. Mostly they are young. Of course they want to escape the hotel. Of course they want to meet some real people.

 

Billy Pollak lives a few miles from the Deauville. He is 13, attends Nautilus Junior High, likes the Beatles — who doesn't? He works on his James Bond cool.

His dad, Paul, builds hotels. His mom, Jerri, is a former nightclub singer who knows the people who know the important people. The phone rings after dinner. It's a comedian friend, Myron Cohen, who had met the Beatles. They may need a getaway place, Cohen says, somewhere they can escape the hubbub. "Tell the boys to come over to my house,'' Jerri says.

The limo arrives the next morning. Led by Sgt. Buddy, the Beatles walk in, eat cold cuts, go for a swim and pose for a famous Life magazine photograph in the pool. They're nice to Billy, which is cool, but he's not supposed to tell anyone about the visit. That kills him.

Next morning Billy heads for the beach with his cousin Jeffrey Stern and Roger Epstein. Billy never mentions the Beatles. They horse around until noon. Billy suggests they walk over to his house for leftover cold cuts.

As far as Billy is concerned, it's all about lunch and maybe some basketball. So he's just as surprised as his companions when the sliding door opens and the Beatles crash their game of hoops. "We're the Liverpool Globetrotters,'' one says, stealing a pass. For 10 minutes it's the Beatles against the junior high boys from the beach. Going for a rebound, Jeffrey elbows Paul in the eye, ending the action.

Everybody leaps into the pool. Roger suddenly feels self-conscious being in the presence of deities. He abandons the pool to sit alone with his beloved Spider-Man comics. Ringo, the last to join the Beatles and sometimes the butt of jokes, climbs out of the pool and joins the quiet, awestruck boy. They're from different worlds, of course, but Ringo sometimes feels like an outsider, too. Together they read comics.

Roger sells real estate today. Billy is a lawyer.

In the photograph Billy took of Roger and Ringo reading comics, they both look like boys.

The Beatles keep Sgt. Buddy busy. He's trying to protect them but also trying to entertain. He takes them fishing and unhooks a grunt from John's line. He rents sports cars for all of them. He escorts them to the 5th Street Gym, where they meet the colorful boxer Cassius Clay, who is going to fight Sonny Liston at the end of the month.

Sgt. Buddy feels a little guilty. He misses his family. He forgot Valentine's Day until George reminded him. George sends flowers in Buddy's name to his wife.

Buddy also thinks about his 12-year-old daughter, Jeri, who is in love with the Beatles, especially Paul. She's a brainy, serious child who likes to see A's on her Oak Grove Elementary School report card. Jeri would love to meet the Beatles. But she doesn't even know her dad is guarding them.

A couple of days go by. Sgt. Buddy calls home. "Sorry I've been so secretive,'' he tells his wife, Dorothy. "Let's have a big dinner tonight.''

That afternoon Jeri and her mom arrange tables in the living room. Jeri assumes that her favorite Uncle Harold from California and some cousins must be coming for supper. Uncle Harold is so funny and nice.

A limo pulls up. The Beatles trot into the house.

You are Jeri Dresner, age 12. The Beatles are in your living room. You love Paul. You tell yourself: "Don't say anything dumb.'' You look at Paul, cuter in person than in his photographs, by the way. Paul says hello. Asks about your life. So do the other Beatles. They're down to earth, funny, unspoiled. Normal!

Supper.

Jeri's job is serving the potatoes that accompany mom's roast beef. Her stomach churns with anxiety. George looms ahead. Fumbling with the spoon, she drops a hot potato on George's lap.

Oh, my God. But George doesn't act like it's the end of the world. He laughs!

Meanwhile, Ringo quietly leans over to cut 6-year-old Barry's roast beef. Ringo even removes his storied rings and lets the boy play with them.

Eat and run? The Beatles stay and chat politely. They tell Jeri's mom how much they appreciate the home-cooked meal, including the strawberry shortcake. Then comes the knock on the door.

It's the neighbors, lots of them, and their kids. They have seen the limo. They know what Sgt. Buddy sometimes does. They have put two and two together.

Sgt. Buddy, law-and-order guy, allows the neighbors in. But listen, he tells them. Walk single file around the table in an orderly manner. Shaking hands is okay. No screaming, please.

As Jeri's best friend floats dreamlike into the room, Paul leans over and blesses Jeri with a big fat kiss. The kiss, thanks to the friend who witnessed it, will be the topic of discussion at school for a long time.

Jeri is 61 now. She's a lawyer. Her parents are gone. John Lennon was murdered. George died from smoking too many cigarettes.

She remembers the Beatles. She still listens to the Beatles. Once in a while she tells her story about her dad, and her mom's roast beef, and the day she met John, Paul, George and Ringo.

She has never dropped a hot potato on another lap.

Barry Dresner's blog about the day the Beatles came to dinner: buddyandthebeatles.com.

Next Sunday

In Latitudes, book editor Colette Bancroft surveys new books on the Fab Four, including the massive kickoff of an exhaustive triology.

 

On the cover

Family photo courtesy

of Billy Pollak (1964)

Oh yeah: Hanging with the Beatles in Miami in 1964 01/29/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:51pm]

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