Friday, September 19, 2014

The Beatles were big, BIG, I tell ya!

Richmond Times-Dispatch photo (cropped) 
Publisher's Note: Friend and musician Alfred Walker sent us this remembrance after we posted this image of "A Hard Day's Night" on the marquee at The National, August 1964. 

Alfred Walker, age 12
That spring at Glen Lea Elementary - the spring after JFK and Ed Sullivan and the biggest sales pitch I'd ever made (a seven-fold advance on my 25 cent allowance to purchase "Meet the Beatles" at Blair's Drug Store) – no less than four different classes put on Beatles skits for the annual talent revue. The presentations were interchangeable in featuring an offstage teacher dropping a needle on or near a Beatles song - most often "I Saw Her Standing There" - while a quartet of 5th or 6th graders waited to begin their pantomime with brooms for guitars and a few classroom trashcans positioned as drums.

My best friend Billy was in one of the configs. As we were in different classes, he shared with me some of the ongoing angst and backstage drama that went into the making of Mrs. Dodsworth's Beatles. Three of the boys wanted to be Paul. One had been edged out early, and it came down to Billy and Dean, one of the most popular kids at the school. Billy felt his own self looked more like Paul, but he knew Dean carried the cache to win the gig. Keep in mind: we were all 11 and 12 years old, and most every boy had maintained an astronaut crew cut until those Sunday nights in February. So the bangs were just starting to come in, and most of the Glen Lea Beatles were desperately mashing down the front of their coifs, still too short and stiff to point anywhere but up. For that matter, my favorite act in the talent show was four girl Beatles from Miss Simmons' class; they had good energy - and hair! Still, there were hot arguments around who most resembled Paul, the Beatle to whom us boys seemed the most unashamedly attracted.

That summer, Billy and I met the news of an impending Beatles movie with great anticipation - and some caution. There was so much hype and rumor around the band - and no Google for fact checking; you might not believe in a Beatles movie until you could actually read the show times in the Times-Dispatch. Finally in August, we could!

Richmond, Va.- The Capitol Theater- Broad St.
1964- Waiting in line for tickets to "A Hard Day's Night"
Photo from Visual & Vintage Virginia.
I wish I could ask my dear mom about her thinking in taking us to see A Hard Day's Night - not only driving us to the Capitol Theater, but sitting through the movie herself! She was 36 when she had me, which made her an older mom in those days - a classically trained singer, life-long churchgoer, not much for pop culture. But there she was between me and my little sister, who still considers that the other unsolved mystery of that day: why at age 7 she was allowed to attend!

With my mom (and not my dad) handling the transportation, we arrived for the matinee on time. That meant we saw the newsreels, cartoons, and previews before the main feature instead of after. It also allowed our anticipation to build.

Iconic still from "A Hard Day's Night"
I recall lots of clips from the movie as if from the first time viewing - that's probably a trick of the mind. But I have clear ear, eye, and body memories of that first chord striking, the Beatles running down a narrow street and right at us, and Billy and me turning toward each other and - though we were no longer little boys - clasping our hands to our chests and giggling with glee. We were several days into the film's Richmond run and perhaps not among the first tier of rabid fans. There was some good-natured girl-screaming in the opening chase scene, then everyone settled in and enjoyed the movie. As my sister points out: with A Hard Day’s Night, we were catching a big lead on the whole music video thing.

After an intimate hour and a half with the Beatles, I thought Billy looked even less like Paul. But I was headed for 7th grade at a new school with new classmates – a hard year’s fall, you might say. Sharing the Beatles movie with my best friend was a cool way to close out the summer.

Alfred Walker (on sax), age 14


  1. Great, Alfred! (I still have my "Meet The Beatles."

  2. Awesome reflections- it makes it seem so real. And knowing your mother, I also appreciate the weight of her making the decision to take you both. Sometimes we under-estimate our mothers (particularly at that age).....Speaking of Mothers, mine's strength was entering (and winning!) radio contests, and those won me two Beatles albums-- "Meet the Beatles" and "Norwegian Wood". Still have em! (I think). If I find them, I'll frame them. Dale Hill, once of Richmond, Virginia.