Several days ago, Joe Garagiola, a former major league baseball player who became much more famous as a broadcaster in his post-baseball career, passed away at age 90. Obituaries in major U.S. newspapers did not mention Garagiola’s very minor role in Beatles history. For instance, the New York Times obit of the baseball player-turned-broadcaster, “Joe Garagiola, a Cather Who Called the Game Better“, made no mention of the highly memorable Beatles incident.
Immediately after the formation of the band’s own label Apple Records in 1968, and shortly after the band members returned from their memorable trip to India to “visit” the Maharishi, John and Paul went to New York for a few days for issues relating to Apple Records. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which was still based in New York and would make the switch to Los Angeles in 1972 after spending a decade in New York after Carson took over the show from former host Jack Paar in 1962, contacted the band’s management and asked if John and Paul would appear on the show on May 14, 1968 during their trip to New York. Since members of the Beatles had never appeared on the famous Tonight Show – either as a band or as individuals – John and Paul thought it would be a good thing to do both for the band and to get the word out about the new Apple Record Corps.
To make a long story short, the whole thing was a total disaster. Producers of The Tonight Show did not inform John or Paul or Neil Aspinall that Johnny Carson would be on vacation on May 14, and that Joe Garagiola, someone totally unknown to them, would be the host. Needless to say, John and Paul were not pleased upon learning this and contemplated canceling out, but decided to go through with it. In later years, both John and Paul described Joe Garagiola as being very nice, warm and gracious. However, it was obvious to John and Paul, and the American public, that Garagiola definitely was not the right person to interview John Lennon and Paul McCartney on their first and only appearance on the famous Tonight Show during the Beatle years. John and Paul deserve much credit for being good sports. Another part of the equation was that aging actress Tallulah Bankhead was also a guest; she was totally intoxicated and asked the two boys some stupid questions.
The NBC television network destroyed many tapes of various shows from that era due to storage limitations, a move which has been universally criticized since. No authentic tape of the infamous May 14, 1968 show exists. However, in the pre-VCR era, some industrious Beatles fans taped the audio of the show on a tape recorder and did a makeshift filming of the visuals on their television screen with a Super-8 home movie camera.
An excellent article about John and Paul appearing on The Tonight Show appeared last year on the website UltimateClassRock.com. The article, “47 Years Ago: John Lennon and Paul McCartney Appear on the Tonight Show”, is most informative and includes a link to the dialogue of the infamous 1968 episode of the famous show. UltimateClassicRock.com has a wealth of fascinating articles on The Beatles, in addition to countless informative articles on other rock bands that fall under the “classic rock” label.
The Tonight Show fiasco with Joe Garagiola is known among Beatles fans but has not been widely covered. For instance, two major books of the last decade, The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (1968) and John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman (2008), make no mention of the incident.
In an indirect way, The Tonight Show has another connection to The Fab Four. Original host Steve Allen stayed from 1954-1957. He was succeeded by Jack Paar (1957-1962) who turned the 90 minute NBC daily weeknight late show into an absolute staple of American culture. Johnny Carson took over the show from Paar in 1962, as the American public was dismayed that the wildly famous Paar would give up the show after only five years. Johnny Carson’s reign lasted thirty years until his 1992 retirement, which brought Jay Leno as the new host. Leno retired in 2009 and was replaced as host by Conan O’Brien; Conan started in June 2009, but the network replaced him the following January by bringing back Jay Leno, who stayed on under an agreement from March 2010 until February 2014 when he was replaced by current host Jimmy Fallon.
After leaving NBC’s The Tonight Show in 1962, the network did not want to lose the popular Paar to another network, so they offered him a weekly one hour show on Friday nights. The Jack Paar Program, debuted in the fall of 1962 and ran until June 1965. Paar is a definite footnote in Beatles history as his weekly show was the first show in the U.S. to showcase The Beatles. Of course, The Ed Sullivan Show was famously the band’s first live appearance on American television, but one month beforehand The Jack Paar Program featured film footage of the group and told how they had taken their native England by storm. At the time, the group did not have any hit records in the U.S., but of course that would change in a matter of weeks. The January 3, 1964 recorded appearance on The Jack Paar Program has naturally been obliterated in history by the famous February 8, 1964 live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Actually, the first appearance of The Beatles on U.S. television was a straight news story. On November 18, 1963, the daily evening news program The Huntley Brinkley Report on NBC did a news segment on The Beatles and how the young group was creating hysteria in England. There was no video footage, as the segment was accompanied by only still photographs. There was an audio clip of “From Me to You” of one of their UK concerts, complete with the music being drowned out by the hysteria of the crowd.
The fact that the footage of John and Paul appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with guest host Joe Garagiola was destroyed seems ironic. John and Paul totally wanted to forget the episode, and it is highly likely that Joe Garagiola did, too.