Judge’s response to Beatles lives on in Internet age

Steven Rosen/Cincinnati Enquirer/Aug. 25, 2014

The Esquire, Mariemont and Kenwood theaters are using a very strange video clip to promote upcoming sing-along screenings of “A Hard Day’s Night” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ invasion of the U.S.

Shown as a coming-attraction preview, it was related to the Beatles’ historic concert at Cincinnati Gardens on Aug. 27, 1964 – 50 years ago Wednesday. But it wasn’t footage of that sold-out show, or of the Fab Four’s whirlwind one-day visit here. Instead it was of an unidentified and well-dressed middle-aged man, standing in front of the Great Seal of Ohio and beside an American flag, decrying the effect of the Beatles on Cincinnati teens – especially girls.

By turns lecturing, pleading and foreboding, he bemoans the event: “These girls went into a coma,” he objects. “They ranted, they fainted. Their eyes were glassy. Some pulled their hair out. Some tore their dresses. They threw notes of a very undesirable nature on stage. Some girls after the performance kissed the stage. Some kissed the very seats in which the Beatles had sat.”

And then he makes this strange analogy: “I believe a dictionary definition of a Beatle is a bug. Of course, bug also means being crazy. I don’t think the Beatles are bugs … (but) I think the parents are bugs to let their children go to a production of this kind…”

And he beseeches his intended audience – presumably parents of teenagers – to not let anything like this happen again. “I think we can all agree the show was not good. Why must we have it?”

The clip, since showing up on YouTube and social media sites a couple years ago, has developed a cult following and elicits lots of comments.

“A friend posted that video on Facebook one day and I couldn’t get over it,” explained Kathy Parsanko, public relations/events director for the two theaters, via email. “This footage shows how upsetting Beatlemania was to some adults. It was such a different era. This video was history in the making.”

The full clip – it’s almost four minutes and is black-and-white – doesn’t identify the speaker. But it is Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Benjamin Schwartz, who held that post from 1957 until his retirement in 1974 and was known for speaking out about problems facing youth. Some of his actions were controversial, but he was also a respected community leader during his tenure. (He died in 1982 at age 78.)

On the YouTube channel AcmeStreamingdotcom, the footage is identified as having been shot on Aug. 28, one day after the concert. And on Aug. 29, the Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal reported that Schwartz warned about the Beatles at a speech there that same day:

“He also expressed amazement how most parents would refuse to be seen at a burlesque show but freely permit their daughters, ‘the mothers of tomorrow,’ to see the Beatles which, he claims has a considerably worse effect,” the paper reported.

Yet until its emergence in recent years on the Internet, Schwartz’s filmed anti-Beatles tirade was virtually unknown. Enquirer clips (and a Newsdex search) turned up nothing about it at the time.

So there are as many questions as answers about why Schwartz filmed it, but it appears that a defunct Denver company called Barbre Productions was trailing the Beatles 1964 U.S. tour, possibly for a planned (and unauthorized) documentary.

The project turned out badly, according to the book “Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy Volume One – 1957-1965” by John C. Winn. He tells how the Beatles became fed up with Barbre at the Sept. 12 Jacksonville concert, and their press officer told the crowd the group wouldn’t perform unless its team left. “The bluff worked and the crowd began chanting, ‘Out! Out!'” Winn writes.

A Brooklyn-based company called Historic Films, which licenses commercial use of old footage, acquired the Schwartz clip and other footage about 20 years ago, said Joe Lauro, its president. He said he got it from Haagermaan Productions, but did not provide information about the latter. But other sources, too, somehow have found the old footage. This writer saw some on a collectors-oriented video titled On Tour With the Beatles from LA to Philadelphia: The USA Tour Part Three – 1964 Volume 18.

Historic Films’ website promotes its Schwartz footage this way: “Ohio circuit court judge stands in front of Ohio state seal, says that the Beatles are not bugs but the parents of their fans are! Hilarious! Anti-Beatles.”

Neil Signer disagrees – strongly – that what his grandfather said 50 years ago is “hilarious” today. He doesn’t think it should be used to promote events. After he watched it for the first time (this writer sent him a link), he said this in a follow-up phone interview from Florida, where he lives:

“(This) negates all the good he did for the community,” he said. “It’s who he was at the time but you have to remember what else he did. He was a juvenile judge and was about family values and ethics and morals. As a kid, he and I had a favorite saying. He would start the phrase ‘It’s nice to be great’ and I would finish, ‘It’s greater to be nice.’ That was one of his basic beliefs.”

Among the other Cincinnati Beatles-related footage are interviews with a custodian at Cincinnati Gardens, amused employees of Hill’s Barber Shop at Swifton Shopping Center (about the Beatles’ “moptop”-style haircuts), and a University of Cincinnati psychologist named Howard Lyman who good-naturedly, patiently explained that the Beatles posed no threat to society.

Deceased since 1997, he was the father of David Lyman, a Cincinnati arts critic/writer who today covers theater and dance for The Enquirer. David had no idea the footage existed until contacted.

“It’s nice to hear him be so incredibly reasonable,” David said. “I was proud of his comments. When the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, I watched with my mother, not my dad – he wasn’t a music guy. So it was good to hear him be so reassuring that every generation has moments that seem unreasonable to their elders, but that they will still find their way into adulthood.”

If you go

What: A Hard Day’s Night sing-along screenings

When: Thursday at the Esquire, 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Kenwood and 5 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Mariemont.

Also: Prizes for the best 1960s costumes before each show

Tickets: $10, at box offices and movietickets.com.

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