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Rock Hall pays tribute to Beatles’ ‘Help!’

Ed Sullivan introduced Americans to the Beatles, but “Help!” was the first time they saw the Fab Four in color.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ed Sullivan introduced Americans to the Beatles, but “Help!” was the first time they saw the Fab Four in color.

It may not sound like a big deal in an age of HDTV, but in 1965, at the height of Beatlemania, it was something to shout about.

“Kids would be screaming when the Beatles were on screen,” said Jim Henke, who recalled seeing the film as a child.

Henke, now chief curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has helped pay tribute to John, Paul, George and Ringo’s madcap movie with an exhibit that opens Saturday and runs through March 30.

“Help!” went beyond the day-in-the-life story line of “A Hard Day’s Night,” the Beatles’ first film. Its plot put the band on the run from a cult and a couple of scientists out to get a ring worn by Ringo Starr.

“It was sort of a comic version of a James Bond movie,” Henke said. “There’s some pretty silly stuff.”

In one scene, John Lennon and Paul McCartney try to get Ringo to cut off his finger to get rid of the ring. “You don’t miss your tonsils do yer?” McCartney quips.

That wacky line and others wrap around a wall at the Rock Hall exhibit, which has loads of movie memorabilia and artifacts, including the cape wore by Lennon in the Austrian Alps scene, an acoustic guitar he played in the film and an olive corduroy suit with matching boots worn by George Harrison.

The motivation for United Artists to make the film was simple, said Jerry Pam, who did his part to introduce the Beatles to the United States by handling publicity for “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”

“They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could see the Beatles in color,”’ Pam recalled.

That novelty is reinforced by half a dozen radio ads at the Rock Hall exhibit. “See ’Help!’ It’s in color,” ends one ad, geared toward adults because the studio rightly assumed young fans would flock to see it.

The action-packed film included some downtime for the band to sing “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and other hits.

The title song, written by Lennon, is sort of cry for help from a band that lost its freedom because of its incredible fame, chased by fans everywhere they went — a phenomenon that seems to still dog McCartney four decades later. He was recently pursued through the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island by paparazzi seeking photos of him and his new girlfriend.

One highlight of the exhibit is audio from a 1980 interview with Lennon for an article in Playboy magazine in which he talks about the band’s state of mind at the time “Help!” was filmed. He said the movie, unlike “A Hard Day’s Night,” was out of the band’s control.

“By then, we were smoking marijuana for breakfast,” Lennon said. “Nobody could communicate with us because it was just four glazed eyes giggling all the time.”

Pam recalls the laughter and goofiness during the filming of “Help!”

“They weren’t always high. They were just full of life,” Pam said. “It got obviously exaggerated.”