Sid Bernstein, the famous promoter who was responsible for bringing the Beatles to the U.S. for the first time, always credited the New York Times for being instrumental in helping to bring the Fab Four to the U.S. and starting the British Invasion. Bernstein spoke about this subject with this blogmaster in a 2010 interview.
During his service as an intelligence agent in England during World War II, the Bronx native of Yiddish- speaking parents developed a fascination with reading British newspapers. It was from British newspapers he would buy at New York newsstands that he first read about the Beatles and knew that he had to bring them to the U.S.
What lead up to the band’s arrival on the famous day of February 7, 1964 were the fruits of Sid Bernstein’s hobby of reading British newspapers. After reading several fascinating articles on the new group from Liverpool that was tearing up the British pop charts, the music promoter knew he could make them a smash across the pond as well. “It stirred my curiosity. They started something in their own town and it started to spread across England. I got the number of their manager, Brian Epstein, and called him.’ For the rest of his life, Bernstein could not forget Epstein’s phone number. ‘It was his home phone and the number was Liverpool 6518…it was the magic number of my life. I sometimes forgot my own kids’ number, but not that one.”
Brian Epstein was still living at home with his family at the time. Bernstein’s first call to the Epstein family was most memorable and made him an instant hit with Mrs. Queenie Epstein. She answered the phone in what seemed to be a “high-class British accent” and when Bernstein identified himself as calling from America, Mrs. Epstein asked if the New York Times still published a weekly Book Review and said that she hadn’t seen one in a long time. The American caller promised to send Mrs. Epstein the Times Book Review each week and a strong friendship was cemented with the Epstein family prior to Bernstein even speaking to Brian about the Beatles.
The New York Times was the conduit that not only created an instant friendship between Bernstein and Mrs. Epstein, but also made Mrs. Epstein champion Sid Bernstein’s offers to bring the Beatles to the U.S. He never missed an opportunity to give the famed newspaper proper credit in facilitating worldwide Beatlemania.
The Beatles’ colorful manager appreciated Bernstein’s interest but was concerned in that he did not want the band falling flat upon arriving on American shores. Epstein expressed his concerns to Bernstein without mincing words, “We are not getting any airplay in the U.S., why do you want us to come? I don’t want the boys playing to empty seats over there.”
Bernstein assured Epstein that the Beatles would have success in the States saying that the language is the same and the kids in America are the same as the Beatles fans in Britain. On the topic of the Beatles achieving success in the U.S., “I told him that they would. I loved the idea that they were British and from Liverpool. I sold him on the idea.”
Epstein’s response was, “I will make a deal with you. I need time, but I will bring them there.”
Bernstein waited ten months from his initial phone call with Epstein until the Beatles finally received airplay on American radio when a station out on the West Coast started playing the Beatles. Bernstein recalled that he was told that an English stewardess gave a Beatles record to a DJ who was a passenger on a plane, telling him to play it and that people in America would love it.
The summer before the Beatles’ February 1964 arrival in the U.S., Epstein came to New York trying to spark interest in getting Beatles records played in the U.S. He met with Bernstein, who showed Carnegie Hall to the Liverpudlian. Epstein knew of the famous venue. Bernstein convinced his business associate and newfound friend that he would have no problem selling out Carnegie Hall for the Beatles. The rest, as we know, is history. One of the famed promoter’s favorite anecdotes is that on the day after of the show, the manager of Carnegie Hall told him, “Sid, you could have booked them not for this one day, but for a month.”
The exorbitant cost of the tickets for the Carnegie Hall show were $3.50 for the balcony, $4.50 for the golden circle, and $5.50 for the orchestra.
After the massive success of bringing the Beatles to the U.S., Sid Bernstein brought over all of the top British acts as well. He brought the Rolling Stones for their first four U.S. tours, in addition to The Dave Clark 5, The Moody Blues, Herman’s Hermits and the Kinks. Having been chiefly responsible for the British Invasion, he earned the title “The Father of the British Invasion”. Throughout his long career he also has managed or promoted such acts as Barbra Streisand, ABBA, Sam Cooke, Jimmy Cliff, Lenny Kravitz, Frank Sinatra, Laura Brannigan, and many others.
Of course, the Bronx native is also famous for single-handedly orchestrating the Beatles’ 1965 concerts at Shea Stadium, which were the first popular music concerts of any kind at a stadium and paved the way for a worldwide trend.
On December 8, 2010, news camera crews came to Bernstein’s Manhattan apartment to interview him on the sad occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his friend John Lennon. While he had a business relationship with Lennon when he arranged the Beatles’ first trip to the U.S, that relationship transcended into a strong personal friendship in the post-Beatle years. Both Bernstein and Lennon lived very close to Manhattan’s Central Park and their families would intersect in the park. Of course, John and Yoko had their young son Sean, while Bernstein had a couple of kids who still fell into the younger range. Many times they would sit and talk on a park bench while their children played. “John’s sense of humor was 24/7. The first couple of times that I ran into John and Yoko by chance he would ask her, ‘Did I ever introduce you to my friend Sid Bernstein?’. One time Yoko finally answered, ‘Yes, about a hundred times’. Any time we met after that John always made a point of asking Yoko if he had ever introduced her to me just as a joke.”
The two veterans of the Beatles world would talk not only about the music industry, but more so what it was like to be raising young kids in New York at that time. Many times Lennon would call his friend Sid to get tickets to a big concert he was promoting. Sid would relish this opportunity because he would arrange for John and Yoko to sit next to him, and they would have the opportunity to talk, and sometimes go out to eat after the shows. “I lost both a friend and a soul mate on December 8, 1980,” Bernstein said when interviewed at his apartment by this blogmaster.
In his fascinating 2002 memoir “It’s Sid Bernstein Calling…. ”, the famed promoter discusses how the New York Times played a pivotal role in bringing the Beatles to America, though not as animated as when he would discuss the topic in conversation. Bernstein’s memoir is a “Who’s Who” of the entertainment world.
For years Sid Bernstein put the Times‘ Book Review in the mail to Mrs. Epstein, even after the Beatles finally came to the U.S. in 1964. During his life Bernstein was not shy of saying that the New York Times was instrumental in convincing Brian Epstein to bring to America. He once joked to this blogmaster, “I don’t know how things would have turned out had it not been for the New York Times”.
When Sid Bernstein died at age 95 on August 21, 2013, the entertainment world lost a giant to say the least. Until the end he remained great friends with countless stars. He never failed to give the New York Times proper credit for being the catalyst in bringing the Beatles to the U.S.