John was anxious, though, like all the Beatles, about what to expect. Would the American media be tough on them? Or misconstrue something they said in an interview? Would demonstrators, because of all the press on hand, use the opportunity to stage some kind of protest? As the plane taxied in, John and I saw a mob lining the terminal rooftop. But it was a mob of fans, waving and screaming hysterically. They were being serenaded. You could hear the crowd singing, “She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” It was a lovefest.
On the flight over, I’d proposed a photo idea, which the Beatles liked: I would be the fifth person off the plane, and as the band got halfway down the boarding stairs, they’d turn back and look at me—and I’d photograph them with the press, the crowd, and the New York skyline in the background. The picture would say, literally: Beatles come to America. But in my mind it also said: Benson got a picture no one else was in a position to take.
So we exited the plane: George, then John, Paul, Ringo, then me. And they got so distracted they forgot to turn around! They were caught up in this chaotic drama. The crowd was screaming. The press was screaming, “Look here!” It was deafening. I just grabbed Ringo’s coat and shouted, “Turn around!” and he hollered at the others, and they all looked back, Paul waving. Bingo. Thank you, Ringo. I fired off three frames. One shot ran in the Express the next day under the headline: “Crazy…that’s New York as the Beatles arrive.”
February 8, Manhattan
Our second day in New York, we went to the CBS TV studio for a rehearsal. Ed Sullivan was the host of the most popular variety show on television. He was deferential and obliging. He even put on a Beatles wig as a joke. They were soaking up the attention. Everywhere we went—in restaurants, passing a bar—there was Beatles music playing. But they never allowed themselves to get a swelled head. We usually just sat around at the Plaza.
As I had done in Paris, I stayed on the same floor as the band. Fact: When you have good-looking guys and their record’s number one, you have girls fighting to get onto the elevators and the back stairwells to get onto the 12th floor. Fact: A couple of girls snuck in and jumped on their beds and security had to take them away. This was rock and roll. Elvis Presley, same thing. But it was a big problem for Epstein because he didn’t want any incident to happen on his watch. He would discuss this with me: “We must watch this. We’re introducing young girls to the Beatles and we’re responsible.”
I began to understand how the band interacted. As I saw it, Paul was the leader. He seemed the most sophisticated, most business-minded, thinking about their image. He was upbeat and encouraging. John was a leader in other ways on other days. He was the conscience of the group, certainly. Creatively, you sensed John and Paul were in charge, insisting, “This is what we do.” Together, they had the last word.