Ringo remembers the Beatles' first magical mystery tour

LOS ANGELES - Ed Sullivan first noticed the Beatles when he saw a crowd of teenagers awaiting them at London's Heathrow airport.

"He said, 'Book those boys.' He didn't know anything about us. And we certainly didn't know anything about him," said Ringo Starr.

Sullivan would bring John, Paul, George and Ringo to America 50 years ago Friday.

At a news conference upon their arrival in New York aboard a Pan Am flight, the Fab For were asked to comment on criticism that "you're nothing but a bunch of British Elvis Presleys." 

Ringo Starr says the Beatles were unprepared for fans' overwhelming response when they first came to America. CBS News

"It’s not true!" said Ringo, imitating Elvis' moves.

It was an introduction that changed everything -- for Ringo, the Beatles and America.

"It was like one of those magic moments. We landed and it was all perfect. We were No. 1 and the kids loved us. And we loved the idea of being in America. I'd never been to America," Ringo said.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand," the Beatles' opening song on "The Ed Sullivan Show," would spend seven weeks at No. 1. Only a few months earlier, the band the been unknown here. 

Ringo said the band was nervous because they didn’t know how they would be received.

"We felt very insecure because in the summer George came to America, George Harrison. And he was going into record shops and going, 'Have you got the Beatles’ records?'’ And they were saying, 'No.' And when he came back he said, ‘It's gonna be tough, you know. They don't know us over there.'"

But when Beatlemania ignited in America, the sound of excited fans screaming was overwhelming.

How did they play over that din?

"You just play. And as you know, later on we didn't play because we just couldn't get over it (the screams). We were in stadiums now and they were really loud. But that was part of the Beatles and the audience. That was just how it was," Ringo said.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving Beatles, reunited for a concert to be broadcast Sunday on CBS. CBS News
 Ringo and Paul McCartney, the two surviving Beatles, rarely play together. But they reunited for a concert, to be broadcast on CBS this Sunday, to celebrate those 50 years.

“It does mean a lot that we're still out there doing what we love to do and that's play," Ringo said. "And it gives me the opportunity to play with Paul and a great band. So it's great."   

Who knew, 50 years ago, how much it would mean just to see two Beatles come together again?

CBS News is marking the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first American television appearance with a live media event, set to take place Sunday, Feb. 9, from 6:30-8 p.m. EST at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. You can watch a live webcast of the event on CBSNews.com.

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"