The Night Beatlefan Magazine Was Born 45 Years Ago

Me and Leslie about 10 years after we started Beatlefan.

Our magazine, Beatlefan, was born on a walk through my parents’ neighborhood on the night of Oct. 21, 1978.

Actually, the gestation period for the magazine had begun about five and a half years earlier, when I did a handful of mockups of a Beatles newsletter that I photocopied and sent to a friend. I’d done another one in 1976, during the Wings Over America tour.

My wife Leslie and I both were working journalists, and we’d talked about someday having a publication of our own, but we weren’t sure what it would be.

We were in my hometown of Athens, Ga., where we had attended a football game earlier that day in which my beloved Georgia Bulldogs had beaten Vanderbilt 31-10.

As we took a walk that fall evening 45 years ago, I shared with Leslie the idea that had crystalized in my mind as I’d made plans for dinner a few nights earlier at an Atlanta restaurant with Mark and Carol Lapidos. They were in town preparing to put on one of their Beatlefest conventions at the Peachtree Plaza, which at the time was the world’s tallest hotel.

I hit it off right away with Mark and Carol. (Photo courtesy Mark Lapidos)

I had hit it off right away with Mark and Carol when we’d had dinner. I liked that they combined devotion to The Beatles, ambition and a strong work ethic.

The impending Atlanta Beatlefest — combined with my disappointment at how irregular and unprofessional fanzines tended to be in those days — had revived my interest in doing some sort of Beatles publication. I envisioned it as professionally typeset and printed (as opposed to most fanzines, which were done on typewriters in those days) and full of current, reliable news.

(I was covering the popular music beat for The Atlanta Constitution, and constantly accumulated a lot of news that I thought Beatles fans would find interesting and useful.)

I shared my idea with Mark and Carol, and they were incredibly supportive.

Mark told me recently that he remembers “being impressed that you worked for the big Atlanta newspaper … and it was very obvious to me that you are a true fan. Sounded like a great combination of interests and work that would be just right for a fanzine.

“I clearly remember saying that I want to be the first subscriber.”

My coverage of the Atlanta Beatlefest in The Atlanta Constitution.

Mark also told me that he’d be happy to let us put flyers for the new magazine on his table at the Atlanta fest — and for that I’ve always credited him as the “godfather” of Beatlefan.

Mark said he’s honored to hold that distinction. “What you have done with your magazine in these past 45 years is simply groundbreaking and astonishing. You turned it into a family affair, just as we have done with our Fests.”

When I pitched the idea to Leslie on our walk a couple of nights after that dinner, she also immediately was on board. We saw this as a way we could scratch our entrepreneurial itch without having to leave our jobs and have our livelihood depend on our publication (as would have been the case with our original goal of owning a weekly newspaper).

Believing a magazine name immediately should indicate who its intended reader is — and inspired, no doubt, by Beatlefest — we dubbed the new magazine Beatlefan.

The flyer we put on Mark and Carol’s table at the Atlanta convention one week later declared it was “the fanzine Beatles fans have been waiting for!”

Judging by the incredibly kind notes we continue to receive from readers four and a half decades later, it appears it still is.

A poster for the 1978 Beatlefests.

We picked up some subscribers at that fest that we still have, and we also enlisted some early contributors, including the late Nicholas Schaffner, author of “The Beatles Forever” (one of my all-time favorite books about the band), and Wally Podrazik of “All Together Now” fame, who still writes for us.

For Leslie and me — as well as my brothers Jon and Tim, who joined us at the convention — that weekend at the Peachtree Plaza was like a kickoff rally for what was to come. While we only had flyers on Mark’s table in Atlanta, we’d end up having a table of our own to sell subscriptions at many Beatlefests through the years, starting with the first New York area fest of 1979, and I got to serve as a guest panelist at a few of the conventions, too. Mark even made me a special guest at the Chicago fest in 1998 to talk about Beatlefan’s 20th anniversary.

But, Atlanta was my first Beatlefest, which made it special. Also in attendance that weekend were some folks who in future years would become among my dearest friends, though I didn’t know them at the time.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d been passing along Beatles news of interest to readers of my column in the weekend combined edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ever since I’d started covering music two years earlier, and a week before the Atlanta Beatlefest, I provided several Beatles news updates.

Me at the original Beatlefan office that we occupied 1979-1985.

Among them: In mid-November, Capitol Records was planning to release a deluxe collection of 14 of the Fabs’ U.K. albums — up to then available in the U.S. only as imports — packaged in a royal blue box with gold foil trim. The set was limited to 3,000 numbered boxes. Also, George Harrison had put together a book called “I Me Mine,” featuring original manuscripts of many of his songs. Selling for $300, it also was a collector’s item. Those were the seeds of the Beatlenews Roundup in the very first issue of Beatlefan, which came out about two months later.

In addition to picking up valuable support (and advice) from the likes of Mark and Carol and Nick and Wally, the Atlanta Beatlefest also allowed us to get a feel for the state of mind of Beatles fandom, which helped us sharpen our editorial concept for Beatlefan.

And, we got to know some of the 35 or so dealers who were manning nearly 60 tables in the large room on the 7th floor of the hotel that served as the Beatles flea market. Quite a few of them became future advertisers in Beatlefan.

After reading a digital clipping of my original Atlanta Constitution coverage of the fest from 1978, Mark noted with amazement that “Butcher” covers sold for between $85 and $245 each that weekend! “Every fan there would have bought every copy in the marketplace had we known what their value would be today,” he said.

A program page from one of the 1980s Beatlefests at which I was a panelist.

Books, T-shirts, LPs, and all manner of Beatles-bedecked merchandise could be seen in the arms of those attending the fest, though some fans simply weren’t willing to pay the steep prices commanded by the rarer mementos.

A poster autographed by John Lennon went for $84 in an auction, but bids generally were lower in Atlanta than in other cities in which Beatlefests had been held, auctioneer Roger Berkley told me at the time. “It was a typical first-time-in-a-city crowd,” he said. “They didn’t really know what some of the things were, much less how much they were worth.”

One person in attendance who was surprised by the value of a Beatles collectible was a record store owner from Athens, who was shocked to see copies of the old Beatles Monthly magazines selling for three times what he had charged me for a nearly complete collection a few months earlier. When he groused at me about what a “bargain” I’d gotten, I just smiled.

While Mark and Carol had planned for a crowd of 2,000 at the Atlanta fest, it turned out to be quite a bit less than that. (Tickets were $7.50 for one day or $14 for both days.)

Remembered Mark: “We advertised quite a bit and got support from Atlanta radio stations, but I guess Atlanta wasn’t ready for us in 1978.”

(The city had had a few smallish comic book and sci-fi conventions at that point, but this was long before Dragon Con became a fan behemoth, and there really had been no local gatherings for music fans, so I’m not sure a lot of folks knew what to expect from Beatlefest.)

The first issue of Beatlefan came out just before Christmas, 1978.

Atlanta wasn’t the lowest-attended of his conventions, Mark said, with the 1985 Seattle convention drawing fewer people. Still, the Atlanta fest ranks among the “two lightest” in attendance in the nearly 50 years he and Carol have been staging conventions. (Their conventions now are known as The Fest for Beatles Fans.)

He pegged the Atlanta attendance at “more than a few hundred, but definitely less than 1,000.” However, he remembered, “the fans who did attend, had a great time.”

Indeed, what the Atlanta Beatlefest lacked in attendance, it more than made up for in enthusiasm.

You could see the sheer joy on the faces of both original fans and their younger counterparts as they watched 12 hours of Beatles films, roamed the Beatles flea market, listened to taped interviews, entered sound-alike and look-alike contests, participated in panel discussions with the guest authors, joined in sing-alongs of Beatles songs, viewed a museum room with an extensive scrapbook collection and gallery of Beatles art, and tested their knowledge of Beatles trivia.

They also enjoyed the music of The Beatles played live onstage in the 8th-floor ballroom by a band of four New Jersey brothers known as Abbey Rhode. The audience danced and cheered, and there even were a few 1964-style screams. Said one fan about the Beatles cover band: “They’re fantastic. If I close my eyes, I can’t tell the difference.”

It was a diverse crowd, with original fans and those too young to remember the British Invasion. “The split is usually about 50/50 older fans and younger fans,” Mark said that weekend, “though here in Atlanta it looks as if there might be slightly more of the younger fans.”

Me and Leslie at a party we threw in 2013 for Beatlefan’s 35th birthday.

One of those younger attendees was Martha Evans, a 16-year-old from Atlanta who had become a fan three years earlier after hearing her older sister’s Beatles recordings. She told me that she got interested in the group “because I liked the way they looked and sounded and … I can’t really explain it.”

I’ve attended various other fan conventions of different stripes through the years, including other Beatles gatherings and those for sci-fi and fantasy fans, and one thing I’ve noticed they have in common is the liberating effect of finding yourself in the middle of a large bunch of like-minded folks.

As one young man told me during that 1978 weekend in Atlanta, “Sometimes, you get strange looks from people when they find out you’re still a Beatlemaniac. But here, we all have the same illness. And we don’t give a damn who sees us dancing during ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’”

I think one of the original fans at the Atlanta fest, 27-year-old Debbie Long of Douglasville, summed it up nicely when she said she had come to the convention “because I just love them. I mean, a whole day of The Beatles — it’s great.”

I think maybe that also explains why people still want to read Beatlefan 45 years later.

We appreciate everyone’s support through the years, and a special 45th anniversary thank you goes out to Mark and Carol.

Bill King

Read Al Sussman’s interview with Bill and Leslie King about Beatlefan from the 35th anniversary, 10 years ago …