Mr. Bernstein was an established promoter when — through happenstance in 1963 — he got his biggest break. He was taking a course in politics at the New School for Social Research in New York that required him to read one British newspaper a week.
“This was the right time to be reading an English newspaper,” he later told the magazine NY Rock Confidential. “So here I am reading little stories about this group from Liverpool that is causing a lot of ‘hysteria.’ By the end of the course, I was so Beatle-ized by what I read, even though I did not hear a note, I said, ‘Gotta get ’em.’ ”
General Artists, the talent agency he was working for, had very little interest in booking the group. Mr. Bernstein persisted, tracking down Beatles manager Brian Epstein and convincing him that he could bring the mop-headed quartet to Carnegie Hall, a primarily classical venue then.
“I knew the woman who did the Carnegie bookings,” he told the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call in 2008. “I used to see her in the neighborhood supermarket. I told her there was this group of four guys from England who were a phenomenon, that she should get them. Carnegie never had a rock group before, so when I made my application, she assumed they were a string quartet — I never told her otherwise. When they saw the crowds, they weren’t too happy.”
It was the Beatles’ third appearance in the United States, after a concert the previous night at Washington Coliseum in the District and their TV appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The band’s fee was $6,500 for two shows at Carnegie Hall — an amount just under $49,000 in today’s money.
On Aug. 15, 1965, Mr. Bernstein brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium. By this time, their fee was $180,000, and 55,000 fans, mostly pubescent girls, descended on the sports venue. A New York Times writer likened it to the “classic Greek meaning of the word pandemonium — the region of all demons.”
The Liverpool foursome would play one more time at Shea, in 1966, but turned down an offer by Mr. Bernstein to return the next year for $1 million.
He tried several times to get the Beatles to reunite for a concert after their breakup in 1970 by making extravagant offers or suggesting a charitable benefit. He even took out a beseeching full-page ad in the New York Times in 1976.
His desire to repeat his British-band success also led him to hype the Bay City Rollers, a U.K. boy band, as the next Beatles in 1975. Their U.S. tour prompted a Washington Post critic to write that “if the Bay City Rollers are the new Beatles, then Howard Cosell . . . is Robert Redford.”
Mr. Bernstein’s success with the Beatles made him a major U.S. promoter for rock music, particularly British bands. He brought the Rolling Stones to Carnegie Hall in June 1964 but was subsequently banned from the performance space for several years after Stones fans had stood on chairs and left debris in the otherwise elegant auditorium.