Just before 2:30 on the afternoon of Feb. 9, the Beatles got the signal to take their places for the first of two full dress rehearsals in front of a full, hysterical audience. If they seemed daunted at making their American debut, it didn’t show. They plugged in and waited patiently behind a curtain, exchanging relaxed, easy grins, as Ed Sullivan wandered onstage.
Sullivan was an improbable TV star. Stiff as cardboard and about as endearing, the 62-year-old emcee had, a profile in TIME said, as much charisma as “a cigar-store Indian.” He was painfully awkward in front of the camera, but he had an uncanny instinct for spotting talent and the ability to give it a national showcase. As such, he was a powerful star maker, to say nothing of an American icon. If you tuned in on Sunday nights, as a majority of TV watchers did, you were in for “a really big shew.”
If the audience left the dress rehearsals in ecstasy, the Beatles were anything but satisfied. “We weren’t happy with the … appearance,” said Paul, “because one of the mikes weren’t [sic] working.”
John’s vocals were muffled and often lost in the mix.
That evening, when the Beatles returned to Studio 50 for the live broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show, George lit into Bob Precht, Sullivan’s son-in-law, who produced the show. The sound quality, he argued, was unacceptable.