Constable: The night legendary columnist Jack Mabley introduced The Beatles
The most popular newspaper columnist in Chicago, Jack Mabley had one job on Sept. 5, 1964 -- introduce The Beatles to the screaming crowd at Chicago's International Amphitheatre.
Mabley got that honor at the band's first Chicago concert in the oddest of ways. When Beatlemania started sweeping through the United States for the group's 1964 tour, Mabley thought it was a joke.
"I think they're funny. They keep telling interviewers they can't sing," Mabley wrote. "They're laughing at music, they're laughing at the kids, they're laughing at the world, and even at themselves."
The Glenview dad infuriated his three daughters by suggesting that The Beatles "wouldn't even be remembered" in 25 years.
The National Association for the Advancement of Beatle People made Mabley member No. 122, and Chicago promoter Frank Fried gave Mabley an invitation to introduce John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
"I accepted because it was a unique opportunity to report on a major social, or sociological, event," Mabley said. "I anticipated, correctly, that I'd get no more attention than a pillar at the side of the stage."
Mabley introduced the warm-up acts of The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, and Jackie DeShannon, the extraordinary singer/songwriter who dropped out of Batavia High School to become a music sensation. But that crowd of more than 13,000 was there for The Beatles.
"I was not to say the word 'Beatles' because it would set off hysteria," Mabley said. "After the second act, the place became relatively quiet, and I got cute."
He told the crowd, "I have been instructed not to mention a certain seven-letter word or everybody will start screaming."
Pandemonium swept through the crowd.
"The young ladies kept up a deafening, piercing scream that rang in my ears for hours," Mabley recalls in his book, "Halas, Hef, The Beatles and Me." The screaming grew even louder when the last warm-up act finished and Mabley walked on stage.
"My assignment was to go to the mic at the front of the stage and introduce The Beatles," Mabley writes. "I did just that, except that I didn't say a word. I mouthed the introduction. Nobody was paying the slightest attention to me anyway."
Mabley was safely tucked away offstage when The Beatles started playing a 34-minute, 12-song set: "Twist And Shout," "You Can't Do That," "All My Loving," "She Loves You," "Things We Said Today," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Can't Buy Me Love," "If I Fell," "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "Boys," "A Hard Day's Night" and "Long Tall Sally."
Mabley took notes.
A hundred firefighters cruised the aisles, carrying ammonia inhalants, or smelling salts, to revive girls who had fainted.
"Girls sat transfixed with tears streaming down their cheeks. Others leaped skyward, arms outflung, loosing piercing screams," Mabley wrote. "They fell to the floor and writhed. It was an incredible scene, an emotional jab almost beyond belief."
McCartney said a stuffed animal, a red rubber ball and a skipping rope were thrown on the stage, and he had to kick a carton of Winston cigarettes out of the way to play.
"Through it all, the four young men were the most composed people in the Amphitheatre," Mabley wrote.
As a teen, Mabley created a ruckus in his household by listening to jazz artists such as Count Basie, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, which his mother, a classically trained pianist, dismissed as "noise." So he kept an open mind about The Beatles.
In the years before his death at age 90 in 2006, Mabley and his wife, Fran, would throw grand parties with great food and music, and they would lead the crowd in singalongs of their favorites. One of those songs was "When I'm Sixty Four," by The Beatles.