Some of the photos from the Bob Bonis archive. As tour manager, Bonis made the most of his special access to the Fab Four and The Rolling Stones.
Fifty years ago, a band of four young boys from Liverpool, England, landed on the U.S. soil with such powerful force that an overnight movement was unleashed that's still influencing music, culture and society today. The debut of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 marked a milestone in American pop culture, triggering the "British Invasion" in music that changed the face of rock and roll forever. A famous story goes that onboard the airplane to New York on the eve of their U.S. debut, Paul McCartney questioned, "They've got their own groups. What are we going to give them that they don't already have?"
Well, nothing in popular culture was ever the same again. Music, art, fashion, activism, politics, everything got embroiled in a revolution that resonated deeply with the collective consciousness of a country that was just recovering from the shock of the John F. Kennedy assassination and frustrated with the Vietnam War. The U.S. as the dominant force of culture and entertainment around the world provided The Beatles with the widest international launch pad for their revolutionary music. Their innovative, message-oriented music epitomized the collective voice of youth from around the globe on complex political and social issues, an area that popular music had never touched before. As Rolling Stone's Robert Greenfield states, "People are still looking at Picasso...at artists who broke through the constraints of their time period to come up with something that was unique and original. In the form that they worked in, in the form of popular music, no one will ever be more revolutionary, more creative and more distinctive than The Beatles were."
The Beatles are ingrained in our memories through their wonderful music and lyrics that broke all the rules and through their highly publicized larger-than-life personas. The '60s were the time when television exploded as a popular medium and when broadcast machinery joined print media to connect people with celebrities. Many iconic photographs of The Beatles form the historic memorabilia of the band today. Abbey Road Cross Walk, Performance at The Ed Sullivan Show, the John Lennon series with Yoko Ono are some that instantly come to mind. These photographs provide us a glimpse of the enormous fame that enveloped the "Beatlemania" phenomenon in the '60s. Today, in our culture obsessed with nonstop celebrity image streams across social media, it's hard to imagine an intimate world of celebrities that isn't wide open for the world to probe. But despite being the most popular band, The Beatles imagery shown to the world was highly choreographed, seldom allowing audiences a tête-à-tête with the band's intimate world.
The tour manager for The Beatles on three of their world-changing tours to the U.S. was a man named Bob Bonis, who was also, incidentally, an amateur photographer who traveled with his Leica M3 camera close to him. And that's just part of it. Bob Bonis was also the U.S. tour manager for The Rolling Stones during this same period. With a brilliant eye for composition and timing, Bonis shot hundreds of photographs of The Beatles at their most relaxed and fun, and almost 2,700 photographs of The Rolling Stones during this same period. Although he had captured some extremely iconic shots of the bands, he simply stashed the negatives in his home and never made them public. Sixteen years following his death, Bonis' son, Alex, took the images to rock-and-roll memorabilia specialist Larry Marion, the cofounder and director of the Not Fade Away Gallery in New York.