It Seems Like Yesterday

Ali Stands Over Beatles Hands Up @Benson 1964lg

After their sensational first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles flew to Miami on February 13, 1964, to prepare for their second appearance on the show.

When we landed at the Miami airport, an onslaught of actual beauty queens befittingly dressed in bathing suits and their satin sashes had to be dragged away by the police as the Beatles dashed into their getaway limo.

Cooped up in our hotel rooms because of the fans outside with several days to kill before the show, we had lots of time to watch T.V. There was Cassius Clay bragging about how beautiful he was and how he was going to beat the heavyweight champion of the world Sonny Liston in their upcoming fight (which was to be held in Miami on February 25). I thought to myself, “That would make a good picture—five of the most famous people in the world together for the first time.

When I mentioned it to the Beatles, John said, “No! We want to meet Liston the champ, not the loudmouth contender.” I went to Liston who didn’t even look up at me as he was tying his shoes and said he didn’t want to meet “those bums.” So I went back to the Beatles with a car and driver and took them to the Fifth Street Gym where Clay was training. Clay who didn’t change his name to Mohammad Ali until after he won the fight, ran circles around the Beatles, making them stand up, lie down (pictured here), carry signs, and shout “You’re the greatest. You’re the most beautiful.”

John was angry with me afterward, and said it was my fault that Clay made them look silly. He wouldn’t talk to me, but the next day I was off to Jamaica to photograph Ian Fleming as the James Bond films were the rage. When we all returned to London, the Beatles had forgotten about it, and all was well.

This story appeared in our November 2015 issue. To view it in Issuu, click here.