Star Magazine

50 years ago: The Beatles played for 31 minutes in Kansas City

Ringo Starr, left, and John Lennon and the rest of The Beatles played at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City on Sept. 17, 1964.
Ringo Starr, left, and John Lennon and the rest of The Beatles played at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City on Sept. 17, 1964.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published Feb. 2 in The Kansas City Star Magazine.

To set the record straight, The Kansas City Star did not call for a boycott of the Sept. 17, 1964, Beatles performance at Municipal Stadium.

And, technically, despite what they say, Kansas City was not the only city on the Fab Four's U.S. tour that had empty seats.

Finally, they did not bomb in Kansas City. The 20,280 tickets sold here tied Vancouver, British Columbia, for the second highest attendance for a single performance on the tour.

So, this should be cleared up as well: Despite what the band's lyrics say, money can buy you love - even for Charles O. Finley - at least for a little while.

"Charlie was my hero, " recalls Sandi Myers Soendker of Independence. "Before the show, some people were screaming, 'We love you Charlie!' "

Yes, that Charlie Finley, the often reviled owner of the hapless Kansas City Athletics who worked and worked to pull major league baseball away from our town and eventually did.

As we are reminded again and again this month that it has been 50 years since the Liverpudlians invaded our shores, it must not be forgotten that it was the quirky Finley who was so determined to bring the boys to his baseball diamond that he broke ... no, obliterated ... the record for the most paid for a single performance.

It was he who gave Kansas Citians their ticket to ride on a generation's single greatest engine of music, culture and change.

Those little pieces of paper - bearing on the back the goofy picture of Finley with a Beatles mop on his head - went for $2 to $8.50, we kid you not. The higher price would be $63 in today's currency.

But for a then-13-year-old, it was worth it at any price for "HEAVEN on EARTH, " remembers JoAnn Immele of Grandview.

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Ringo Starr, opening the pre-concert news conference at the Hotel Muehlebach (now part of the Downtown Marriott): "We are gathered here today ..."

George Harrison: "How d'ya do."

Paul McCartney: "Afternoon." ...

Q: "I'll direct my question to Paul. Have the receptions in the United States been what you expected them to be or had hoped for?"

Paul: "They've been better, actually. Somebody said they'd be good, but these have been marvelous, you know. Fantastic."

Q: "What has it been, about your reception?"

Paul: "The bigness of them. The largeness."

John Lennon: "The immenseness."

George: "The magnitude."

Paul: "Multitude-a-ness-es ... wonderful."

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There were two Beatles visits to the U.S. in 1964. The first began with their famous Feb. 9 "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance, watched by 73 million. They also played concerts in Washington, D.C., and New York, then did another Sullivan show from Miami Beach, Fla. By the time the third Sullivan bit, this one taped, ran Feb. 23, the boys had returned home.

There, the foursome continued to cut records at an astounding rate, giving baby boomers the playlist that we would never get out of our heads.

"I listened to their albums constantly - I still know every song by heart, in the order they were on each album, " recalls Virginia Harrison Dameron of Lee's Summit. "I collected Beatles bubble gum cards and decorated my bedroom with them."

Teresa Valverde Pacheco, of Kansas City, Kan., says, "I slept with the 'Meet the Beatles' album on my stomach for days."

By the time the Beatles came back to the U.S. on Aug. 19 that year, their film "A Hard Day's Night" had been in theaters a week. The song itself was gold by the end of the month.

The second tour was much longer: 33 days in 24 U.S. and Canadian cities. The four swept across the country like musical Mongols, leaving shrieking and fainting maidens behind at every venue.

On Aug. 26 they were in Denver, which had empty seats because of transportation foul-ups; the next night in Cincinnati. By Sept. 5, they were in Chicago. New Orleans was set for Sept. 16, then a rest day there, before Dallas, another day off, then the last stop in New York Sept. 20.

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Q: "Ringo?"

Ringo, quickly and loudly to laughter: "Yes??"

Q: "Would you ever date a fan?"

Ringo: "Yes. I have done. ... Honestly."

Q: "I'd like to know, do you fellas hear what you're playing when the screams go on, and how do you keep going together?"

John: "It sounds louder to people who haven't been to the shows before. We're immune, you know."

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The group had not even left its first venue, San Francisco, before Finley contacted band manager Brian Epstein to see if a Kansas City stop could be carved out of one of the eight off days.

He offered $50,000. To put that in perspective, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were drawing $10,000 to $15,000 for a show, and a '64 Beatles concert was running from $20,000 to $40,000.

The band wasn't excited about it. It had been a full year. Before playing our East Coast, they'd done 18 days in Paris - two and sometimes three sets a day - then Hong Kong and Australia, cut their records, played English concerts, handled endless TV and radio interviews.

In "The Beatles Anthology, " McCartney recalled: "Our days off were sacred. If you look at our 1964 timetable you can see why. I didn't realise until recently that we used to have a whole year of work, and then get something like 23rd November off - and then have to judge a beauty competition that day. So, by the time we got to Kansas City, we probably needed a day off. I can't actually remember falling out with Brian about him wanting us to work on a day off, we'd talk to each other rather than fall out."

Then Finley wired Los Angeles, where the group played at the Hollywood Bowl, to double his bid. No, thanks, he was told again.

He swung a third time for the bleachers: $150,000. It may seem now like chicken feed, but at the time it was easily the all-time record cost for a single performance. In today's dollars it would be $1.1 million.

Epstein, excited about what such an offer meant to the band's status, took it to the boys. They hardly looked up from their card game, it's said, and went along.

But it meant no extra day hanging around New Orleans. In Kansas City, Lennon hinted at some disappointment about it. When the group was asked whether there was any place in America that they wanted to see but did not get a chance to, he replied: "New Orleans is one of them."

For that kind of dough, Finley thought he should get more songs. In a just-released chronicle of the Beatles' visits - "Some Fun Tonight: The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966" - Chuck Gunderson writes that Lennon himself rebuffed Finley, saying, "Chuck, we only do 11. That's it."

It would come up at the Kansas City news conference, too. "In light of the splendid offer, " asked one in the audience, "do you plan to perform a little longer than a half-hour?"

McCartney paused, then got a laugh by saying: "Just extra well."

When a young girl asked: "After all this is over, which will you miss more, the fans or the money?"

Fans, Lennon replied. "They'll be the ones that have gone. The money will still be there."

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Q: "You have inspired Beatle hair-dos, and do you enjoy and appreciate seeing these styles on other people?"

Ringo: "It's quite good. It's nice. We always change when we see someone else with them."

Q: "Do you plan to change your hairstyle?"

Ringo: "Not our hair, just our clothes. We don't plan to change these. No."

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At the time, Finley's A's, as one Star sportswriter noted, were "securely pinioned in last place." Their record would be 57-105 that year.

Not surprisingly, attendance at Municipal Stadium games had been rotten for years. So everyone knew Finley wanted out of here. He'd talked of taking the A's, uniformed the year before in green and gold, to Dallas, Atlanta, San Diego, anywhere. In January, he'd signed an agreement with Louisville to bring them his "Kentucky Athletics, " but the league rebuffed him again.

Furious that CBS had been allowed to buy the Yankees for $11 million, Finley was offering to sell out to local groups, but at a ridiculous $8 million price.

"This is a horse**** town, " he had told Lamar Hunt in '63, when Hunt was bringing the Chiefs to Kansas City, "no one will ever do any good here." When he finally escaped to Oakland, Calif., at the end of the 1967 season, Missouri's U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington, on that chamber's floor, called that East Bay community "the luckiest city since Hiroshima."

So, yes, there were those who immediately assumed that if Finley wanted to do something, then that something might have a certain odor to it.

In recent years, some blogs have contended that Finley was so hated that The Star called for a boycott of the Beatles concert to punish him. A study of the August and September editions of the afternoon newspaper and its morning Times disproves that.

No editorials touch on the subject; Finley's coup generated several Page 1 stories. In one column, Ernie Mehl, The Star's influential sports editor, wrote about Finley's meeting with the press in his hotel room regarding the Beatles. He claimed he had been in competition for that extra concert with five other cities that were each offering $125,000.

It was for the kids, Finley said, and for Children's Mercy Hospital. He mentioned how he had spent 27 months in a hospital with tuberculosis. Conceding that making a profit, which would go to the hospital, would be tough, Finley said that in any event he'd write Children's Mercy a check for $25,000.

Calling the offer incredibly generous, Mehl noted that on top of the $150,000 must be added "the stadium rental, cost of the tickets, ushers and a multitude of other so-called incidentals which always cost more than incidentals should."

" 'You just scored a 2-base hit, ' we told him, " wrote Mehl, closing his column with a supportive "Yeah, Yeah! Yeah!"

Finley's office would come up with the slogan, "Today's Beatles Fans Are Tomorrow's Baseball Fans."

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Q: "Do you like baseball?"

John: "Not particularly." ...

Ringo: "You throw the ball, and then another ten minutes you have a cigarette and throw another ball."

Q: "Is it true Charlie Finley asked you to wear kelly green and gold baseball outfits?"

All, laughing: "No!"

George: "Not true. We wouldn't wear 'em, anyway. Not even for 300,000 (dollars)."

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The Kansas City Times' late edition ran a front-page bulletin that the chartered Lockheed Electra II had safely touched down on a rain-slicked runway. Girls were there, waiting well past midnight, many with flowers. Connie Piekarski of Lenexa says hers were long-stemmed roses.

"There must be something sad and unfulfilling about being the rage of your age at 2 o'clock in the morning, with the rain pelting down and maybe 100 wet persons looking at you from behind lines of policemen who will not let them touch you, " wrote The Star's no-doubt-weary C.W. Gusewelle from Municipal Airport.

The musicians were driven to the Hotel Muehlebach and shown to the 18th floor penthouse. The fan craziness along the tour route had been such that some hotels refused the Beatles. Although most adoring fans milled across the street, the Muehlebach had taken the precaution of removing all the furniture from the lobby.

The Beatles noted it, too, that afternoon. At their news conference, they complained that the security measures prevented them from seeing thefans at the airports.

"The plane goes to the far end of the field and then we just get put in the car, and away we go without seeing anybody, " Starr said. "So blame them, you see. It's not us, it's them."

One at the airport was Suzanne Colbert, 14 at the time, who was there without her parents' permission.

"A friend and I waited for what seemed forever. ... The TV cameras were there, which I would have to duck, so I would not be found out. They arrived and we were allowed outside on the tarmac. As they came down the steps of the plane Ringo slipped. The newspaper said it was George, but I remember distinctly it was Ringo, because it was funny and fit his personality.

"They got into the limousine and drove right past us, not more that 30 feet away. Paul was at the window and was taking pictures. I knew he snapped one of me and someday would return to KC to find that beautiful fan!"

Overtaken by emotion, she seemed to be fainting, so naturally the media people zoomed their cameras at her. Busted, she thought that morning, sneaking back into her home through the basement - and she was right.

The friend's mom had seen them on the news. "If I did not confess, her mom would call my mom and tell her. I told on myself, and my parents were very upset."

But, "since the tickets had cost so much, $8.50, I was still allowed to go, " the Gladstone woman recalls gratefully.

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Q: "I'd like to ask George ... I heard in the Lafayette Hotel in Atlantic City, a girl had climbed eight stories on the side of the building, jumped in the window and grabbed you in your night clothes."

George: "No, it's untrue. I heard a noise in the next room, but it was just policeman chasing her around. And she jumped on Ringo, actually."

John: "Remember? When that bird was running 'round the room."

Ringo: "I was chasin' her."

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Gusewelle likened the mystifying mobility of the teens to the Viet Cong, noting their infiltration of the hotel. Two avoided the guarded elevators and took the stairs to the 18th floor, but there, "by the slim margin of the last police line of defense ... were deprived of immortality."

He seemed especially sad for one girl, who'd stepped away from the lobby for cigarettes and missed the arrival. "She sat now, alone with her misery, at a table in a darkened ballroom."

Margie Manning of Olathe did not get to the concert, but she made contact! This was down in the parking garage under Barney Allis Plaza; she had spotted the limo waiting before the trip to the stadium.

"I was able to reach out and touch the left arm of Paul McCartney, and Ringo turned around from the back seat of the limo and winked at me (I was knocking on the rear window). ... I was 16 and it was EVERYTHING! It is still one of the highlights of my life."

The day after the concert Colbert sneaked into the Muehlebach, and even though the room had been cleaned, swiped matches, shampoo, shoe buffer and such.

"I also kissed the doorknob because Paul had touched it." A bit too enthusiastically. She split her lip.

Another wily teen was Victoria Moran, now a writer in New York City. She remembers the life-changing news conference very well.

Then a Westport High School student and member of the fan club - the Leabets - she already was going to the long-scheduled Denver performance. When Finley delivered the extra show to her hometown, the club met him at the airport Aug. 28 with a plaque and chocolates. Finley played it up for the media with his wig. "Beatles Put Finley on Top, " The Times noted.

Moran: "You see, I'd acquired a press card from Teen Lifemagazine. It cost a dollar. Thousands of girls had them, but I played my card right. I was in touch with the editor of the magazine in New York and, with her help, got through to the Beatles' press agent, Derek Taylor, and received the sought-after letter of entrance to the press conference."

But the guards had strict instructions to keep the kids off the elevators. Fortunately, Finley walked in with, Moran thinks, a Playboy bunny on his arm. Kansas City had a club back then.

"I went up to him - a somewhat overweight, frumpy, but very determined 14-year-old - and said: 'Mr. Finley, I'm with Teen Life' - here, I thrust my press card in his face - 'and here's my invitation to the press conference ... and I gave you a plaque and box of chocolates.'

"He looked me up and down and said, 'OK, you can come up. Just don't say anything.' So I was on the un-bunnied arm and found a spot in the crowded conference room, mere feet from the Fab Four. I couldn't have spoken, even if I hadn't made that promise. This was my dream come true."

After the news conference, Moran - then Victoria Mucie - grabbed one of McCartney's cigarette butts (filtered) as a souvenir. When The Times found her at the concert that night, she said she would frame it with a jelly bean (yellow) that Lennon had stepped on in Denver.

Times reporter James J. Fisher covered the news conference, which he said "was far from that. The questions asked came mostly from girls who said they were on high school newspapers."

It was clearly an adult newsman, though, who asked: "As idols of rather impressionable youngsters, do you ever feel a heavy responsibility?" No, Lennon and Starr responded.

Eventually, the pros couldn't keep up with the girls and kept quiet. So there were many questions about hair:

"Have you ever measured your hair to see whose is the longest?"

"No!" the Beatles said. Then Harrison said, "I think mine is anyway, 'cuz it grows faster than the others."

One of the girls at the session: "Paul, how do you feel about reports which say you're conceited?"

Before he could respond, the other three singers jumped in: "They're true!"

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Q: "Are you writing any new songs while on this tour?"

Paul: "John and I have written two since we've been here."

Q: "Where do you do it? On the plane, or ..."

Paul: "We did it in Atlantic City, actually. Plus the two here."

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A 7-foot-tall chain-link fence was erected between the performers and the $8.50 field seating - just about the most expensive on the tour; stadium box seats went for $6.50; general admission $4.50, until it was knocked down to $2. Ambulances would stand by. The Red Cross was said to be prepared.

Of the 350 Kansas City police officers (all leaves had been canceled) assigned to deal with the Beatlemaniacs, 100 were to be in front of the stage. During a police planning meeting, someone said those 100 should get medals.

"I agree, " said Chief Clarence Kelley, who was on record saying he would have preferred an invasion from Mars.

Was this the largest force assembled in the city's history, he was asked?

"No, " Kelley said. "Let's see. There was the flood in 1951. And the Ruskin Heights tornado in '57. No this isn't the most we've ever had out. It's about the third largest."

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Q: "Do you have any extensive musical training?"

Paul: "None of us can read or write music."

Ringo: "We're all self-taught." ...

Q: "Which of you do you consider the best singer, or the best musician?"

John: "Ringo."

Ringo: "Well, I think John's the best."

John: "No, I think you."

Ringo: "No, John."

George: "We don't consider it."

Ringo, to laughter: "No, I don't think any of us are very good."

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A reporter from Variety noted at the news conference that she couldn't even find out who the other bands on the tour were. The Beatles ticked them off: the Exciters, Clarence "Frogman" Henry; Bill Black's Combo and Jackie DeShannon (who had released "Needles and Pins"). The Righteous Brothers had started with the tour but got sick of trying to play through teeny-boppers screaming "We want the Beatles."

"We clapped politely for Jackie DeShannon and the other warm-up groups, " recalls Grandview's Immele. "Then it happened. They bounced onto the stage!! I couldn't believe my eyes!!! There they were!! Paul gave his now signature Hullo, Kansas City and they launched into a song. The place erupted."

David Whitaker was one of the Rockhurst College students given free tickets to sit in the front row of the stadium's upper level to keep anyone from falling or jumping.

"When the Beatles came on stage, all hell broke loose, " he recalls. "Being devious college students, we tried our best to get some of the girls to jump so we could save them, but no one took our bait."

The crowd members were admonished to stay in their seats or risk cancellation of the concert, but that was before the Beatles came on, according to The Times. The only rush forward noted by the paper was when the boys were whisked away in a black limo and several hundred girls surged forward to cry goodbye.

The large photo in the next morning's Times captured girls and boys excitedly waving their arms on the field, under a headline that continued the sense of a natural disaster averted: Police Hold Tide of Beatlemania.

The story said the boys ripped immediately into "Twist and Shout." Others say the opening number was added as a concession to Finley: The Beatles' version of "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey." It was included the next month when they cut their next album, "Beatles for Sale."

The newspaper's arts editor, Richard L. Brown, had a great time and saw much to praise in the music when he could hear it. He couldn't make out what that first song was - "The fuzzy-pink-sweatered miss in front of me was much too distraught to answer my plea for help."

He listed the rest: "You Can't Do That"; "All My Loving"; "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah! Yeah!"; "Things We Said Today"; "Roll Over Beethoven"; "Can't Buy Me Love"; "If I Fell"; "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"; "Boys"; "A Hard Day's Night" and "Long Tall Sally."

Colbert remembers McCartney twirling around one of the stage poles. "I was standing on my chair screaming and crying. For their encore, they played 'Going to Kansas City, ' the first time I had heard them play it and knew it was just for us."

The show lasted 31 minutes.

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Q: "How many of your records have been sold?"

John: "We were told 83 or 85."

Ringo: "85."

Q: "Million?"

John and Paul: "Yeah."

John, to laughter: "It's amazing, isn't it."

Q: "What do you do with all the money that you make?"

George: "I'm going to change all mine into cents, fill up a room and dive in it."

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Finley was probably the only Beatles concert promoter to lose money; even with the Beatles playing on second base, he couldn't fill those 41,000 seats. He would say he grossed $135,000, lost $40,000, not counting the $25,000 check to the hospital.

The Chicago businessmen who bought the group's hotel bed linens for $750 did much better. Cut into 1-inch squares, they sold for $159,000 total, reportedly.

Years later, Tom Leathers would write in The Squire, his sheet, about how the Beatles "all but bombed here ... a dead loser at the box office." He blamed the antipathy toward Finley.

But of those no-shows who have written to The Star, some had parents who saw that night as one more Thursday study night, some had parents who didn't appreciate the music or the ticket prices, but no one mentioned Finley-phobia.

And don't forget it was a big stadium - larger than almost all of the other venues - and Kansas City was one of the smallest markets.

Colbert says she spotted Finley after the concert. "I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I told him that I knew almost everyone in KC hated him and was angry for his trying to move the A's, but I would love him forever for bringing the Beatles to Kansas City. He pulled an unused ticket out of his coat pocket, autographed it and gave it to me."

She sold it on eBay, she says, "for a cool $1,000."

Oh, yeah. Those tickets are still cherished. Curtis Woods has his stub proudly hanging over his living room fireplace with a photo reprint from the Muehlebach news conference. One is framed in the Independence home office of Linda Oxley Larson: Section 5, Box 9L, Seat 4.

But no one really needs the stubs.

"You will still find me reminiscing about that warm September night way back in 1964, " Immele says. "They said they were just a flash in the pan, they said they would ruin our young people, they said a lot of things about them then. Now we know. The Beatles were pioneers in just about everything they did or said, from music to fashion to thoughts about life itself. Their music has stood the test of time and holds a special place in this 'young girl's heart.' "

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Q: "You were talking earlier that the two of you might continue on, and the rest ... you break up the act. Is there a date set for this that you are going to break up?"

Paul: "No, all I meant was that, if we do break up. ... He asked when we do break up, which, it's gotta happen ... that John and I will probably carry on songwriting. We didn't mean singing or anything."

Q: "How long do you think it will be before it does happen?"

Paul: "No idea, really. Could happen tomorrow, you know. (chuckling) After the Kansas City date."

News conference excepts are from the Beatles Ultimate Experience website. To reach Darryl Levings, call 816-234-4689 or send email to levings@kcstar.com.

The Photos

The photographs here of the Beatles playing at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium on Sept. 17, 1964, are published courtesy of Ken White of Stockton, Mo. The concert pictures taken by the photographer for The Star/Times that night have disappeared from the newspaper's archives, perhaps taken as souvenirs or collectibles.

White worked for the Independence Examiner at the time, but was not assigned to cover the concert, which he planned to attend with his daughters. At the pre-performance news conference at the Hotel Muehlebach, however, he says John Lennon invited him to come on stage later, which he did. He says today he had no idea he was recording musical history.

The photographs seen here are collected on a 20-by-24-inch glossy poster - numbered and signed by White - that he sells for $40. Contact him at kdwhite7@windstream.net

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