"IF the soundtrack of America's love affair with the Beatles began with 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' its first, indelible visual backdrop was New York City. From the 4,000 fans who greeted them on February 7th at JFK airport -- newly named in memory of the dead president -- to the photos that Harry Benson and others shot of them at the Plaza Hotel and in Central Park, New York City is sacred into our collective memory of the Beatles.

"My office (today) is only blocks from the Plaza Hotel. I walk each day through Central Park to my home on Central Park West, next door to the Dakota. There's a whole arc of the Beatles' story along that short journey. Of joy. Of sorrow.

"But to paraphrase John Lennon's 'In My Life,' I've loved them all."

THE above was written by my longtime friend Peter Brown, who has been such an encouraging help to me through the years of working for Literacy Partners. Peter wrote the above ending to his recent cover story for Newsweek on The Beatles.

He was working selling records in England when he landed in The Beatles orbit and worked at their early successes. Peter Brown went on to become a New Yorker and an international mover and shaker, friend to many of the famous, longtime resident in the summer Hamptons and the representative for, among others, Andrew Lloyd Webber the world over.

Literacy Partners wants to give Peter its ridiculously named "Lizzie Award" on June 17th at Cipriani on 42nd Street. If he refuses to accept the award, you'll find me running down 42nd Street waving it right behind him.

Peter -- open letter -- please accept our salute to you for all the thousands of people you have helped us teach to read and write. (And if you missed reading Peter's Beatles story, look it up right now!)

THE FIRST of many religious-themed movies hits screens on Feb 28. It is titled "Son of God," an expansion of the History Channel's "The Bible" miniseries that was so popular. (Oh, you know, the one that had Satan looking exactly like President Barack Obama.)

But that's just the beginning. We'll also get Russell Crowe in "Noah" and Christian Bale as Moses in "Exodus" and also "Mary" starring Odeya Rush as the Mother of Christ. This one will tell us about aspects of the personal life of Mary and Joseph previously unknown and never shown in a movie. I'd love to know where the inside Mary/Joseph dish came from, but biblical scholars hate to gossip.

So, no whining from conservatives that religion isn't getting its fair share in the Babylon that is Hollywood.

And never mind that recently evolutionary-minded scientists have concluded that camels had not yet evolved into tamed beasts of burden at the time of the Old and New Testaments' ubiquitous descriptions of them.

IN CASE you missed it, Frank Bruni of The New York Times tells of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma asking the NFL Network's Andrea Kremer how he should act if he encounters an openly gay teammate near him in the locker room.

Vilma: "Imagine if he's the guy next to me, you know, I get undressed, naked, take a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?"

Reporter Bruno answers for Andrea: "Well, a squeal would be unmanly. Mace might not be enough and NFL players tend to use their firearms away from the stadium, so ... do what countless females of our species have done with leering males through history. Step away. Move on. Dare I say woman up?"

What silliness. These are grown men afraid of somebody looking at them? Straight men look at other straight men all the time -- checking out, sizing up, comparing. And if they deny it, they're liars. (Women look at other women too, for the same nonsexual reasons.)

ONE OTHER sports note. Not to make fun of Bob Costas' eye infection -- which forced him to withdraw from covering the Olympics -- but after his recent, startling paean of praise for Russia's Vladimir Putin, how odd that Costas was side-lined by red eyes. Why, one might imagine Vladimir himself popping over to the NBC tent in Sochi, with a sturdy Russian medication for Costas. Vlad's that kind of a guy.

HERE'S an amusing P.S. about Shirley Temple. She was, as noted here yesterday, one of 20th Century Fox Studios' most popular blondes. (The legendary "Fox Blonde" tradition actually began with little Miss Temple, although her hair darkened as she grew into adolescence.)

When Marilyn Monroe first arrived at Fox in 1947, fresh from a successful modeling career, she was dropped after a year of doing nothing but posing for photos. Head man Darryl Zanuck claimed he saw no future in Monroe. But he added this: "She reminds me too much of Temple!" One would think this was an asset, but Darryl was perhaps not as fond of Shirley as her box office indicted he should have been. After Shirley departed the studio, her bungalow was dismantled and evidence of her reign there was erased.

Indeed, when one compares photos of the curly-haired model Norma Jeane and young movie star Shirley Temple, there is more than a passing resemblance.

Of course, Monroe would return to Fox, and in time become the bane of Zanuck's existence, and vice versa.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)