“No aspect of the Beatles first U.S. visit looms larger in legend than their initial appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a performance (actually two performances, since Sullivan was cagey enough to put them on at both the beginning and the end of the program in order to keep the audience tuned in throughout) witnessed by an estimated 73 million television viewers — about 38% of the entire U.S. population at the time. Legends that large often spawn their own sub-legends, in this case the claim that the Beatles so transfixed and charmed their youthful audience that the entire teenage population of the U.S. remained on its best behavior for that one hour, and not a single hubcap was stolen anywhere in the country between 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM on February 9, 1964.
“Ironically, not only is this legend untrue but it originated with a comment that was intended as a backhanded swipe at the group rather than a compliment.
“Shortly after the Fab Four’s Ed Sullivan Show debut (and while the group was still in America), Washington Post news editor B.F. Henry quipped that one good thing about the Beatles was that “during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.” That statement was not intended as praise; it was a put-down reflecting the common adult perception of the Beatles as just another silly fad that appealed to the worst elements of American youth.
“Henry’s sarcastic comment was publicized when Washington Post columnist Bill Gold repeated it in print, then gained national prominence when it was picked up and published by the national news magazine Newsweek. In time, the origins and nature of the comment became obscured, and it was transformed into something both literal and positive — a legend that grew in proportion through re-tellings until it became enshrined as the ‘fact’ that crime rates all over the U.S. magically plummeted during the Beatles’ golden Ed Sullivan hour.
“Even the Beatles themselves came to believe it in time. George Harrison can be seen repeating the legend in an interview that appears immediately after the Ed Sullivan segment on the Beatles’ Anthology video history.” —