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Column: Caught up with Beatles, but much more to ’64


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Unless you’ve been completely out of touch the past few weeks, chances are you have seen or heard something about Sunday being the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Sometimes I get up and walk into the kitchen only to forget why I made the trip, but I remember Feb. 9, 1964, quite clearly. I caught Beatlemania that night, and half a century later I’ve shown no improvement.

Whenever I hear someone mention 1964, the first thing that pops into my head is the memory of seeing John, Paul, George and Ringo on TV. For me Feb. 9, 1964, is one of those special dates — some good, some bad — that stick with you forever.

Much has been written about the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ invasion of America. And I’m eagerly awaiting the television special set to air at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS, 50 years to the minute after that Sullivan show.

But while The Beatles and 1964 will always be joined in my mind, it turns out that there was a lot more happening that year than the four lads from Liverpool. Every year has its share of good and bad, and 1964 was no exception. So while we’re strolling down Memory Lane — make that Penny Lane — let’s remember some other 50th anniversaries worth noting.

On Jan. 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used his State of the Union Address to declare “war on poverty.” Fifty years later that war rages on.

Three days later, the U.S. surgeon general’s office reported that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health. Soon there would be no more cigarette ads featuring physicians as pitchmen.

On Feb. 25, a young boxer named Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world. In March, the first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line; a jury in Dallas found Jack Ruby guilty of killing John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; and “Jeopardy!” debuted on NBC with original host Art Fleming.

Shea Stadium and the 1964 New York World’s Fair both opened in April. In May, the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War occurred, and 12 young men in New York became the first to publicly burn their draft cards.

In July, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fifty years later that battle also rages on.

On a lighter note, Disney’s “Mary Poppins” premiered in August, and audiences declared it supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in October, the same month Johnson pledged creation of the Great Society. In November, he soundly defeated Republican challenger Barry Goldwater.

In December, Johnson and his advisers finalized plans to bomb North Vietnam, while police arrested about 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover of the administration building.

On Dec. 6, as 1964 came to a close, NBC aired a new, stop-motion animated special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Fifty years later, Rudolph and friends remain nearly as popular as The Beatles.

I will be seated in front of the television at 8 p.m. Sunday, just as I was in 1964, only this time it’s in color. I’ll be remembering the excitement I felt when Ed Sullivan announced “Ladies and gentlemen … The Beatles!” and the girls in the audience went wild, my sister started to cry, and John, Paul, George and Ringo changed my world and doomed my mother to countless hours of hearing me beat on the drums.

I also will be thinking about how far the world has … or has not … come over the past half-century.

But mostly I’ll be wondering how 50 years could have gone by so quickly.

Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or dshowalter@therepublic.com.

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