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The story behind John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields in New York

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For over 30 years, Beatles fans have been gathering at Strawberry Fields in Central Park to celebrate John Lennon’s life on his birthday, October 9, and also to mourn his death on December 8.

Located across the street from the Dakota apartment building where John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono, Strawberry Fields encompasses the pathways in Central Park that John and Yoko used to stroll together over the years from 1973 until Lennon was gunned down in front of the building in 1980.

Five years after his death, on October 9, 1985, what would have been Lennon’s 45th birthday, this tear-shaped section of Central Park stretching from 71st to 74th streets along Central Park West was re-named “Strawberry Fields” after The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The famous grey and white marble Imagine mosaic, which is the centerpiece of the area, was a gift from the city of Naples, Italy.

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The groundbreaking ceremony for Strawberry Fields was held on March 21, 1984 with Yoko Ono and Lennon’s sons Julian and Sean in attendance. A bronze plaque which was unveiled at the dedication ceremony lists 121 countries who endorse this Garden of Peace.

The idea for ‘Strawberry Fields’ was conceived by Yoko Ono and she “selected an ancient mosaic design found in Naples and placed the word Imagine in the center,” according to author Sara Cedar Miller. “The people of Naples were delighted, and artisans were dispatched to Strawberry Fields to inlay the Imagine mosaic medallion, faithfully copying the design Yoko had chosen.”

While most people think of the Imagine mosaic section as the major part of Strawberry Fields, there are actually 5.3 acres in total that make up the whole of the area. For the landscape design of this section of Central Park, Yoko worked with landscape architect, Bruce Kelly, to create a fitting memorial to John Lennon that was “more nature than culture.”

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Yoko’s letter in the NY Times on August 19, 1981

In August 1981, Ono placed letters in the New York Times and many other newspapers asking for donations from other countries to create this peace garden. Many countries sent native plants; for example, an oak tree from Great Britain, dogwoods from Monaco, tulip bulbs from the Netherlands, maples from Canada, etc. And, of course, strawberries were planted by the Central Park Conservancy.

The area is shaded by elm trees and provides many benches for visitors to relax and “imagine.” Strawberry Fields is intended as a quiet place for reflection, designated as a “quiet zone” in the Park. In exchange for a generous donation to the Central Park Conservancy, patrons can get their name inscribed on a plaque on one of the benches.

Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and her windows overlook the Imagine mosaic at 72nd street and Central Park West. While the word “Imagine” is recognized for Lennon’s famous song first released in 1971, it is also a concept that Ono has portrayed in her artwork long before she met Lennon. He even admitted that he got the idea for the song from her.

The song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song, because a lot of it, the lyric and the concept, came from Yoko,” John Lennon said in a 1980 interview, shortly before he died.

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In 2017, the National Music Publishers Association announced that Ono would share songwriting credits for Lennon’s “Imagine.”

“Those days, I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon added, noting that the song makes direct reference to Yoko’s 1964 book, Grapefruit.

 

It was Yoko’s intention to continue the world peace sentiment that she and Lennon had initiated in 1969 which included planting an acorn in England and then sending acorns to heads of state around the world. In her 1981 letter, Ono said, “John would have been very proud that this was given to him, an island named after his song, rather than a statue or a monument….It will be nice to have the whole world in one place, one field, living and growing together in harmony.”

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Note:
A book called Strawberry Fields: Central Park’s Memorial to John Lennon chronicles the creation of this memorial. The book, released in 2011, was written by Sara Cedar Miller, the official photographer and historian of the Central Park Conservancy. The 95-page book is filled with gorgeous color photos as well as historical documents and black & white photos.

The Central Park Conservancy also sells souvenirs of the Imagine mosaic, including a blanket, coffee mug and jewelry.

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The Beatles first visit to New York City in 1964: A Day by Day Diary

At 1:20 pm on Friday, February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed in America for the very first time, and music history would never be the same. It would be a busy weekend for The Beatles leading up to their historic debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday night as they took New York City by storm.

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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7

After The Beatles landed at JFK airport to thousands of screaming fans, they held a short press conference at the airport. They charmed the press with quick-witted answers like:

Question: Will you sing for us?
John Lennon: No, we need money first.

Question: Do you ever get a haircut at all?
George Harrison: I had one yesterday.

Question: Why does your music excite people so much?
John Lennon: If we knew, we’d form another group and be managers.

The Beatles were then whisked away to The Plaza Hotel (Fifth Avenue at Central Park South) in Manhattan. When the Beatles first arrived at the hotel on February 7, 1964, at least 50 policemen were needed around the hotel to try and keep the hordes of fans in line.

The Beatles were taken to the Presidential Suites on the 12th floor (rooms 1209 through 1216). With the chaotic scene and mass pandemonium created by the fans in front of the hotel, The Plaza management was shocked to learn that the reservations made for these “English businessmen” were actually the Beatles.

first_us_visitInside the Plaza Hotel, The Beatles watched news reports about themselves on television and conducted phone interviews with local radio DJs including Murray the K. This was documented in the exceptional film by The Maysles Brothers, The Beatles First US Visit.

[Note: After the mayhem of The Beatles first U.S. visit, the Plaza Hotel management did not want the Beatles to return. In subsequent visits to New York, The Beatles would stay at The Warwick Hotel.]

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8

The next day, Feb 8, George Harrison had strep throat and stayed in bed. His sister, Louise, came to the hotel to take care of him.

While George was sick in bed, John, Paul and Ringo entertained reporters for a photo shoot in Central Park followed by many fans. They took a horse and buggy ride, posed on rocks by a lake, and had lunch at the boathouse.

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The threetles also went for a rehearsal at the Ed Sullivan show studio (1697 Broadway), now home to CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Since George was sick, road manager Neil Aspinall stood in for him, as can be seen in many photographs.

That night, John, Paul and Ringo went to the 21 Club restaurant (21 W. 52nd Street) for a dinner party hosted by Capitol Records. After dinner, they were given a car tour of Manhattan to see NYC landmarks including the U.N. building, the Empire State Building, Broadway and Times Square, according to author Bruce Spizer.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 9

The day of the Beatles television performance there were thousands of teenage fans waiting up and down Broadway trying to get a glimpse of the Beatles entering and leaving the studio. Even though there were 50,000 requests for tickets to the show, there were only 728 seats available inside. Watching the Beatles’ performance that night in the studio audience were John’s wife, Cynthia Lennon and George’s sister, Louise Harrison.

A record 73 million people watched that night. The Beatles’ sang five songs in two separate segments including “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. The Beatles made such an impact with their historic live appearance that it launched Beatlemania in the U.S. which still endures to this day.

Earlier that day on February 9, The Beatles taped another performance for “The Ed Sullivan Show” which was shown on Sunday, February 23 after the Beatles had returned to England. On Sunday, Feb. 16, The Beatles appeared on the show again live from Miami, Florida. All of The Beatles appearances on the show are included on the DVD set, The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows starring The Beatles.

After the show, The Beatles celebrated by first going to The Playboy Club (59th street and Fifth Avenue) conveniently located across the street from The Plaza Hotel. Paul McCartney commented: “I think the Bunnies are even more lovable than we are.”

Next, The Beatles went to the Peppermint Lounge. Just like a scene from A Hard Day’s Night, Ringo Starr danced the night away as John and Paul grooved from their seats.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 10

Beatles MagazineOn February 10, 1964, Capitol Records president Alan Livingston presented the Beatles with gold records for “Meet the Beatles” and “I Want to Hold your hand” at the Plaza Hotel.

Several press conferences were held inside the Terrace and Baroque rooms of the hotel that day for the media. One member of the press who interviewed The Beatles that day was celebrity psychologist, Dr. Joyce Brothers.

After a full afternoon of interviews, the Beatles hosted a cocktail party for members of the press at the Plaza.

In just a brief four-day visit, The Beatles had conquered America. They were due to stay in America for another 10 days to perform their first U.S. concerts and appear for a second time on “The Ed Sullivan Show” live from Miami.

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Special tree dedicated to former Beatle George Harrison in Los Angeles

Way up in the hills of Griffith Park in Los Angeles sits the George Harrison Tree, originally planted in 2003 in tribute to the ex-Beatle who prided himself as a gardener.

George Harrison tree

 

The George Harrison tree was planted near the Griffith Park Observatory at the Mount Hollywood Hiking Trail. The tree was planted in February 2003 and the following year, on February 22, 2004, a dedication ceremony to unveil a special bronze plaque was held, as the city declared “George Harrison Day” that year in Los Angeles.

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The original tree planted was a Cayman Island Pine (pictured here)

At the 2004 dedication ceremony, friends and associates gathered to pay tribute to Harrison including singer Billy Preston, singer Jackie Lomax, Council member Tom LaBonge, Chris Carter, host of LA’s “Breakfast with the Beatles” and Linda Arias, Olivia Harrison’s sister, who read a message sent by Olivia thanking everyone for remembering her husband George.

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However, the original tree that was planted – a Cayman Island Pine – made headlines in 2014 when it was reported that the tree had died. In June 2014, the tree had to be cut down due to infestation by none other than beetles.

In February 2015, an oak tree was planted in place of the pine tree. This special tree is located at the opposite end of the parking lot from the Griffith Park Observatory.

The bronze plaque placed in front of the George Harrison Tree features a lotus flower and reads: “In memory of a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, a musician and a gardener,” followed by a quote from George Harrison: ‘For the forest to be green, each tree must be green.’ George Harrison (1943-2001)

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Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, director Ron Howard attend 10th anniversary of The Beatles LOVE show in Las Vegas

On July 14, 2016, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and many more celebrities gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Beatles LOVE show by Cirque du Soleil. The audio and visual experience of the show has been revamped and enhanced to give the production a fresh look.

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Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach, Joe Walsh, Marjorie Bach; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

Giles Martin, who serves as audio producer of the show, said that 10 years ago, “we used a lot of cutting-edge technologies to put The Beatles music into a 2,000-seat space, 7,000 speakers in the room. But the technology now has moved on so much and the actual sound bit of the show we can improve.”
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The updated version of LOVE, which features a cast of 70 performers, includes advanced projection technology, new acrobatic acts, a remixed soundtrack with a new song (“Twist and Shout”), colorful costumes, brand new speakers and state-of-the-art video panels featuring The Beatles’ images.

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Paul and Ringo with the cast of The Beatles LOVE; July 14, 2016; Photo by MJ Kim

This is the fourth time in 10 years that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have publicly attended the show together. The first time was when the show opened in 2006, the second time was for the 1st anniversary in 2007, the third time was for the 5th anniversary in 2011, and now in 2016 for the 10th anniversary. Sadly, two members of the Beatles’ family who attended past celebrations have since passed away: George Martin and Cynthia Lennon. (see photos from the LOVE premiere in 2006)

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Paul McCartney and wife, Nancy; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

Also in attendance was Ron Howard, director of the upcoming documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, and he shared some insights on the making of his film which opens in September. He said he has interviewed Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr twice for the movie which documents The Beatles’ years on the road.

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Yoko Ono; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

“It’s kind of an adventure/survival story in a way,” Ron Howard explained in an exclusive interview on the red carpet. “I really wanted to take the audience inside the experience a little bit. It’s not something that’s just ‘here’s where they went’, it’s how and why things worked the way they did. I hope the added value of letting audiences understand really how intense the pressures were from the outside while they were going through all of this AND continuing to grow as artists in this remarkable way.”
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Giles Martin (left) and director Ron Howard at The Beatles LOVE 10th anniversary celebration; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

 

When asked if he has always been a Beatles fan, Howard remarked:
“Always a fan, not encyclopedic, not a fanatic. So in a way I’m sort of speaking for that group of people who kind of thinks they know the story, and now I can turn to that crowd, maybe the millennials in particular, and say you know the music, you know the name The Beatles, and you know they were big, but you just have no idea really what the story was and the intensity of that journey – what it meant to culture and what it meant for these guys to live through it.”

Paul and Ringo posted their own photo together on Instagram celebrating the LOVE show’s 10th anniversary:
https://www.instagram.com/p/BH30Qc7AWEX/?taken-by=paulmccartney
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A Look Back at George Harrison’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony

On April 14, 2009, George Harrison was posthumously given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This was the 2,382nd star dedicated by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The star is located right in front of the Capitol Records building at 1750 Vine Street just a few steps away from the star of Harrison’s former bandmates, John Lennon, and later Ringo Starr (2010) and Paul McCartney (2012).

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Hundreds of Beatles fans gathered to hear tributes to George Harrison given by his friends and family. Eric Idle of Monty Python and Spamalot fame called George “a most remarkable person with a great sense of humor.” Eric Idle wrote and starred in the 1978 Beatles-parody film, All You Need Is Cash featuring The Rutles, which George Harrison not only loved but also made a brief cameo appearance in.

 

Eric Idle joked that he asked Ringo Starr what he should say at the dedication ceremony and Ringo said, “What about me?” referring to the fact that Ringo did not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at that time. Neither did Paul McCartney, who was in attendance at the ceremony, with then-girlfriend Nancy Shevell. The Beatles as a group were given a star in the 1990s which is located on a special sidewalk corner at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and La Brea next to Elvis Presley’s star.

 

Tom Hanks, who spoke at the ceremony, described the The Beatles’ impact on America in the 1960s: “That’s when we escaped the doldrums and moved into the future.” He explained that the first guitar George Harrison ever bought when he was a teenager only cost the equivalent of 75 cents. “75 cents made this” he said, pointing to the Capitol Records building, the home of the Beatles’ record label in the U.S.

Other guests in attendance included Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne who were in the Traveling Wilburys with Harrison in the 1980s. Jeff Lynne put an ad in The Hollywood Reporter (April 14, 2009) celebrating George Harrison’s star which said, “George Harrison’s Star, It Just Sounds Right. Love from Jeff Lynne.”

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The Counsel General from Bangladesh was also in attendance bringing attention to the famous “Concert for Bangladesh” that Harrison organized in 1971 to raise money for the relief of refugees in Bangladesh. It was the first major rock concert for charity and raised almost $250,000 at the time. Today, sales of the album and DVD benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

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Harrison’s widow, Olivia, and son, Dhani, were both in attendance to accept the award. Olivia described George as “a beautiful, mystical man living in a material world.” She concluded by saying, “George, this day is for you.” And she was right — it was announced at the ceremony that April 14 was proclaimed “George Harrison Day” in Los Angeles.

 

While George Harrison was honored for his musical achievements with The Beatles and as a solo artist, his contributions to the film industry through his company HandMade Films were highlighted by his widow, Olivia Harrison. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Olivia listed George’s film achievements including the 1974 film of the socio-political stage play Little Malcolm starring John Hurt, the cult favorite Withnail & I (1987) and the legendary Life of Brian.

Throughout his post-Beatles career George Harrison shied away from the limelight and preferred to spend time in his garden at his home in England. Olivia remarked, “Although George would probably place his star in a garden, I think the Capitol Tower near one of his closest friends is a pretty good spot.”

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John Lennon drawing recalls frightening Palm Springs tram ride

A rare drawing by John Lennon which sold Friday in a celebrity auction brings to mind a hair-raising story of when the ex-Beatle took a ride on the famous Palm Springs aerial tramway in California. The ballpoint pen drawing shows Lennon, girlfriend May Pang and Harry Nilsson sitting on a tramcar thousands of feet off the ground in midair.

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Courtesy CooperOwen Auctions

This rare drawing was auctioned off along with several other John Lennon sketches from the 1970s on Friday March 21 by CooperOwen Auctions in London. The drawings were given to guitarist Jesse Ed Davis from Lennon. Davis was a session musician who played lead guitar on Lennon’s albums “Walls and Bridges” and “Rock and Roll”.
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In March of 1974, John Lennon was in the midst of his “Lost Weekend” with girlfriend, May Pang, on the West Coast. He had temporarily split from wife, Yoko Ono, and was partying and carousing with friends like Harry Nilsson in Los Angeles.

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On a weekend getaway, Lennon, Pang, Nilsson and his girlfriend, along with former Beatles’ roadie, Mal Evans, drove to Palm Springs from L.A. May Pang recounts the trip in her book “Instamatic Karma” showcasing pictures she took of John and Harry sitting outside on the grass in Palm Springs.
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It was Harry’s idea to go to Palm Springs, the desert retreat once known as the “Playground of the Stars,” and he suggested that they all go to a restaurant and bar which just happened to be at the top of the tramway.
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The amazing 10-minute tram ride has to be seen to be believed. The tram, located at the northern end of Palm Springs, follows an extremely steep route traveling 2.5 miles up the side of the San Jacinto mountains. The tram ride begins at the bottom of the cliffs of Chino Canyon at elevation 2,643 feet and ends at elevation 8,516 feet.
 
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Having the tram stop in midair dangling over the mountainous cliffs would be a harrowing experience for anyone, and that’s exactly what happened when John Lennon was on the tram.

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In her book, May Pang describes in detail the ride she and Lennon took on the Palm Springs tram back in March 1974:
“When dinner was over, we caught the last tram down, along with the other happy campers who closed down the place. I was just thinking what a pleasant, innocuous evening it had been when the power failed, leaving us suspended in midair with forty drunken strangers. All of a sudden, the tram car became the setting for something of a Fellini movie; people making out, hands everywhere, everyone groping. I was freaking out, but John, who had grown accustomed to that kind of craziness, basically told me to relax, since there was nothing we could do dangling in the middle of the sky.”
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View from the top of the Palm Springs aerial tramway
Photo: Trina Yannicos

May’s story ends there, but obviously, the tram soon regained power and delivered the passengers safely to the floor of the Coachella Valley. Since 1963, nearly 18 million people have taken a ride on the Palm Springs tramway, but only a countless few have actually been stuck on the tram, and now we know the fascinating coincidence that John Lennon was one of them.

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Beatles wax figures coming to Madame Tussauds Hollywood

Madame Tussauds in Hollywood will unveil a new exhibit of four Beatles’ wax figures on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death on Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 9 a.m. at the Madame Tussauds Hollywood location at 6933 Hollywood Blvd.

Fans are invited to come place flowers at the feet of a lifelike John Lennon wax figure, complete with his trademark circular glasses and shoulder-length hair, to mark the 31st anniversary of Lennon’s death. Fans who arrive on December 8, 2011 with flowers and mention “Beatles” at the door will receive free admission to the attraction from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m.

The interactive exhibit features George, John, Paul and Ringo in their late 1960’s-era styling and allows fans to stand in line with the Beatles to create their own personalized album cover.  The traveling exhibit will be in town from December 8, 2011 through February 2012.

For attraction pricing and other information, please visit  www.madametussauds.com/hollywood.

[Source: Rubenstein Public Relations]

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