The Braille Monitor                                                                                         October, 2003

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39 Years Ago Newsman Had Front‑Row Seat to Beatles History

by Rick Nathanson

Art Schreiber
Art Schreiber

From the Editor: Art Schreiber is president of the NFB of New Mexico. If you talk to him for any length of time, you will quickly learn that much of his working life was in radio and that he still has lots of contacts in media circles. Not many Federationists know, however, that Art was one of two American reporters sent to cover the first Beatles concert tour of North America in 1964. The story of that adventure has nothing to do with blindness, but it is an interesting glimpse into the life of a Federation leader. The August 22, 2003, edition of the Albuquerque Journal carried an article about Art Schreiber and that amazing Beatles tour. Here it is:

Like fans of the Fab Four everywhere, Art Schreiber has for years yearned for a Beatles reunion. Of course the reunion he hopes for isn't exactly what most people have in mind. For Schreiber a reunion would be a chance to get reacquainted with the two surviving members of the world‑changing rock band. One of the two, Ringo Starr, will appear in concert Monday at the Sandia Casino Amphitheater.

Schreiber is planning to be there, and he's hoping for an opportunity to shake Starr's hand and exchange a few personal words with him. Schreiber, 75, was one of five journalists--two American and three British--assigned to travel with the Beatles on their first tour of North America in 1964. The thirty-two‑day tour breezed through twenty-five cities and logged more than 40,000 miles.

Next year will be the fortieth anniversary of that tour, and a book about the tour, Ticket to Ride, by Larry Kane, the other American journalist accompanying the Beatles, will be released later this year.

John Lennon was shot and killed by a crazed fan on December 8, 1980, outside his New York City apartment building. George Harrison died November 29, 2001, from cancer. "The last time I saw Ringo was thirty-nine years ago," Schreiber recalled. "It was the day after the Beatles' final concert of the tour, and they were at the airport in New York to head back to London. Ringo and the others called to me from the top of the steps at the airplane, `Bye, Art!' "Ringo," he [Schreiber] said, "was the most happy‑go‑lucky of all the Beatles. But he confided to me how lucky he felt to be with the Beatles because he had replaced the original drummer, Pete Best. He also said he was homesick. That was the most serious I ever got with him."

Schreiber, also a bit homesick, told Ringo about his eight‑year‑old daughter Amy. Unknown to Schreiber, Ringo got Schreiber's home address in Cleveland and sent Amy a troll doll, wildly popular at the time. A gossip columnist from the Cleveland Press got wind of it and mentioned it in a column.

"When I got home from the tour, there were thirty-forty kids in my front yard waiting to touch me," Schreiber said. "They asked my daughter to hold up the troll doll behind the glass door, and the kids kissed the glass. My wife was always having to clean the door."

Of course by that time Schreiber had become used to all the eccentricities and craziness that followed the Beatles.

Radio Days

Art Schreiber grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio, an irony the Beatles would have appreciated. His father was a Presbyterian minister and manager of a 2,000‑acre cattle farm. His mother was a homemaker.

"My father always listened to the news on the radio before going out to work in the morning, and I listened with him," Schreiber said. He credits those early morning broadcasts with inspiring him to later seek a career in broadcast.

Schreiber eventually found himself in Albuquerque as vice president and general manager of Albuquerque radio stations KOB-AM and KOB-FM.

Always extremely near‑sighted, Schreiber became blind as a result of a condition that causes tears and detachment of the retinas. He is now president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico and chairman of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.

Back in 1964 Schreiber was news director at KYW-AM in Cleveland, which was owned by the Westinghouse Broadcast Network. Schreiber often doubled as national correspondent for Westinghouse, covering high‑profile stories and rubbing elbows with the day's biggest newsmakers.

During his career Schreiber filed radio reports on the presidential bid of John F. Kennedy, Kennedy's funeral, and Lyndon Johnson's rise to the presidency. He covered NASA and the first manned space flights. He reported on race riots in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami and he covered Martin Luther King Jr.'s march from Selma to Montgomery and James Meredith's march through Mississippi for voting rights.

That he got the Beatles assignment was something of a fluke. A competing radio station had won a sponsorship bid to bring the Beatles to Cleveland as part of the band's tour. To avoid getting lost in the roiling dust cloud of Beatlemania, Schreiber suggested that he be placed on the band's tour as the national correspondent for the Westinghouse Broadcast Network. The network's Washington bureau chief hated the idea, insisting that Schreiber cover the national Democratic convention in Atlantic City.

"He told me a serious newsman can't lower himself to cover the Beatles," Schreiber said. "I told him it's a sociological phenomenon and we ought to do it." Schreiber also assured him he could manage both assignments.

Westinghouse Network officials gave Schreiber the go‑ahead. He joined the Beatles entourage in New York, straight from the Democratic convention, missing only a few of the tour stops. He remained with the Beatles for the better part of a month and got to know each of them personally.

"John Lennon and I sat together on the chartered plane almost every night," Schreiber said. "When John found out I traveled with Kennedy and King, he couldn't get over it and kept wanting to talk about politics and religion and what was happening in America. He was an intellectual."

When not deep in conversation with Schreiber, Lennon and Paul McCartney passed sheets of paper back and forth as they crafted songs. "The floor of the plane was just littered with the stuff," Schreiber said. "I could have picked up those scraps and they'd be worth big money today."

Among his fondest memories are nightly Monopoly games he played with Lennon and George Harrison. "When we'd arrive at a hotel, I'd no more sooner get in my room and the phone would ring and it would be John Lennon. He'd say, 'Art, where are you; we're waiting.' So I'd go to his room and he and George would be sitting there at the Monopoly board. John always stood up to shake the dice and roll. He wanted so badly to get Park Place and Boardwalk. He could stand to lose the game, as long as when he lost he had Park Place and Boardwalk."

Harrison was true to his reputation as the quiet Beatle. He was preoccupied with acquiring the B&O Railroad. "I asked him why he wanted the B&O so badly, and he never did tell me. He never did tell me much of anything. We'd play until sunrise, and I'd be falling asleep at the table, and John would poke me and say, 'one more game, Art.' During this whole time George would say practically nothing."

Sleeping late was out of the question for Schreiber, who had to file fifteen radio spots each day. His reports focused on all manner of things Beatle: what they had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; how the crowd and individual fans reacted to them at concerts; how the security was managed; interviews with local DJs who aired Beatles music; and near daily interviews with the Beatles themselves.

He also reported on the assortment of things that fans threw on stage during the Beatles' shows. Airborne projectiles included cakes, jelly beans, various articles of clothing--particularly women's undergarments--and pieces of jewelry.

"In Detroit the cops would come on stage and grab the watches and anything else of value and put them in their pockets," Schreiber recalled. "In Chicago, at an amphitheater on the site of the old stockyards, somebody in the balcony threw a huge raw steak and almost hit Paul McCartney. Just missed his head by inches."

Schreiber, then 36, became a celebrity by association with the 20‑something Beatles. As part of the band's entourage, he often got pawed by fans who wanted a piece of the Beatles--but would settle for a piece of anyone or anything that had come in contact with the Beatles.

On separate occasions Schreiber had three tape recorders and two portable typewriters "ripped right out of my hands," he said. "Fans were grabbing at my clothing, tearing away pieces of my suits. Someone even cut off my necktie with scissors."

Schreiber, a smoker in those days, said fans went so far as to fight for his discarded cigarette butts.

Band Mementos

On a wall in Schreiber's home hangs a shadowbox that frames a "Meet the Beatles" record album, a New York Paramount orchestra pit ticket for "An Evening With the Beatles," price $2.50, and several Beatles photos with personal inscriptions and autographs.

The contents of the shadowbox and a handful of audio interviews Schreiber did with the band members are all he has left of the historic 1964 tour. "It was a special time, but I don't think I realized it back then," he said.

Of course the passing years have a way of putting things in perspective. Should Schreiber have his own personal Beatles reunion, he intends to seize the moment. "I'll shake Ringo Starr's hand and say, thanks for letting me be a part of it because it sure was fun."

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