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Jewish Journal

Hanging with the Beatles — in 1964

by Tom Tugend

August 20, 2014 | 1:50 pm

<em>The Beatles play the Hollywood Bowl in 1964. Photo courtesy of beatlephotoblog.com</em>

The Beatles play the Hollywood Bowl in 1964. Photo courtesy of beatlephotoblog.com

It was 6 a.m. on Aug. 19, 1964, when the phone rang in the Studio City apartment of Ivor Davis, then a young West Coast correspondent for London’s Daily Express, circulation 4 million.

On the other end of the line was the paper’s foreign editor, who told Davis to drive to Los Angeles International Airport and catch the 11 a.m. flight to San Francisco. His assignment was to cover that evening’s gig at the Cow Palace by a hot British pop group called the Beatles.

That was the start of a 34-day, 24-city tour across the United States and Canada, including a Hollywood Bowl appearance 50 years ago, on Aug. 23, attended by 17,000 screamers — mostly young women.

Davis remembers, “I had unfettered access to the boys. … I lived and ate with them, played cards and Monopoly until the early hours of the morning.

 “I was there when they popped pills, talked candidly about their passions … and how they coped with the revolving door of women that was the inevitable result of their perch as global sex symbols.”

It has taken 50 years, but Davis, otherwise a quick and prolific journalist, magazine writer and book author, has finally put together the highs and lows of that memorable tour, including the pressure, adulation, booze, drugs, girls — and Jewish angles — in a funny, lively and frequently riveting book, “The Beatles and Me.”

Ivor Davis with George Harrison during the Beatles’ 1964 tour. Photo by Ron Joy/Belle Schwartz Estate

Raised in an Orthodox home in East London, Davis devotes considerable space to the influence of the “Fifth Beatle,” Brian Samuel Epstein, manager of the Fab Four, and frequent target of anti-Semitic cracks, typical of their time and country, by some of “the boys.”

Asked why he delayed writing the book for such a long time, Davis told the Journal, “I never expected their fame and legacy would last this long.”

Neither did the Beatles themselves. In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Ringo Starr said that John Lennon expected the group’s style and music to endure for about four years, that Paul McCartney planned on a writing career, George Harrison wanted to open a garage, and that his own ambition was to run a hairdressing salon.

What accounts for the Beatles’ instant success and enduring mythology? Davis ventures that “for one, the Beatles came and lifted American spirits depressed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For another, Lennon and McCartney proved to be really talented composers.”

Yet, it would have been hard then to fathom today’s unabated merchandising of Beatles memorabilia, or that FM station KLOS in Los Angeles would be devoting three hours each Sunday to the Beatles’ music.

 “It seems unlikely that Beyoncé or Justin Bieber will be remembered this way 50 years from now,” Davis remarked dryly.

Epstein was born in Liverpool on Yom Kippur in 1934 into a well-to-do merchant family. Without any managerial experience, he more or less appointed himself manager of the largely unknown pop group after hearing them play at a local cellar club.

The Beatles took on Epstein, partially in the conviction that “Jews are good with money,” as McCartney put it.

Despite his lack of managerial acumen, Epstein, or “Eppy,” as he was called, successfully transformed the stage presence of his charges from rough black-leather working-class lads, performing in the cellar of a converted warehouse, into nice middle-class chaps wearing neat, dark business suits.

 “Epstein changed the boys into clean-cut lads whom he could take home and introduce to his Yiddishe mama,” Davis explained. “If he were to try the same with the Rolling Stones, they would have burned down the house.”

Under the outward appearance of a perfectly groomed, well-spoken and somewhat aloof Englishman, Epstein wrestled with the burden of being both a closet Jew and a closet homosexual, at a time when homosexual acts were a criminal offense in Britain.

Of course, the Beatles all knew all about the skeletons in Epstein’s closet, as illustrated by an exchange during a late-night drink.

Epstein mentioned that he had just finished his (ghost-written) autobiography, and Lennon, who enjoyed getting under Epstein’s skin, asked for the book’s title.

“A Cellarful of Noise,” Epstein replied.

“How about ‘A Cellarful of Boys,’ Lennon knowingly countered.

Getting into the spirit, Epstein offered “A Cellarful of Goys,” though he wasn’t sure the Beatles knew the meaning of the term.

“No, no,” said Lennon, “I’ve got the perfect title — ‘Queer Jew.’”

When Lennon was recording “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” he switched the lyrics from time to time to “Baby, You’re a Rich Jew,” to the anguish of their music producer. At his most provocative, Lennon often addressed Epstein, to his face, as a “rich fag Jew.”

Despite such provocations, Davis does not believe that Lennon was an outright anti-Semite. “John was extraordinarily bright and had a nasty, warped sense of humor,” Davis said. “He knew how to get a rise out of people.”

Epstein rarely talked to the press and hardly exchanged a word with Davis during the first four weeks of the national tour. So, when the group arrived in New Orleans and checked into a hotel before the performance, Davis was startled when he was summoned to Epstein’s suite.

 “It’s Yom Kippur tomorrow,” Epstein said to Davis. “I wonder if you know anyone who could arrange for me to pop in at the local synagogue,” adding quickly, “I won’t be able to stay all day, of course.”

Davis called a synagogue, and, without mentioning Epstein’s name or who he was, scored two free tickets. The noble offer was in vain, however, because in the end, neither Epstein nor Davis showed up for the services.

Epstein died at 32. The coroner listed the death as accidental and probably caused by prolonged overuse of the sedative carbatrol. He is buried at the Long Lane Jewish Cemetery near Liverpool under a tombstone featuring a large Star of David.

“The Beatles and Me” cites a few other Jewish aspects of the 1964 tour.

When the band performed in Montreal, a caller to the hotel threatened to “kill the Jew Ringo” — despite the fact that Ringo was not Jewish, although his father-in-law was.

At a press conference, one reporter asked the boys if they thought Jews played too influential a role in show business. “They dodged answering it, realizing it was a loaded question — and moved onto the next question,” Davis said.

McCartney has had an affinity for Jewish wives, including his first wife, Linda Eastman McCartney, who died in 1998, and his current, third wife, Nancy Shevell.

Throughout his far-ranging writing career, author Davis has reported on Hollywood stars, headline trials, natural disasters and politics for the Times of London, the Daily Express and The New York Times Syndicate.

He and his late wife, Sally Ogle Davis, were frequent contributors to this publication and wrote more than 100 major articles for Los Angeles Magazine.

Now living in Ventura, Davis is working on two new books, one about movies, the other a true crime story. 

“The Beatles and Me” is available through Amazon or can be ordered by visiting ivordavisbeatles.com.

Over the next few months, Davis will talk about the Fab Four and sign his book at a number of venues, including Aug. 24 from 9 a.m. to noon on Chris Carter’s “Breakfast With the Beatles” on KLOS (95.5 FM). 

Sept. 4: Book signing and Q-and-A at Granada Books in Santa Barbara. 6 p.m.

Sept. 20: Speaking and book signing at the “Ultimate Dining” ’60s Tribute, Hyatt Westlake Plaza, Thousand Oaks. 5 p.m.

Oct. 10-12: Speaking and book signing at the L.A. Beatles Convention/Fab Fest. Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel.

Oct. 22: Speaking and book signing at Senior Concerns “Boomer Bootcamp,” Civic Arts Plaza, Thousand Oaks. 6 p.m

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