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Photographer captured Beatlemania in Baltimore 50 years ago

Retired photographer Morton Tadder loves to tell stories. Some are old and half-remembered, the gaps in his memory often filled in with "blah blah blah" or a frustrated slap of his thigh.

There's the story about his boss, the late Leon Perskie, photographer for four U.S. presidents, who hurt his back on the eve of photographing Harry Truman and pressed young Tadder into service.

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"So I ended up having to photograph the president. I was 19 years old," said Tadder, now 86, holding forth in his longtime apartment in the Village of Cross Keys.

There's the story behind a photo that he shot of Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson as a portrait photographer for the Baltimore Orioles. It hangs on a wall of the apartment, signed by all four of them.

"It took three years for them to sign it," he said, chuckling.

Then there's the story, perhaps the biggest one of all, about how he came to photograph The Beatles on a tour stop in Baltimore on Sept. 13, 1964 — 50 years ago this week.

"I didn't know who the hell they were," he said, admitting that his musical taste ran more to Frank Sinatra. "It was just another assignment."

As best he can recall, he was doing a publicity shoot of an unrelated luncheon at the old Holiday Inn downtown.

"I get down there and see a lot of activity going on," he said. "Somewhere I get word The Beatles are in the building and are headed to the Civic Center. I can walk right in. I'm there. I'm not going to pass it up."

He brought a 4-foot magnesium ladder and a zoom lens with him, and shot 12 rolls of film, including photos of screaming crowds outside and of a press conference after the show. At first, he shot an opening band, thinking it was The Beatles.

He sent one Beatles roll to a British agency he worked for, "as filler for any publication that was writing about kids."

One roll was all the agency wanted, he said.

Two decades later, in 1985, his then-assistant, Lillian Crowley, came across a file of The Beatles shoot.

"What are these?" she asked.

"A group of people I once shot," he told her, according to an article in Patuxent Publishing newspapers in 1989, on the 25th anniversary of The Beatles show.

Crowley convinced Tadder to put the black and white photos on exhibit.

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There's still a market for his Beatles photos, which he said he sells for $250 and up through Unicorn Studio in Fells Point.

And this week, it's mostly the story of The Beatles photos that the media wants to hear about.

Tadder, who goes by Mort, is glad to oblige and glad he held onto the photos.

"I could have sold this collection years ago," he said. "If they go somewhere else and they don't use them, they're gone."

But the shoot itself was just another chapter in the career of a veteran photographer, "A Day in the Life," as it were.

"Everything that happened with The Beatles was circumstance," said Tadder, whose son, Tim, is a successful ad photographer for big-name corporate clients and has published his own coffee table book of photos.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other stories for the elder Tadder to tell, like the one about armed men escorting him to photograph Cuba's Fidel Castro in 1959, or a photo shoot of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy on a presidential campaign stop in Baltimore.

Tadder said Jackie Kennedy called her husband during the shoot and told him, "If you're coming home, you better bring milk and bread."

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