Lennon and McCartney On The Tonight Show, 1968


Speaking of his appearance with Paul McCartney on the Tonight Show to announce Apple Corp., John Lennon said it “was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever been on.”  And if you listen to the audio portion (the video portion is no longer available), it IS truly cringe-worthy.

Sitting with a slightly inebriated Tallulah Bankhead and a polite but clueless Joe Garagiola (who was subbing for Johnny Carson), John and Paul endured 22 minutes of embarrassingly vacuous questions (“Will you ever be able to top Sgt. Pepper?”, asked Garagiola) which made ME want to put a fork in my ear.

An interesting backstory to all this is this account by Craig Tennis, a Tonight Show employee:

The [pre-] interview wasn’t easy for me–in fact I was freaked. How does one interview the biggest superstars in history at the apex of their glory without coming off like a boob? So I went the direct route and tried to find out what basically they wanted to say to the audience and why.

Apparently, the half dozen or so questions I asked made sense to them, and after the last one–which I don’t remember, but at which their eyebrows shot up–they said, “Now, who is this man who’s going to interview us, this Joe Garagiola person?” I told them who he was, (all in praise) but they had apparently already made up their minds that they didn’t want Joe to interview them.

What they wanted, to my horror, was for me to interview them. I spent five or ten minutes trying to explain to them that that was not possible, but it didn’t sink in–at one point they even threatened not to do the show unless I would go on with them and do their interview. My life flashed before my eyes, I can tell you, because there was no way I was going to go out in front of that camera with the Beatles; not only would it have been a ridiculous condition upon which to end my tenure on the Tonight Show, but I knew that it would also cripple my career permanently. Eventually, I talked them out of it and they agreed to go on.

But when they finally joined Joe, disaster struck. He started by asking one or two really silly questions and they went downhill from there. He just sat there saying things like, “Gee, I hope my kids get to see this,” and “Boy, am I going to be a popular guy in the neighborhood.” It was so inane that the Beatles became visibly uncomfortable, and Joe had to actually let them leave. The Beatles left believing that they had been sloughed off by this guy, and in a way, I guess they had been.

Here’s the audio of the interview.

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  1. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    For a brief time several years ago there was grainy video of this interview on youtube. Of course it was taken down.

    I remember the sour face Paul made when he admitted that if he hadn’t been a successful musician, he would have become a teacher.

    I remember Tallulah Bankhead greeting them as they approached Joe’s desk. She did a little scream, imitating the thrilled ladies in the audience. She didn’t seem inebriated. (side note: Was she the only woman in history to mingle with both Robert Benchley and John Lennon?)

    It’s a subdued performance and it gets more awkward, but I’ve seen worse on the Johnny Carson show. As a TV addict of the ’60s and ’70s, I witnessed drunk guests, guests with nothing to say, hostile guests and walk-offs. John & Paul with Joe and Tallulah were pussycats in comparison.

    • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

      Sadly, Bankhead’s addictions were quite incapacitating by 1968. She certainly struck me as under the influence. A small snippet from Wikipedia:

      “Bankhead began to attract a passionate and highly loyal following of gay men, some of whom she employed as help when her lifestyle began to take a toll on her, affectionately calling them her “caddies”. Though she had long struggled with addiction, her condition now worsened – she began taking dangerous cocktails of drugs to fall asleep, and her maid had to tape her arms down to prevent her from consuming pills during her periods of intermittent wakefulness.”

    • You have a gift for euphemism, @Sam. Miss “pure as the driven slush” Bankhead did much much more than “mingle” with Robert Benchley. (As to John Lennon… who can say? Those green rooms can be inflaming.)

      Tallulah B. reportedly called Bob B. “a master cocksman.” Sigh. Yet more for us to aspire to. 🙂

  2. Avatar Sir Huddleston Fuddleston wrote:

    I know Johnny like his days off and all, and he’d probably interviewed them before, but — he PASSED on interviewing the Beatles (sic), not long after Sgt. Pepper? Wow. That’s a relaxed guy.

    Dave Letterman (or maybe Jay Leno) used to tell the story of his first sit-in for Johnny as a mounting disaster, culminating with a flop-sweat fueled period of catatonia. That night, after it aired, he got a call from Johnny: “not as easy as it looks, is it, huh.”

  3. Avatar Kezia wrote:

    Actually, a part of the video still exists. It’s grainy though.


    • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

      thanks for sharing, Kezia. Apparently the Tonight Show didn’t save old tapes, and this one is a home version some enterprising fan taped, lucky for us. 🙂

      • Avatar Kezia wrote:

        You’re welcome Karen 🙂
        I wonder why they did it though; was it just carelessness? I could understand people not saving Beatle tapes, etc for posterity around 1962-63, but not saving them in 1968 is just appalling.

        • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

          According to this site,

          the first few seasons of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show no longer exist in the NBC vaults. Unfortunately, many videotapes were ‘reused’ by NBC in the fifties and sixties, including Carson’s earliest seasons. Therefore this 1968 Lennon/McCartney appearance is truely a lost interview.
          What does still exist is due only to TV-viewing Beatles fans trying to capture the moment, back before the days of home VCRs. A small portion of the interview was captured on silent home-movie film by a Beatles fan aiming an 8mm movie camera at their TV set. The 2 minute home movie of the TV screen, while producing a poor-quality picture and only a very small fraction of the full 22 minute appearance, unfortunately is the only known ‘video’ in existence of John and Paul’s 1968 appearance on the Tonight Show.

          Seems nutty, eh?

        • Avatar Beasty Glanglemutton wrote:

          Videotape was still extremely expensive at that time, not to mention it took up a lot of space, being stored on large reels. When you look for videotaped programs from the ’60s, they are generally limited to big events, such as space shots, the JFK assassination, political conventions, etc. TV chat shows were not considered worth the expense of saving.

          You have to credit Ed Sullivan for being the first person in the entertainment business to realize the value of his shows, and his estate has thanked him ever since.

  4. Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

    Hearing or seeing things like this makes me understand why Lennon soured on the whole “showbiz” thing.

    • Avatar Beasty Glanglemutton wrote:

      I’ve long harbored a theory that the real reason they quit touring was all the inane questions at press conferences.

  5. You figure they had endured thousands of hours of this inane gibber-jabber back in their touring days and thought they were past it and now here they were doing it all over again. Like going home for Thanksgiving to find yourself sitting at the kiddie table again, you’re cheesed off all out of proportion to the actual offense.

  6. Avatar joe wrote:

    How many questions directed at Paul does John answer? He answers the question about Sgt Pepper by saying they should be able to top it, it’s just an LP it’s not important and then he answers the question about Yesterday. You know if Paul had answered for John and cut him off like that what would people say? People say India was a turning point. This interview was a turning point. In the early press conferences John actually let Paul answer more. The jealousy and need to be numero uno was getting well out of hand here. What happened in India well Sgt Pepper won 4 grammy’s while they were there. I think that happened.

    • Michael Michael wrote:

      Good observations, @joe. However, I’d also note that Paul seems really, really stoned and incapable of giving good answers in this interview. John seems a little sharper and more lucid. But yes, absolutely he’s intentionally dominating the proceedings.

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