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Saturday 3 January 2015

The unknown Beatles concert?

USS Forrestal
While going through some pages on The Beatles Bible, looking for confirmation of some stuff for a previous blog post, I came upon a commentary from 2009 which talked about a hitherto unknown Beatles concert. Vic Schmidt writes:

"I was stationed aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) in 1963 thru June 1965. On a ten month cruise thru the Med in 1964-1965 the Beatles came aboard the ship with a USO Show and performed for our crew of 5,000 sailors & marines. I am almost sure this took place in the harbor at Cannes, France – though we also visited Naples, Italy and at least half a dozen other ports of call during that cruise. As I recall, this USO Show the Beatles were with was very much a rush-rush thing, we got VERY short notice of the show, and it may have been on a week-end. By everything I have so far been able to document about this cruise, this concert must have taken place while the Beatles were performing in France between Jan 16 and Feb 4 1964 – OR on one of the two days they did not perform in Paris on that trip."

What a fascinating story! If true, this was the first Beatles concert for an all-American audience. As Schmidt says, The Beatles performed in Paris from January 16 to February 4, and their two days off were on on 21 and 28 January, however, both these dates were Tuesdays. If it was one of those days, it will have to be the 21st, because John and George flew back to London on their second day off from the Olympia, John probably spent the day with his wife and son, and single George had dinner with Phil Spector and The Ronettes. On the 24th of January, the Beatles were interviewed by Harold B Kelley at their Hotel George V, Paris residence for the American Forces Network - Weekend World. The Beatles also mentions having some "fans in the Forces" on their 1965 Christmas flexi disc.

USS Forrestal (CV-59), formerly AVT-59 and CVA-59, was a supercarrier named after the first Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. Commissioned in 1955, she was the first completed supercarrier, and was the lead ship of her class. The other carriers of her class were the USS Saratoga, USS Ranger and USS Independence. She superseded the World War II Japanese carrier Shinano as the largest aircraft carrier ever built in terms of full load displacement and was the first to specifically support jet aircraft.

The ship was affectionately called "The FID", because James Forrestal was the first ever Secretary of Defense, FID standing for "First In Defense". This is also the slogan on the ship's insignia and patch. She was also informally known in the fleet as the "USS Zippo" and "Forest Fire" or "Firestal" because of a number of highly publicized fires on board, most notably a 1967 incident in which 134 sailors died and an additional 161 were injured.

Forrestal served for nearly four decades in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific. She was decommissioned in 1993, and made available as a museum. Attempts to save her were unsuccessful, however, and in February 2014 she was towed to Brownsville, Texas to be scrapped.

What Vic Schmidt fails to mention, is that in 1964, in what was known as Operation Brother Sam, U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson sent Forrestal in response to a military coup d'état against Brazilian president João Goulart. The coup was successful and led to a 20 year long military dictatorship in Brazil. Forrestal's arrival in the area would have occurred around April 10, 1964, which somewhat shoots down Schmidt's "ten month cruise in the Med(iterranean) in 1964-65", at least if the cruise coincided with the Beatles' tenure in Paris. Of course, he may have thought it to be classified information, or just a break from the Mediterranean cruise. In late April–early May 1964, the ship attended New York City World's Fair, before returning to the Mediterranean on July 10. It stayed there until March, 1965, and returned in August.

Vic Schmidt appears in an online list of crew members of the ship, saying that he served as the ship's Illustrator Draftsman in the Air Intelligence Office. He now lives in Vancouver, WA.

The Beatles are not mentioned in the 1964-65 Cruise book of USS Forrestal. Furthermore, no photos of the Beatles playing this concert have come to light.

In 1965, The Beatles played in some of the other Mediterranean ports of call for USS Forrestal, at the end of June:
  • 20 June 1965, two shows in Paris, France, Palais des Sports
  • 22 June 1965, two shows in Lyon, France, Palais d'Hiver
  • 24 June 1965, two shows in Milan, Italy, Velodromo Vigorelli
  • 26 June 1965, two shows in Genoa, Italy, Palazzo dello Sport
  • 27 and 28 June 1965, four shows in Rome, Italy, Teatro Adriano
  • 30 June 1965, one show Nice, France, Palais des Expositions
However, by this time the ship appears to have been elsewhere, as it was in the Mediterranean from July 1964 to March 1965, and then was deployed elsewhere until returning to the waters in August. By which time Vic Schmidt was no longer on board.

So it still looks as January 21st, 1964 is the only date when a surprise Beatles concert could have occurred. We have established that USS Forrestal was still in US waters in late November 1963, performing tests off the coast of Massachusetts, and we haven't been able to establish the exact date for arrival in the Mediterranean. In February 1964, it was in the Caribbean, which somehow debunks the January concert in Cannes myth. So if Schmidt is correct in at least the fact that the Beatles held a special concert for the crew of USS Forrestal during his time on the ship, it must have been a one-off event and they could have flown in from anywhere.


walrus gumboot said...

Yeah. Right.....the other 5000 all have amnesia....had no cameras...or tape recorders....

Unknown said...

C'mon Roger, this didn't happen, and you know it.
You don't think this wouldn't have been mentioned in the Anthology, playing on an aircraft carrier? This guy probably saw Some c list long haired band, and figured it had to be the Beatles. I believe the USO provided primarily American artists to entertain Americans.

wogew said...

Well, I suspect as much, too. But it was fun to research!


X Files in the sixties!!!!!!