Posts Tagged ‘Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos’

Before they took off on their World Tour in June of 1966, the Beatles had put the finishing touches on their new album, “Revolver.” Click below to hear the song that would prove prescient of the “Fab Four’s” horrible experience in Manila – “Taxman.”


Monday, July 4, 1966
Manila, the Philippines, the second stop for the Beatles on their 1966 World Tour
The Manila Hotel

The Beatles: (l. to r.) George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. ca. 1966

The Beatles: (l. to r.) George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. ca. 1966

Manila, The Philippines:

Early in the morning, Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ publicist, and Vic Lewis, their booking agent, were awakened by sharp raps on the door of their suite. Two grim-looking men in military uniforms saluted and introduced themselves as the official reception committee from Malacañang Palace, the residence of President Ferdinand and First Lady Imelda Marcos.* They’d come to make final arrangements for the Beatles’ visit to the Palace for a luncheon hosted by the First Lady. (1)

Dictator Ferdinand Marcos with wife Imelda at his 1965 inauguration in the Philippines.

Neither Barrow nor Lewis knew what they were talking about. No one had told them that the Beatles were expected to make a presidential visit. The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – were sleeping, they explained, and couldn’t be disturbed. The band had just flown in from an exhausting concert in Tokyo. The “Fab Four” needed their rest, as they were schedule to give both afternoon and evening concerts in Manila that very day. Barrow and Lewis promised to pass along the request to Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager.

“This is not a request,” insisted the two men, one, a general, and the other, a commander, in the Philippine Army.

First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos was a former beauty queen. Here she models a traditional gown. She regarded herself as a goddess and was used to having her way. 1963

Fashion icon Imelda Marcos descends from a flight with her son Bong Bong. Undated photo

That afternoon, the Beatles performed their hits songs to an audience of 35,000. Afterwards, Tony Barrow and others in the Beatle’s entourage filed into Brian Epstein‘s suite to watch coverage of the concert on the evening news. They were pleased to discover that every channel featured scenes of screaming, swooning fans caught up in Beatlemania. However, Channel 5, one of the country’s major networks, ran additional footage not seen on the other channels. The scene showed the First Lady at the Palace with her disappointed luncheon guests, 200 children. The voice-over said, “The children began to arrive at ten. They waited until two….The place cards for the Beatles at the lunch table were removed.” Imelda Marcos was very mad as she and her guests filed into the grand dining room without their guests of honor. The spin was that the Beatles had deliberately snubbed the President and Mrs. Marcos by not showing up.

Brian Epstein went into full damage control mode. He issued a hastily written apology to the First Couple and called an interview with Channel 5 in his hotel suite, in which he professed complete ignorance of the invitation and praised the Marcoses. An hour later, the interview was broadcast but Brian’s appearance was blacked-out by static interference. That’s when everyone started to get nervous.

ticket stubs to the Beatles July 4, 1966 concerts in Manila

ticket stubs to the Beatles July 4, 1966 concerts in Manila

Worry soon turned to panic. After their evening show, the Beatles noticed that their police escort had disappeared. When their car pulled up to the Manila Hotel, the gates were locked against them. While they sat their in the idling car, wondering how they were going to get up to their suite, several dozen “organized troublemakers” attacked their car, banging on the windows, rocking it back and forth, and shouting threats in several languages. Vic Lewis shouted at the driver: “Drive on! Go through the people and smash the gates down!” The driver obeyed. At the entrance, everyone in the Beatles’ entourage ran into the hotel with the angry mob snapping at their heels.

Shortly, an official appeared at Vic Lewis’ suite demanding payment of local taxes. Lewis produced a contract stating that someone else – the promoter – had that responsibility, not the Beatles. This was brushed aside. Until all taxes were paid, said the taxman, no one in the Beatles party was being allowed to leave the country. When the man left, Lewis found Barrow. “We’ve got to get out of here – now.” He called the bell hop for help with the luggage.

The manager told Lewis that no one would be coming to help. “The whole hotel is going on strike. They think you’ve insulted President Marcos.” Bomb and death threats were telephoned to the deluged British Embassy and to the four Beatles’ hotel suite.

The next morning, Paul had seen the newspaper headlines blaring BEATLES SNUB PRESIDENT. The Beatles had known nothing of the invitation. “Oh, dear,” he thought. “We’ll just say we’re sorry.” About then “things started to get really weird,” recalled Ringo. He and John were hanging out in their bathrobes when a roadie popped his head in their room and shouted, “Come on! Get out of bed! Get packed – we’re getting out of here.”

Everyone in the entourage grabbed amplifiers and suitcases and made for the main elevators, but they were turned off. They had to take the service lift down. The halls were dark and lined with staff who shouted at them in Spanish and English. It was very frightening. When they got downstairs to check out, the front desk was deserted. Even their cars were gone. Someone managed to get a Town Car and everyone squeezed in and made for the airport.

But the airport route was sabotaged. Soldiers were stationed at intersections and roads were closed. Finally, they found a back road that led to the airport. The airport was deserted. “The atmosphere was scary,” remembered Tony Barrow, “as if a bomb was due to go off.” Once the Beatles got on the escalator, the power was shut off. As the Beatles moved through the terminal, little bands of demonstrators appeared, grabbing at them and trying to hit them.

Mobs rough up the Beatles at the Manila airport. John Lennon is at upper corner, right. July 6, 1966

They checked in for their flight as quickly as possible then were herded into a lounge “where an abusive crowd and police with guns had also gathered.” The cops began to shove the Beatles back and forth. It was impossible to tell the thugs from the military police. According to Ringo, “they started spitting at us, spitting on us.” The Beatles hid among a group of nuns and monks huddled by an alcove. Other members of their entourage, though, were kicked and beaten.

Finally, everyone was allowed to run across the tarmac to the plane. Vic Lewis felt sure he’d get a bullet in the back. The Beatles were terrified they’d be killed before they entered the safety of the airplane. Paul said, “When we got on the plane, we were all kissing the seats. It was feeling as if we’d found sanctuary. We had definitely been in a foreign country where all the rules had changed and they carried guns. So we weren’t too gung-ho about it at all.” Ringo remembered being afraid of going to jail. Ferdinand Marcos was a dictator (who, in a few years, would declare martial law in the Philippines.)

Everyone was poised for the plane to take off when the authorities came back on board and detained Tony Barrow for thiry minutes. For the plane to be allowed to take off with the Beatles on it, Tony was forced to pay a “leaving Manila tax” that amounted to the full amount of money the Beatles had made in their concerts before 80,000 fans.

Once the plane lifted off and everyone was safely in the air, all the anger of the past 24 hours boiled over. The Beatles blamed Brian for the debacle. He’d obviously received the invitation in Japan, ignoring it or misleading the Philippine authorities.

Beatlemania. October 1965, London, England, UK.  Policemen struggle to restrain young Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace as The Beatles receive their MBEs (Member of the British Empire) in 1965.

Beatlemania. October 1965, London, England, UK. Policemen struggle to restrain young Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace as The Beatles receive their MBEs (Member of the British Empire) in 1965.

By the time the Beatles had landed in India, they had made a command decision. This would be their last tour. They were never going to go on another tour again. Never again, swore John, was he going to risk his life for a stadium filled with screaming 13-year-old girls.

Brian said, “Sorry, lads, we have got something fixed up for Shea Stadium. If we cancel it you are going to lose a million dollars.” So they played New York’s Shea Stadium later that summer. It was the first stop on their U.S. tour, their final tour as the Beatles.


Click here to read: “Imelda Marcos Almost Gets the Beatles Killed Part 2”

(1) Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005)

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Regarding some of my recent posts on insane asylums (see sidebar, “Categories: The Insane Asylum”), my neighbor and friend, Karen O’Quin, wrote:

I really liked your blog – thanks for sending!!  I see a theme there.  My experience with Austin State Hospital is that when I first started working at Travis State School in 1967, they only had men there – they called them “boys”.  Some had been there for years as they had been admitted to ASH long before because they were a little “weird” and then became too institutionalized to be let out.  They did not have IQs consistent with mental retardation.  Some were later placed in group homes.  I don’t know if you’ve read Mary, Mrs. A Lincoln, but it is her account of being committed to a lunatic asylum by her son, Robert.  Someone very recently found letters she had written to her attorneys from the asylum.  I think they were going to be a book, too. 

Mary Lincoln (1818-1882)

Mary Lincoln (1818-1882)

When I was young, I remember my mother talking about Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, and her inappropriate and extravagant spending sprees during the depth of the Civil War. Above all I remember Mom mentioning that Mary had a collection of about 300 pairs of gloves. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of Imelda Marcos, wife of the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, and her closet rack of 2700 pairs of shoes.

Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln came together as husband and wife from two very different worlds. Mary was pampered and rich; Abraham was tested and wise. Both were prone to depression but it was Mary, with her fragile mind, perhaps schizophrenic or bipolar, who finally cratered under the constant barrage of grief and loss that became her sad lot in life.  Three of her sons died while her husband was president during a bloody and acrimonious civil war. The hate mail sent to her husband was unbelievable. Then her beloved Abraham, her anchor, was assassinated. It was more than Mary could bear. She descended into madness.

She began to wander hotel corridors in her nightgown, was certain someone was trying to poison her, complained that an Indian spirit was removing wires from her eyes, and continued her frantic spending, purchasing yard after yard of elegant drapery when she had no windows in which to hang it. (PBS American Experience: “The Time of the Lincolns”)

The doctors treated her with laudanum which gave her hallucinations, eye spasms, and headaches. She began to behave bizarrely, creating a public scandal. Her only surviving son Robert, a practicing attorney, arranged an insanity trial and had her committed to the asylum Bellevue Place just outside Chicago. Although Mary was only hospitalized for three months, she never forgave Robert for the humiliation and deprivation.

A recently published book, The Madness of Mary Lincoln by Jason Emerson, awarded “Book of the Year” by the Illinois State Historical Society in 2007, examines Mary’s mental illness. The book is based on a rare find – a trunk of letters found in the attic of Robert Lincoln’s lawyer. They contain the lost letters written by Mary during her stay in the asylum. The book sheds light on the ongoing mystery of Mary’s mental illness, its nature, roots, and progression, and suggests that Abraham Lincoln had some understanding of it and provided stability.

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