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Beatles photos: a magical history tour

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.

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"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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

"He goes over and he says, 'OK, OK, yeah, yeah, about midnight, little later, OK, bye.' He comes back and someone helps him put on his coat and he says, 'You're not going to believe this. I'm running for president of the United States and she wants me to make sure I bring home a loaf of bread and a quart of milk for breakfast in the morning.'

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"True story," Tadder says.

Down the aisle

Four years later, when the Beatles hit Baltimore, Tadder went to the arena and set up his 4-foot ladder in the center aisle.

"You want to be at stage level," he says. "You don't to be down there shooting up people's noses."

His pictures show an audience of more or less hysterical girls, a scattering of bemused moms and a few boys looking abashed.

Everybody knew the songs. The play list for the concert included Can't Buy Me Love, I Want to Hold Your Hand and A Hard Day's Night, all of which had already been No. 1 on American record charts. The Hard Day's Night album was the No. 1 album at the time.

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Tadder made joyous images of Paul and John and George singing together, some with Ringo in the background, slightly elevated on the drum stand. His photos capture a group of happy young men at the height of their first success. They have a poignant quality today, with Lennon assassinated, Harrison dead at 58 of cancer, and the history of the group's breakup and failure of longtime friendships.

"They were having a good time," he says, "and they enjoyed each other."

Other pictures show the band at the downtown Holiday Inn, where they stayed - and partied after the show until 3 a.m. - surrounded by a thousand or so girls below on Lombard Street. Tadder shows Ringo walking through a hall smoking a cigarette, accompanied by what the Police Department called the "VIP Squad," and John and Paul with drinks in their hands.

"This was strictly off-the-wall shooting," he says, spontaneous and candid.

But the veteran Tadder was discreet. He didn't intrude on the guys' privacy.

"I wasn't really interested in that," he says. "They were running around like idiots. They were kids, you know. They had women screaming at them. They had died and gone to heaven. Girls were sneaking up.

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"I never wanted anybody I was photographing in any kind of compromising position," Tadder says. "Maybe I was sort of a deluxe paparazzi, to a certain extent, but I protected people."

In the end, Tadder's encounter with the Beatles took up just about three hours of his more than 50 years of photography, and his overall assessment of the experience reflects that fact.

"It was an assignment and it was interesting," he says.

And by now, he can identify Paul and Ringo in the fine portraits he made that day. But he still confuses George with John. But, hey, he's a Sinatra guy.

Exhibition

What: Morton Tadder's photographs of the Beatles when they appeared in Baltimore 40 years ago

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Where: Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St.

When: Wednesdays to Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through Feb. 15

Admission: $4-$8; members free

Call: 410-685-3750.


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