Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Did John Lennon predict his own death; Stamp Out the Beatles; & the other 5th Beatle, my dad

WTR and the Fab Four

(1964, Olympia Stadium, Detroit. Paul, George, John, Ringo, and WT "Bill" Rabe. Credit:Tony Spina/Detroit Free Press)

 

A couple months ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue:

Hi, John. I'm a writer, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently researching a book about early Beatles merchandising and various intriguing spin-offs. I understand that your father, Bill T Rabe, was responsible for the legendary Stamp out the Beatles campaign in 1964. As I understand it, his intention was just to win a little publicity for the University of Detroit, but the concept snowballed.

It was from Marcus Gray, known for his book on The Clash, Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling.

My dad was the publicist WT Rabe, the man behind World Sauntering Day, Silent Records, Word Banishment, Unicorn Hunting, Stone Skipping, and many other old-fashioned PR events that brought reflected glory to his clients, the University of Detroit, Lake Superior State College, Mackinac Island, and Grand Hotel. He also invented and hosted the world's most durable radio quiz show, Ask the Professor.

In 1964, in preparation for the Beatles' arrival for a concert in Detroit, my dad convinced a University of Detroit student, Peter Murphy, a clean cut lad with a crew cut, to front a movement called "Stamp Out the Beatles." As Murphy told the Wall Street Journal in 1999, "I was at a basketball practice. (Rabe) comes in. 'Peter, do you want to get involved in a crazy scheme?' I said, 'Sure!' ... I had no idea it was going to be so big. It's like picking Microsoft as the first stock you buy."

The prank worked. When the band arrived in New York, someone asked what they thought about the movement to stamp out the Beatles, and they replied, "We're going to stamp out Detroit!" (My dad knew their answer was as tongue-in-cheek as his campaign, which I'm sure delighted him. He died in 1992.)

Then the merchandizing started. Marcus Gray, who is trying to pin down all the details for his book, writes in an email:

On 11 February 1964, just 4 days after the Beatles landed, a Detroit company copyrighted a sweatshirt featuring the soon-to-be-famous image of a foot raised above a beetle surrounded by the slogan. A couple of days later, a deputisation was ready to meet the Beatles at their hotel in Florida with sample sweatshirts, bumper stickers and buttons featuring the design. Taking it all in good part, the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein was photographed wearing one at the time ...

[image]

... and George Harrison presumably took one home because he was photographed wearing it a few years later.

[image]

Alas, my dad likely had nothing to do with any of the money-making ventures. And if he did, we didn't see any dollars from it. Murphy himself, alive and well (and bald!), e-mailed recently:

The only people who I remember making money were the disc jockeys in town who promoted dances that were linked to the idea that if the attendance was large enough that they could get the Beatles to come to town because this moron Murphy was not representative of the real Detroit.  I seem to remember that this was a great promotional gimmick and the events were well attended.  I also got many letters from young girls chastising me for my crazy views.


The Beatles played Detroit a few months later, and held a news conference at Olympia Stadium packed with reporters. There's at least one website with an mp3 of this news conference, but the reporter who recorded it must have left early to make deadline, because it cuts off before a very chilling moment, which I have not seen reported anywhere else.

"Can we keep the noise level down just a little?" the Beatles' press officer Derek Taylor asks.

The Beatles had two weeks left on their American tour and had doubtless been asked the same questions a million times -- about their hair (they didn’t grow it out to make a fashion statement), about the screaming girls (they’re flattered), about the deeper meaning of their songs (there isn’t one).

They answer politely, and when it comes to music, plug their favorite groups, and even get in a few pointed political comments, singling out the Motown and Tamla labels, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the "dirty" segregation of blacks at some concerts.

Someone asks, “Who keeps track of all the money you’re making?”
The Beatles answer, "Clever accountants."
Reporter: "Who keeps track of the accountants?"
The Beatles (in unison): "The police."

In my father's recording, featured on Off-Ramp, you clearly hear the following exchange:

Derek Taylor (repeating a question from a reporter): "Is it true they’re leaving show business in a year?"
John Lennon: "No."
Unknown Beatle: "Not as far as we know, anyway."
John Lennon: "Unless we get shot or something."

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