Beatles photos: a magical history tour

September 13, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Beatlemania was sweeping America on Sept. 13, 1964, when photographer Morton Tadder strode into the Baltimore Civic Center, climbed onto his little magnesium ladder in the middle of the sea of screaming fans and began shooting the band playing onstage.

Tadder, on assignment for the London Express, shot two rolls of film before he realized the band wasn't the Beatles, but a warm-up act.

"I had no idea," he says. "Once you got past Frank Sinatra, I was lost."

But when the Beatles finally came on, he shot about 10 more rolls of film. He sent two rolls to England and never saw the pictures that were used. The rest of the film he took home, processed and put away in his files, where most remained unseen - until now.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' only appearance in Baltimore, the Maryland Historical Society has opened an exhibit of about two dozen of Tadder's images. His 1964 photos documenting that appearance, along with the rest of his more than 44 years of work, have become part of the society's collection.

"These pictures were printed just recently for this show," Tadder says.

Tadder is 75 now, a breezy guy with a hip, post-World War II, Oceans Eleven kind of style. He was already a seasoned photographer in 1964. He was just 19 when he shot President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office. He flew into Havana after the Cuban revolution in 1959 to take Fidel Castro's picture at one of his huge rallies. He made photos of John F. Kennedy when he was still a senator. He took pictures of the Orioles on and off the field for more than half a century, shot the Colts until they decamped to Indianapolis and photographed tons of celebrities.

In the Historical Society show, he likes the portraits he made at a press conference between the two shows the Beatles played here.

"It gave me an opportunity to make nice candid studies," he says. "They were young people at that particular time. I don't think a lot of people got an opportunity to do that. They sort of relaxed."

He made fine, sensitive portraits of the Fab Four, poking his 35-millimeter Nikon through the press of photographers. He shows nice, clean-cut young men, neat as Mormon missionaries, having a good time on and off stage. They wore those tight suits of the early '60s and skinny ties. Their copious hair attracted a lot of attention; mop tops, they were called, somewhat stupidly. Given the free-flowing hair styles of today, the guys look as conservative as fundamentalist preachers.

Entertainment critic Lou Cedrone covered the press conference for The Evening Sun. He reported the Beatles were asked if they ever had dandruff.

"Occasionally," John Lennon replied. "Like normal people."

They had no plans for haircuts: "We don't plan things like that. Our manager does."

Ringo Starr said that in Milwaukee he had been nominated for president with George Harrison as his vice presidential candidate. John said he liked Ike. Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater that year.

"How do you feel about putting the whole country on?"

"We enjoy it," Ringo said.

"We aren't really putting you on," Paul McCartney said.

"Just a bit," George said.

Twenty-six thousand people came to the two shows at the Civic Center, which survives downtown now as the 1st Mariner Arena. Top-ticket price was $3.75.

Tadder didn't bother taking pictures at the second show.

"You're crazy, man," he says, amused. "I was only paid to shoot one show."

Shooting for the Army

For the veteran photographer, the Beatles show was just another shoot.

He grew up in Northwest Baltimore and got his start when he was still in high school. He became a lab assistant for a portrait photographer named Leon Perskie, who also took pictures for the Democratic National Committee. Tadder worked for Perskie until he went in the Army for 18 months at the end of World War II. He wanted to go to Alaska and become a ski trooper, but the Army assigned him instead to Fort Holabird in Southeast Baltimore.

When Tadder returned from the Army, Perskie practically forced him back to work. Perskie hurt his back before a big shoot at the White House, and Tadder got his big break, photographing President Truman at 6 a.m.

"This I won't forget," he says. "The door opens. There's Harry Truman, gray glen-plaid suit, blue shirt, tie. `All right, Mort, I'm ready if you are. How do you want to do it?'

" `Well, I think down behind your desk. But I want to take those papers off there.'

"He says, `That's the budget. Just throw it under the desk. I'll get to it.' "

Tadder photographed just about every subsequent president through Jimmy Carter. He took John Kennedy's picture at the long-vanished Emerson Hotel in Baltimore during the 1960 presidential campaign. He set up the lights and his old Speed Graphic camera on a tripod. He was ready to take his pictures when Kennedy received a phone call.

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