Paul McCartney’s trip to Wrigley recalls Beatles’ ballpark blitz
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org July 23, 2011 8:40PM
John Lennon (from left), George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney head across the field to the Comiskey Park stage in 1965. | Sun-Times library
◆ 8 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1
◆ Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison
◆ $49.50-$165 (July 31 sold out)
◆ (800) THE-CUBS; tickets.com
Updated: October 23, 2011 12:22AM
Paul McCartney last appeared in a Chicago baseball stadium on Aug. 20, 1965.
He was 23 years old.
The wide-eyed Beatles bassist-guitarist played on a 25-by-25-foot plywood stage set up near second base at the old Comiskey Park. Two open-air golf carts were hidden underneath the stage so the foursome could take a quick ticket to ride if fans stormed the stage.
The Beatles had a few things on their agenda.
After the two Comiskey concerts they headed to Margie’s Candies, 1960 N. Western. The group held press conferences in the Bards Room stadium club between the 3 and 8 p.m. shows. One conference was for Chicago reporters. The other was for high school students.
Can you imagine Sir Paul doing this during his July 31-Aug. 1 twin spin at Wrigley Field?
These are the precious memories of legendary Chicago public relations man Sherman Wolf, who worked with the White Sox in bringing the Beatles to Chicago.
“The Beatles were looking for a place to play,” Wolf recalled last week. “They didn’t care if it was a ballpark. Frank Fried [co-owner of Triangle Promotions, who booked the Beatles] was my client. I brought the White Sox and Frank together for the deal. The White Sox [then owned by Arthur and John Allyn] wanted to use the park. They were always out for making money on the park. Tickets were $2.50, $3.50, $4.50 and $5.50.”
The gig at Comiskey (a.k.a. White Sox Park) marked the group’s second visit to Chicago.
The Beatles made their Chicago debut Sept. 5, 1964, at the now-razed International Amphitheatre, not far from old Comiskey. Their final Chicago appearance was Aug. 12, 1966, at the Ampitheatre.
The Beatles headlined the first outdoor stadium show in Chicago history.
Two years later Mahalia Jackson and Stevie Wonder sang in a Chicago Freedom Movement rally with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Soldier Field. In July 1976, ZZ Top was the first rock act to play Soldier Field. And in September 2005, Jimmy Buffett became the first stand-alone concert in the legacy of Wrigley Field.
The Beatles drew 25,000 fans to the matinee and 37,000 to the Comiskey nightcap. Published reports said the gate was between $150,000 and $160,000, compared to the $30,000 they brought in the previous September at the Ampitheatre.
The Comiskey sets were 35 minutes long and included “I Feel Fine,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” Confetti flew across the grand old ballpark. Vendors were dancing the frug.
The Beatles sang through 10 microphones and still were drowned out by fans. “The minute they started to play there was screaming and yelling,” Wolf said. “You couldn’t tell what they were playing.” Ironically, an ad for noisy mufflers hung on the right field grandstands behind Ringo Starr’s drumset.
Sun-Times theater critic Glenna Syse gave the event a thumbs-up under the headline “Beatles A Hit (4-Bagger) — And All From Second Base.”
The opening acts were impressive: Motown singer and Beatles fave Brenda Holloway, whose single “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” later was popularized by Blood, Sweat and Tears; the King Curtis Orchestra; Cannibal and the Headhunters of “Land of 1000 Dances” fame, and Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s other project, Sounds Inc., a Merseybeat instrumental group. Syse wrote, “Cannibal and the Headhunters do knee bends and chin-ups while playing guitars.”
The mop-tops used the White Sox clubhouse as their dressing room.
Crew-cut first baseman Moose Skowron, Hoyt Wilhelm, Don Buford and the rest of the Sox were in Kansas City in the midst of a seven-game winning streak.
“One of the most vivid things I remember was John Lennon going under the stands toward the golf carts,” said Wolf, 84. “He waved to Ringo Starr and the carts and said, ‘Look down there!’ Lennon was really the leader. The carts went out to the old elephant gate.” Previous White Sox owner Bill Veeck had dug out and jury-rigged a large center field “elephant gate” so he could have circus parades at Comiskey.
The Beatles did exit the ballpark on the golf carts through the elephant gate to their limousines, where they were whisked to Margie’s Candies in Bucktown.
The lads from Liverpool wanted to get blasted on the Atomic Busters at the candy store-soda shop. The Atomic Buster consists of six scoops of ice cream and assorted fruit with banana cuts. A Margie’s original, it is topped with sugar wafers, and whipped cream and fudge is served on the side.
“They brought in five girls and paid for all their sundaes,” owner-founder Margie Poulos told me in 1993. “The girls had their Beatle banners. They sat in the back booths and it was really crowded.”
I asked Margie, who was 78, if she had a favorite Beatle.
“John,” she answered. “He was the only one who talked to me.” Poulos died in 1995.
Wolf said, “The Beatles were regular guys.” So regular that Wolf said their main request for between-show entertainment was a stack of American comic books.
It was a different time.
Newspapers reported where the Beatles were staying after their American Flyer charter landed at 3:15 a.m. Aug. 20 at Midway Airport: a fifth-floor, $105-a-night suite at the O’Hare Sahara Inn on Mannheim Road in Schiller Park. (By 1966 the Beatles had upscaled to the Astor Tower Hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast.)
The Chicago Daily News reported that when the Beatles checked in they ordered all Chicago newspapers and four copies each of Time, Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post.
There was no Internet.
They also ordered assorted sandwiches and a bottle of Chateau Haut Brion, one of the top wines from France.
On Aug. 21 they were scheduled to fly to Minneapolis. The Beatles carried their own luggage.
Before the Comiskey concerts, Capitol Records hosted a luncheon for the Beatles and WLS-AM rock DJs at the private Saddle and Cycle Club on North Lake Shore Drive. Another long time Chicago PR man, Jim Feeley, was dating WLS’ Edwina “Winky the Weather Bunny” Wast.
“She was stunning,” popular WLS morning man Clark Weber recalled from his home in Evanston. “And Jim wanted to make an impression. He called me to ask if she could meet the Beatles. I arranged that, and she showed up at the Saddle and Cycle Club in a two-piece tennis outfit. This child had legs up to her armpits. Just gorgeous. So I sat her down next to [George] Harrison. He figured she was his arm candy for the night.”
When Winky the Weather Bunny told Harrison she had to leave the reception for an audition, the silent Beatle became upset with Weber. In his 2008 memoir Clark Weber’s Rock and Roll Radio (The Fun Years: 1955-1975), Weber wrote of the Beatles, “They reminded me of four youngsters from Hammond or Gary who had struck it big but were overwhelmed by their new found fame.”
Weber, now 80, said, “It was a more peaceful time. Although kids were bananas, cops weren’t arm to arm with truncheons trying to keep them back.” The Sun-Times’ Art Petacque reported that Andy Frain hired 20 extra usherettes to supplement more than 400 male Andy Frain ushers and 100 police personnel.
“The usherettes were armed —with flashlights,” Petacque wrote.
Weber said, “And we as DJs were respected as purveyors of the music of the kid’s lives.”
During the Comiskey press conference, McCartney was asked to respond to the criticism that the Beatles could be great songwriters — “if you wanted to.” McCartney answered, “We write what we feel like at the moment, like Cole Porter did. People will like us a lot more when we’re older, you watch.”
The bashful Wolf was one of the city’s best known “droppers and runners” during the 1960s. A “dropper and a runner” was a public relations person who left press releases on the desk of the guard at one of Chicago’s four daily newspapers and quickly exited the building without bothering editors and writers. “At the time I wasn’t listening to the Beatles,” Wolf admitted. “It was [Argentine vocalist] Dick Haymes. Glenn Miller. I liked Frank Sinatra. But that’s me.”
And the Beatles will always be in his life.