5th Beatle Vince Calandra
February 7, 2014•9 min
Vince Calandra had never even held a guitar before. But, even back in February of 1964, he had a pretty good sense that he shouldn’t drop this one. Calandra, a self-described “street kid from Brooklyn,” had worked his way up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” from mail boy, to cue card holder for guest stars like Buddy Holly, to stage producer. A coincidence of clothing led to his brief brush with fame that day, though. The Beatles arrived at the studio on Saturday for rehearsal the day before their big American debut on Feb. 9, but George Harrison was laid up at the Plaza Hotel with strep throat. The band’s road manager, Neil Aspinall, was standing in for rehearsal. Before it got started, manager Brian Epstein rushed over to send him back to the hotel to deal with crises. Harrison’s sister, Louise, who’d been taking care of him, couldn’t get past security back into the hotel (“You and about 1,000 other women have come here and told us they’re George Harrison’s sister,” Calandra recalls them saying); plus, the band was in danger of being booted out of the Plaza due the mob scene of teenagers forming outside. Calandra, in matching dark suit and tie, was the next closest thing to a Beatle nearby. It wasn’t his normal duds, but he had dressed up for theater plans that night. They put a moptop wig on his head, gave him Harrison’s guitar and told him to stand near Paul McCartney. For three songs, he was an honorary Beatle. Calandra, now 79 and living in Los Angeles, felt welcomed into the fold right away. “There was just something about them when you started meeting them,” he tells The Post. “You really wanted them to succeed. They were unpretentious, they knew they were talented . . . . Paul said, ‘My whole life, we always dreamed about doing this show.’ ” The significance of the show had been dawning on Calandra, then 29, throughout the week — especially when he heard the Plaza Hotel had banned Beatles wigs in the lobby due to rabid fans. He was terrified he would screw up. “I just stood there like a statue,” he says. “I didn’t move, I didn’t hit the strings, I didn’t open my mouth.” Modal Trigger The Beatles performing on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Photo: WireImage The Beatles were the only act he can remember in 14 years on the “Ed Sullivan” that asked to go into the control room and hear the playback for themselves. Even when they put a wig on Sullivan’s head, they still acted like professionals. “It wasn’t like, ‘Yak yak yak, look at this guy,’ ” he says. “It was like, ‘OK the gag’s over, lets get down to business.’ ” Calandra went on to a long, successful career in television producing. But he still thinks about how nervous he was, not wanting to let the band down while holding the guitar that day. “They had like a purity about them,” he says. And the guitar he held? “Fifty years later,” he says, “how much you think that thing was worth?” Vince Calandra is appearing with other panelists at “It was 50 Years Ago Today: Celebrating 50 Years of The Beatles in the USA” at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday. Details and tickets ($29) at 92y.org.