Beatles and Paris
Photographer Dezo Hoffman traveled on the plane with John, Paul and George and he took many shots of them during their Paris trip. He was to recall, “On the first night someone kicked a wire onstage and the whole house shorted. The lights went out and there was no amplification. Just as the catcalls started, Ringo saved the day. He suddenly became a Gene Krupa on his kit, pounding away like crazy. Everyone went wild, chanting ‘Rin-Go! Rin-Go!’ After that the Paris boys began to identify with him, dressing like him and wearing Beatle wigs. Ringo was really the most popular Beatle in France, possibly because he was the most French-looking of the boys.”
Dezo also took them on a photo shoot around Montmartre and also in the Champs Elysses. One of the most notable photographs he shot was of the boys with a girl in a slit skirt. Dezo remembered it was “a very cold day. We went into a bistro for a hot cup of tea. Instead we got a cup of good French coffee from the young lady behind the counter. She was so attractive I asked her to pose outside on the pavement with the Beatles. She’d never heard of them, but did me the favour and went upstairs to change into some flimsy French-postcard style clothes. It only took me three minutes to get the pictures, but she was blue with cold, despite John snuggling up against her at the back.”
The girls name was Mirielle.
(Jacques comments: “I don’t believe this story. It is all untrue. Dezo’s memory has failed here. The same day they shot a photographic session in a studio with the Beatles wearing a typical French hat (i.e. Napoleon’s cocked hat, a cop’s kepi and a Basque beret). This girl was called Sophie Hardy and was an actress. I interviewed her a few years ago about that. She said at the time she was
modeling and her agency called to ask her to pose with a foreign group called the Beatles. She did not know anything about them and just did her job, never
realizing who she was posing with. The Beatles still mean nothing to her.” Dezo’s quotes come from the Virgin Books publication ‘The Beatles Conquer America’ which contain lots of Dezo’s photos, including those taken in the Champs Elysee, including the one of the girl in the slit skirt. For some years, as part of research, I asked if anyone knew her name and was eventually told it was Mirielle. It was Dezo who took the studio shots of the Beatles in the various hats.)
Another photographer who was covering the Beatles visit to France was Harry Benson of the Daily Express. Harry had been about to leave for an assignment in Kenya, covering the first anniversary of Independence celebrations and recalls, “The office called me late at night saying they’d like me to go to Paris with the Beatles.
“I tried to talk them out of it: ‘Who in hell wants to cover a rock group? I’m a serious journalist?’ I was appalled that I wasn’t going to Africa to cover the big journalistic story, but the editor said, ‘You’re going to Paris,’ so I went to Paris.”
The Beatles were booked to appear at Paris’s famous Olympia Theatre in the Boulevard des Capucines for three weeks from Thursday 16 January 1964 until Tuesday 4 February. Some reports claimed that they were only being paid £50 per performance. There were ten acts on the bill and it was never quite clear who was the actual bill-topper: The Beatles, Trini Lopez or Sylvie Vartan.
John must have been under the impression that the Beatles were the bill-toppers because he said at the time, “We have a lot to live up to, especially being top of the bill at the Olympia. If we opened the show and didn't do so well, then we wouldn't have too much to live down, particularly as there are other acts following us. But topping the bill - well, let's hope it all works out.”
(Jacques comments: “For the tenth issue of our magazine, the Fab Four, I also interviewed the owner of the Olympia, Bruno Coquatrix. He first heard about the group when he got one of their singles directly from England. He thought their sound was interesting.
“At first they were supposed to come to Paris on 26th September to share the bill with a major French star Gibert Becaud and then go on to Israel as mentioned in the New Musical Express. Bruno Coquatrix insisted to say that the Beatles were really topping the bill. When he booked then on 17th July 1963 they were not yet big stars and Brian Epstein accepted a very small fee of £3,000 (around 1500 euros) which meant £75 a performance, which is really nothing.
“By the time they were supposed to come, Beatlemania had spread all over England and Sweden too. It would have been very easy to cancel their Paris season by sending to Bruno Coquatrix the amount of the contract. But Brian was very strict about fulfilling all of his engagements and the group came and played three weeks in the same theatre, which hadn’t happened since their Hamburg days when they played night after night in the same place. It never happened again anywhere else in the world.
“The quality of the Beatles concerts in Paris were among the best they ever gave because there was no Beatlemania in Paris. They could hear themselves and their vocal harmonies were perfect. The crowd usually reacted quietly and very often with only a few clapping. When Paul was requesting the audience to join them on their next number ‘Long Tall Sally’, very often a silence would follow, so Paul said, “If you don’t want to join us it doesn’t matter, we’ll go on anyway.”
“All this contributed to a myth which claims the Beatles played before Sylvie Vartan and Trini Lopez. If the Beatles failed to spread Beatlemania in Paris, it is true that Trini Lopez was very successful with his hit ‘If I Had A Hammer’ and people were dancing in the aisles of the theatre. But for Bruno Coquatrix and Jean-Michel Boris, who was his assistant and became director of the theatre when Coquatrix died, the top billing stars were the Beatles.”)