When you dive into the Tribune's coverage of the Beatles in 1964, you find fear.
Fear about the hair, the strange music and the screaming.
The hair was an affront; the mop-topped four sported a sheep-dog look that was ridiculed mercilessly. Bob Hope joked: "The Beatles are a kind of barbershop quartet that couldn't get waited on." A desperate mother of a 15-year-old son sought help from a Tribune advice columnist, writing: "We've tried everything: ordering him to get a normal haircut, teasing him about looking like a girl, threatening to cut his allowance. Nothing works."
The music was despised too. An early AP story described it as a "violent form of rock 'n' roll." It was also equated with "calliope" music or dismissed as not music at all.
And the screaming, the screaming was really frightening. On Aug. 26, the Tribune ran a story about the firsthand experience of a Washington state child guidance expert who attended a concert in Seattle. It wouldn't have calmed parental fears. He wrote, "Many of those present became frantic, hostile, uncontrolled, screaming unrecognizable beings." He blamed adults for "allowing the children a mad, erotic world of their own." He described it as "an unholy bedlam" that should not be allowed. "It was an orgy for teenagers," he said.
It is important to note how quickly Beatlemania spread. In January 1964, a Tribune editorial warned readers about an unknown band from Liverpool that was all the rage over there. Just a few days later, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" hit No. 45 on the charts. In February, they appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show." By April, the Beatles had the top five songs in the country. In August, "A Hard Day's Night" appeared in theaters. In just months, they had become a worldwide sensation. Their concert tour was marked by reports of riots and injuries.
So it was no wonder that Chicago was on edge in the days before the performance at the International Amphitheater. Grim-faced city officials huddled about the impending invasion. The police commander in charge of a special task force told the mayor, "Don't worry, Mr. Mayor. We've been in tight spots before. We'll handle the Beatles just like every other big emergency."
About 5,000 fans greeted the Beatles at Midway Airport on Saturday, Sept. 5. Some tried to scale the fence around the field. The concert that night was a "screaming smash," according to a Page 1 headline over a story that took cracks at the music and John Lennon's long hair but mostly focused on the hysteria, and yes, the screaming.
Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
The kids were all right
Parents didn't have a chance, of course. No matter how much they berated them, their kids' ardor wouldn't be tempered. One result of that fanaticism was an explosion of Beatles fan clubs.
An Aug. 28, 1964, story explained how one enterprising group tried to finangle a way to meet its idols. Members asked Mayor Richard J. Daley to let them present the keys of the city to the band. The response from the city was cold, to say the least. "We have no knowledge of the Beatles other than what we have read in the papers."
"That answer would just break up any Beatle fan," said Cindy Strohacker, 15. "They didn't have to be so mean."
Three trips, four concerts
SEPT. 5, 1964: The Beatles play the International Amphitheater.
AUG. 20, 1965: The Fab Four return for a day-night doubleheader at Comiskey Park. The total attendance: About 85,000.
AUG. 12, 1966: About 13,000 fans see the band's last concert in Chicago at the International Amphitheater.