Author Terry Crain has given us a detailed account of the companies behind the merchandise that came on like a flood at the break of Beatlemania in the United States. “NEMS and the Business of Selling Beatles Merchandise in the U.S. 1964-1966” (Fabgear Co., Publishers, 2019), is a fun-filled journey back through the sea of time, with wonderful phonographs of the items fans were scooping up in droves during the hysteria. Terry Crain has filled our ears and eyes with some heartwarming memories. Beatles Magazine had Bob Wilson speak to Terry Crain, and provide some wonderful insights behind the work.
Beatles Magazine: Before ‘Beatlemania’ broke loose in a frenzy on throughout America, what was merchandise like for acts like Elvis, Disney, and others?
Terry Crain: You had some minor merchandising tie-ins with projects…Wizard of Oz, Superman, other super heroes, Disney, Looney Tunes cartoons, etc., but none really of the scale that happened with the Beatles. I contend that on Feb 9, 1964, The Beatles changed music after playing on Ed Sullivan, but the next morning was important in another way. Business people from across the US were beating on the Beatles management staff hotel doors on Feb 10 with ideas and money…wanting to license everything from wigs to clothes to doll to jewelry, and more! I think the modern-day mass merchandising of a product with a tie-in was born that day.
Beatles Magazine: John Lennon said that he knew the Beatles were finished in a business sense when Brian Epstein shed his mortal coil. What was NEMS up against in cutting a deal for this immense amount of Beatles merchandise, and at the start how naive was Brian?
Terry Crain: Sure, over the years Brian has got a bad mark for only getting 10% of the licensing fees being charged for the NEMS merchandise, but hindsight makes all of us brilliant. At that time in 1964, there was no blueprint on how to deal with mass merchandising and this new business. There was no manual, no one that had any experience, no previous process to study. Brian could have actually been getting 10% of nothing, since no one knew how long the Beatles phenomenon would last. It might have been the best deal he could have gotten since there was no precedence for this type of new business structure. After looking at all of the factors, I really don’t fault him. After the craze kept going, he did realize he should have gotten more and within 6 months had the contract re-negotiated.
Beatles Magazine: Your book is a beautiful repository for color photographs of the various merchandise that was sold from 1964-1966. How did you go about collecting all of these pictures, and which are your favorites?
Terry Crain: Some of the images I photographed myself visiting collectors. I then had some wonderful luck and had images given to me for use by other wonderful people, Jeff Augsburger, Dennis Dailey, members of the Beatles Collectors Facebook site, etc.…even the books design consultant, Andrew Croft, donated some of his own images for the book. Andrew took my basic idea for the book design and elevated it amazingly.
Beatles Magazine: What were the prices for some of this merchandise at the time, and how much is some of it worth today?
Terry Crain: You could find the Remco dolls for $1.77 each in 1964 ($50-$70 now). The Beach Hat was 99 cents (now $100 – $300), the sweatshirt $1.88 (now $100 – $300). The record player was $29.95 – now it could be $5000 – $10,000.
Beatles Magazine: Did any of the lads have more selling power than the others? I know Ringo had a goofy charm that made him a dark horse favorite, or were they all pretty even?
Terry Crain: When Colgate-Palmolive made the Beatles Soaky bubble bath toys, they only made Ringo and Paul. There was market research done at that time that indicated that they were the two most popular Beatles in the U.S., so that’s who the company made. Starfans (sculpture) took that one level more…since Ringo was (by all research then) the most popular Beatle in the U.S., his likeness was the only sculpture made.
Beatles Magazine: The Ringo ‘Starfans’ sculpture made me laugh when I saw his visage on the bust. What were some of the stranger collectibles issued that stand out to you?
Terry Crain: The ‘Grow Hair on The Beatles’ might be the strangest. You got 4 pieces of cardboard with a head likeness of each Beatle on them, and the hair part of the image had small chia seeds on them. Then you put your Beatle in a glass of water, and in a few days ‘hair’ would grow from the chia seeds. You would then be able to cut a Beatles hair, while your friends (according to the ad) would “gasp with awe and delight”.
Beatles Magazine: When did your fascination with the Beatles begin, and in what ways has their art touched you personally?
Terry Crain: Early on…when I was 7 I saw them on Ed Sullivan, and that has grown since. I remember my sister having the George Remco doll she got in 1964. I remember it sitting in her room watching me as I walked by her door. She still has it.
Beatles Magazine: Do you have a favorite Beatle, or a favorite Bealtes album, and did you ever see them live?
Terry Crain: I never saw them live, but I have seen both Paul and Ringo perform. I don’t have a favorite Beatle or album…they are all great.
Beatles Magazine: If you could choose one item that you don’t own to have, which one would you choose?
Terry Crain: Tough question. There is not really one item I would like. One of each of the 150 would be awesome!
For me, probably different that everyone else, each of the 150 hold the same reverence. I remember shooting photographs at a collector’s house, and as I was photographing items, I saw the Beatles handkerchief out of the corner of my eye draped over a couch. I said, “Wow…you have the handkerchief!” The collector said, “Yes, but that doesn’t excite me as much as some of these other pieces.” I realized that for me, it did. Each of the pieces excites me as much as the other. The monetary value of an item is really not important to me in my research (that’s why there is no dollar figures on any of the pieces in the book). Sure, I realize the record player is the holy grail of the items (worth 5 figures), but to me it’s just one of the items. That might be an odd way to look at this, but every piece has it’s own fascinating history and memories, no matter what its current worth is. Pieces like this give readers a memory trigger…a moment that they say “hey, I remember this!”, and it takes them back to a wonderful time in their youth. Everyone has these types of triggers, whether it’s Beatles items, Barbie, Hopalong Cassidy, the Wizard of Oz, Mickey Mouse, Superman, He-Man, Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, etc., that allows them (even for a few minutes) smiles on their faces and recollections of earlier and simpler times. This book hopefully is a memory trigger for many.
Beatles Magazine: Where can fans find the book to add it to their collection?
Terry Crain: Here is the main site:
Words by Bob Wilson