HOW I REMEMBER THE BEATLES ‘KICK-OFF’ IN 1964. The Human Race

There was a bear standing in the midst of Mrs. Olson’s petunia patch snapping pictures of The Beatles.

When I ordered him to get behind the ropes with the rest of the news media covering the rock stars who were kicking off a national concert tour with a “Meet the Beatles” charity fund raiser on the grounds of an estate in Brentwood, California, the burly newsman with the Nikons strapped to his shoulders snarled.

“You lay a hand on me and I’ll cram this camera through your teeth and down your ass!”

The year was 1964.  The home belonged to Capitol Records president Alan J. Livingston’s mother-in-law.  The cantankerous bear was Ernie Schworck, a veteran news photographer for United Press International.

As the newly appointed manager of the press department for Capitol, I knew that a single UPI wire photo could wind up in newspapers and magazines throughout the world.  But I wasn’t about to take crap from some gray bearded, barrel-chested gorilla who refused to budge from Mrs. Olson’s petunia garden.

“One way or the other,” I said, “you’re coming out of that garden!”

“The only way you’re going to get me out is to carry me out!”

“That can be arranged!” I said, knowing I had 6 LAPD riot squad officers seated in the garage waiting for trouble, and about 20 Burns guards patrolling the perimeter of the estate.

“When you haul me away,” he threatened, “I guarantee that will upstage your news coverage with these Beatles.”

“You asked for it,” I said, and turned to my assistant, Ron Tepper.  “I don’t care how you do it, get this guy out of the garden and back behind the ropes with the rest of the press.”

I was being facetious.  Ron, who knew more about the music industry than I would ever know, was small in stature.  It was like I had pitted Woody Allen against Hulk Hogan.

It was the first day I had met The Beatles; the first time I ran across Schworck, and the only time I had helped organize a Beatles party.  On that same day in August 1964, following my conflict with Schworck, the ABC Television news crew pulled me into the house to talk to their anchorman who was on the phone.

Having just tangled with the bear, now I was listening to a belligerent voice on the other end of the line: “Who’s this?”

As the TV crew surrounded me, I answered, “Who’s this?”

“Baxter Ward,” said the voice.  “I want you to let my crew past the ropes.”

“Sorry, Baxter.  We have a crush of news people out here.  Nobody gets beyond the ropes.”

“Listen, you PR prick,” he barked.  “You want me to pull my crew off the coverage?”

“Go to hell, asshole!” I said harshly as his crew was stifling laughter.  Nobody, especially some recently appointed “PR prick” from a record company who must rely on news coverage, had ever told Mr. Ward to go to hell, much less call him an asshole.  Before I hung up, I could detect nothing but breathing on the other end of the line.

A decade later, Baxter Ward, famed for his hardcore narcissism, went into politics and was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.  He served through 1980 and died in 2002.

Ernie Schworck became a “friend.”  Besides spending 30 years with UPI, in 1963 he went into hock to publish the first magazine covering the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Scooping Life magazine and UPI, he sold more than 3,000,000 copies, made a bundle, and wound up in the publishing business.

Last time we talked was in 2011.  Schworck was 84, still sporting a beard, using a cain to walk, carrying around 270 pounds of flesh.  He was living in a white castle on a hill in Quail Valley, California.  He died that same year.

Back to The Beatles bash:  The “invitation only” fund raiser for the Hemophilia Foundation was attended by dozens of Hollywood celebrities and their offspring.  The kids posed for pictures with The Beatles who were seated on high stools only a few yards from the roped-off news media.

After three physicians turned down my invitation, Dr. Frank Weiser, an old high school buddy and his wife, posing as a nurse, showed up to handle medical emergencies.

Other than a few teen-agers hyperventilating, the only incident I can recall was when a lady balancing on a folding chair took a spectacular tumble.  Standing on a chair next to her was Hedda Hopper, an internationally syndicated Hollywood columnist and celebrity in her own right.

Barefooted, balancing on their tiptoes, the two ladies stood behind a mob of TV cameramen and photogs intent on getting a better view of the bug-named legends.  Had the internationally famous Hedda, wearing her signature wide-brimmed summer hat, taken the fall, that would have been a big sidebar story.  But nobody died or was seriously injured.

Hedda, who had attended lavish wingdings throughout her career, wrote me a note saying The Beatle bash was the most exciting party she had ever attended.

A few months after Brown Meggs, a marketing executive at Capitol, predicted in a memo that “all the press people at Las Vegas and the Garden Party should come away identifying LeBaron and Tepper with The Beatles forevermore,” I was fired.  A couple of weeks later I was publicizing the Universal City Studio Tours where busses were being replaced by trams.

On two occasions I met briefly with the group:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and drummer Ringo Starr.  In Las Vegas, Lennon was the only Beatle I had a decent conversation with.  Since he thought up popsters’ name, The Beatles, I asked him why?

“It’s us.  We could have called ourselves The Grasshoppers, The Shoes.  It’s just a name.  Look at us.  It seems to fit.”  He laughed.  Lennon shot to death by some lunatic in 1980.  Very sad.

In February 2012, McCartney had a star placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  During our fleeting acquaintance in the midst of confusion, if I remember correctly, the Fab Four were pleasant blokes.  Especially John Lennon.

Before Capitol signed them, they had been turned down by every major record company in the United States.  Then, in 1964, a song titled “I Want To Hold Your Hand” introduced them to America and Beatle mania followed.

What impressed me more than meeting The Beatles was the chaos and emotional bedlam that surrounded the pop-culture icons.  Because of the intensity of screaming fans, consisting mostly of teen-age girls and wanton adult females, nobody at the concerts I attended could understand a word The Beatles were singing.

I brought my wife to witness the hysteria at the Forest Hills gig in New York.  Like mythical gods, the four Brits dropped from the sky in a helicopter.

The stage was surrounded by a human barricade of cops and security guards.  As The Beatles performed, fans ran down the aisles throwing their bodies at the cordon of sentries in hopes of just touching the dudes from Liverpool.

After a half century of working on both sides of the journalist wall, I can only say that the epitomy of life for me, at least, was never based on schmoozing with high profile celebrities.

Yet sometimes I wonder whatever happened to those young whippersnappers who called themselves The Beatles?

Boots LeBaron

(Note:  This story is in THE HUMAN RACE BY BOOTS LEBARON, my newly-released book on Amazon through CreateSpace.  It consists of interviews with people ranging from astronauts to actors to strippers, plus essays and light poetry.  Take a look by clicking on the link at the top of the page or on one of links provided below.)

http://www.amazon.com/The-Human-Race-Boots-LeBaron/dp/1494218526/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1391396437&sr=8-1&keywords=boots+lebaron

https://www.createspace.com/4533294

    • Carlos Schiebeck
    • February 3rd, 2014

    Love this one, who can forget Ernie, he was one of the best, in spite of his “you can’t keep me from doing my job” attitude. Heck, I was his boss at UPI, and I couldn’t control him.

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