The story behind the Beatles-signed backdrop from The Ed Sullivan Show

"The Beatles' were here 2/9/64"

John Lennon, not realising the frenzy his band were about to cause, scribbles his signature on a piece of backdrop before hurrying onto the stage.

Paul, George and finally, Ringo, follow him out.

This was the Beatles' first live appearance in the US - broadcast to over 73m people - and being late for the performance because of some graffiti just wouldn't cut it.

Yet, unwittingly, the band had just added their names to one of the most important pieces of music memorabilia in history, which is now coming to auction in April.

Beatles signed backdrop Ed Sullivan
This piece of wall signed by the Beatles is one of the most important pieces of music memorabilia ever offered

An event that needs no introduction

TV host and entertainer Ed Sullivan had been passing through London's Heathrow Airport when the Beatles first caught his attention, with the band's fans creating a furore not seen since Elvis first hit the airwaves.

A man with a nose for talent, Sullivan soon offered band manager Brian Epstein a sizeable sum for just one solitary performance from Liverpool's latest.

Yet the enterprising Epstein thought better: his boys would play three episodes for a lesser price, but they would take the top slot on the line-up, and open and close each show.

To explain the rest would do the event an injustice. The Beatles' performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 2, 1964 has gone down in history as an event that changed pop culture forever, launching the Beatlemania phenomenon in the US and cementing the band's place in the pantheon of pop history.

Beatles Ed Sullivan show
The Beatles performing Help! on The Ed Sullivan Show (in 1965)

"I put my arms around Ringo's waist and lifted him up"

The band's first performance on the show, including the songs Twist and Shout, Please Please Me and their number one hit I Want to Hold Your Hand, had been taped, to be broadcast later on February 23 as part of Epstein's three-set deal.

The second set was to be their first appearance on US television. Jerry Gort, a stagehand on the programme, felt the potential of this new band from England, and decided to stop them for their signatures:

"The performers coming from their dressing rooms also on stage right had to pass me when going on stage. When the Beatles were on the second time, we were using a hard wall traveller. As the Beatles were coming on stage I asked them if they would sign the back of the traveller."

Gort handed the band marker pens, and they hurriedly autographed the moving wall in big, bold letters, adding doodled caricatures and demonstrating their confidence. Ringo, a full three inches shorter than the rest of the band, had to be lifted to reach his spot on the backdrop.

"When Ringo's turn came there was no more room at the same height in the square. I put my arms around Ringo's waist and lifted him up so he could sign in the same square. That's why Ringo's signature is higher than the others."

"They were also ready to begin so I put my foot on the hard wall so they could not open it till Ringo finished signing. When he finished I put him down and he made a mad dash to get to his drums."

The band played their sets perfectly, before being whisked off on a whistle-stop tour of the States.

The four faces that would come to define pop music in the 1960s arriving in New York

Rediscovered in Rolling Stone

As the year progressed, the Beatles became a household name in America, and the rest of world was equally besotted. Nonetheless, the studio decided to send the hard wall to the dumps according to Gort, who cut out the 48-inch Beatles-signed piece and gave it to a local disabled fan.

Rightfully proud of both his career and generosity, Gort has since regaled his children and grandchildren of the time he met the Beatles. It wasn't until his grandson read about the piece of wall in Rolling Stone magazine that he discovered where it had ended up.

The young man who received the wall from Gort fell on hard times in the 1980s and sold his prized memento to Rodney Carey, owner of the Southdowns Lounge in Louisiana. It remained on display in the bar for years, before Carey realised how much it could be worth and sold it to a New Jersey collector in 2002, sharing his profits with the disabled fan.

High praise indeed from Frank Caiazzo, one of the world's most respected Beatles experts

The Holy Grail? No question

Now appearing at Heritage Auctions, the piece of backdrop is estimated to sell for more than $800,000. As Beatles autograph expert Frank Caiazzo explains in his letter of authenticity: "…All four have signed beautifully in thick black marker, and each member has additionally drawn a caricature. This is without a doubt one of the top signed Beatles pieces in existence."

Heritage Auctions' Gary Shrum added: "Holy Grail is a term bandied about in memorabilia circles far too much, but in this case, it's hard to argue with the designation. This thing really is the Holy Grail of Beatles memorabilia. It's simply the best Beatles-signed piece there is."

Can't get $800,000 together? We have superb Beatles memorabilia for sale at a more modest level.


Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock