By Judie Jacobson-
ORANGE – Born in the Bronx, N.Y., by the time Charles Rosenay moved to Connecticut in fourth grade he was already a die-hard Beatles fan. Today, Rosenay, who lives in Orange, is considered by many to be the world’s biggest Beatles fan. He has put on Beatles conventions all over the world, including “BEATexpo 2010” which will be held Nov. 27 and Nov. 28 at the Holiday Inn downtown Stamford. Among the many guest speakers this year is Sid Bernstein. Now 92, Bernstein is credited with single-handedly bringing the Beatles to the U.S. for the first time in 1964 and for orchestrating their massive Shea Stadium concerts in 1965.
Bernstein’s appearance is especially meaningful for Rosenay, who likes to remind the world of the Jewish contribution to the Beatles equation. That “contribution” includes Brian Epstein who was the group’s first manager and had them signed to their first record contract; Allan Klein, their manager at the time of their break-up; Paul McCartney’s late wife Linda Eastman McCartney; Rex Malkin, the group’s original lawyer in their Liverpool days and Nat Weiss, their U.S. attorney. Even Dougie Millings, the tailor that gave them their distinctive wardrobe in the early days of Beatlemania, was Jewish … and the list goes on.
Rosenay also runs Beatles-themed tours to England through his Liverpool Tours; and operates Club Kosher – Glatt Kosher Club Med-type tours to a variety of resorts and other destinations. It’s a natural for Rosenay, who attended an Orthodox Jewish day school, puts on tefillin everyday and is strictly kosher.
The Ledger recently spoke with Rosenay about his life-long love affair with the Beatles.
Q: How and why did you decide to mount a Beatles convention?
A: One of my first memories in life is seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. And it left such a memory that, not being a musician, I was able to still turn my life into musical vocations. One, running a DJ company and, two, running the Beatles conventions. So, the conventions started out obviously with a love for the Beatles. The idea for a convention started when I was interning at a theater in New Haven. It’s now the closed up Palace Theater across from the Shubert. I said let’s do a Beatles convention here. And they thought it was a great idea, but the theater closed before we could put it on. Beatles conventions were done before it just wasn’t done in Connecticut. But very few flocked to the first one. I had no idea what I was doing. Within a couple or years, though, it really grew to the point that we were doing it not just in Connecticut but in other markets as well. It’s a celebration of the music, the memories and the magic of the Beatles – but even more than that, it’s a celebration of the fans.
Q: How long did you do it?
A: We did it pretty much nonstop from 1978 to 1997. In 1997 my parents were getting on and weren’t very well and I had to take care of them and I was running the DJ company with 40 guys. So, I really couldn’t do conventions anymore. I took off 12 years and for the thirteenth year – the bar mitzvah – I thought, well, you know what, I’ve got a family now, I’ve got kids, and I’d love for them to see what I do. We decided to bring it back last year for the first time in all those years. It was very well received and so we thought we’d do it again. There were about 2,000 people there.
It starts on Saturday night after Shabbat with the concerts – all the music, the bands, the sound-alike tributes. Then, on Sunday, it’s really more of a festival or carnival atmosphere. It’s also the bands, but it’s the special guests, the film festivals, the memorabilia.
Q: Are these local bands?
A: Mostly New York bands. Our special guests also perform; we have from the 1960s Tommy Row, who you may remember as having the hit song “Dizzy.” Tommy Row retired in 2006 and I thought wouldn’t it be great to have him because in 1963 the Beatles were the opening act for him. Half way through the tour they had to flip flop because they were the ones getting all the screaming, all the adulation. They never forgot that he put them on the bill and when they did their first concert in Washington, D.C. in February of 1964, right after the Ed Sullivan Show, he was one of the opening acts. He’s got a lot of great stories to tell.
Q: Sid Bernstein’s appearance is a coup – he must have some great stories to tell.
A: He touched more great stars than any other promoter, producer and booking agent in the world. It’s a ‘who’s who’ – Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Tony Bennett, the Beatles, the Rascals, Melissa Manchester… and the list goes on. He had the foresight to bring the Beatles to Carnegie Hall and the next year to put them in Shea Stadium, which was unheard of – 55,000 people. It had never been done. He went on to produce concerts for them for a few years. But he gets no more joy than kibitzing, as he calls it, with the fans. He loves to tell the stories of meeting Brian Epstein and negotiating the shows and making it happen.
Q: Tell us about meeting Paul McCartney?
A: I’ve met Paul a bunch of times, and George [Harrison] once and Ringo [Starr] a few times. When I met Paul for the first time, I had already been producing conventions and I was running tours to Liverpool for Beatles fans. There was a promoter in Liverpool named Sam Leach, who before the Beatles were famous, booked them in all these tiny clubs around the area. He said to me “Charles, I want to come to Connecticut to be a guest at one of your conventions.” I had been going to Liverpool every year and people like Pete Best, the Beatles first drummer, and Cynthia Lennon, John’s first wife, all came over for my conventions because I met them in Liverpool and became friends with them. I said, “Sam, of course.” He said, “Well, just for doing this I will introduce you to Paul next time he tours.” Sure enough, Paul decided to tour again in the late 1980s. And he was going to perform in Birmingham, England. I’m back stage with Sam and his daughter Samantha, just standing there, and the concert is suppose to start in seconds and there’s no sign of Paul and the back stage is all filled. Paul finally comes in and he’s walking through the room saying hello. Finally, he makes it to the back of the room and he walks over to Sam, and they hug like long lost friends. Then Sam says, “I know you don’t have much time, but I want to introduce you to a friend of mine from the States. He produces the Beatles conventions there,” and Paul says, “Oh, that’s cool.” And Sam says, “And he publishes a magazine on the Beatles called “Good Day Sunshine”.” And he says, “Oh, that’s cool.” And Sam says, “He also takes Americans over to England on Beatle tours to Liverpool.” And he said “Oh that’s cool – when do I get the royalties?”