11 Alive's Bill Liss: The 5th Beatle

12:50 AM, Feb 8, 2014   |    comments
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  • Bill Liss is at the top of the staircase, photographing the descent of John Lennon and Paul McCartney at Kennedy Airport in NYC in 1965. Liss is a reporter at 11Alive News.
  • Bill Liss, 11 Alive News

ATLANTA -- Fresh out of college, 11Alive News reporter Bill Liss went to work in public relations for Trans World Airlines. It was early 1965.

"I got a call one day from the senior vice president for public affairs at the airline, who said, 'We've got the Beatles coming to the United States. We want you to handle it. And I sort of said, 'well why not?'" Liss recalls.

"It was an intriguing phenomenon at that point to me," Liss says. He was a jazz fan in the 1960s.

Liss flew to London where he said he got acquainted with the pop group that had first appeared in America one year earlier on the Ed Sullivan Show. While in London, Liss said says he spent some time with the band and its manager, Brian Epstein. Then they boarded a Boeing 707 for the flight back to New York.

"We had a great time. It was all first name basis, back and forth, and just had a very nice experience," Liss says.

"But also part of my job was to keep an eye on them and make sure that they didn't go crazy on the plane because... it was a commercial flight. It was a regular commercial flight." Liss says there were Beatles fans in the coach section of the aircraft, mostly women, who'd booked travel once they learned the Beatles would be on that flight.

Liss says he and the Beatles flew in first class, where he says Paul McCartney spent much of the flight writing.

"And I found him to be probably the person I related to most. I found him to be the most interesting of the group," Liss says. "Ringo Starr was the most playful. He was jumping around and doing all kinds of crazy stuff. And the other two (John Lennon and George Harrison) were just kind of quietly sitting there."

In the mid-60s, Liss says the flight from London to New York took some eight hours. "They did have a food fight. And I sort of got up in the middle of the thing and tried to referee the thing," Liss says.

When they landed, a photographer recorded the Beatles deplaning at what became Kennedy Airport. The photo shows Liss is at the top of the ramp stairs holding a camera -- documenting it from above.

"Which, at least, it's proof that I was there," Liss said. He said he got the group to autograph an envelope at the behest of a TWA worker who lived in Kansas City and who Liss says he didn't know personally. Liss sent the envelope to the worker but didn't get one for himself.

Liss says he also didn't attend any of the concerts the Beatles staged immediately following that flight, which included shows at New York's Shea Stadium and Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium.

After the flight, Liss says he "absolutely" became a fan of the Beatles, particularly their earlier work. He says he did not follow the British Invasion beyond the Beatles though. "I never became a devotee of most of those groups. I liked the old timey - the Kingston Trio, people like that, the old time groups," Liss says. "But the Beatles, you couldn't help but love their music and the way they wrote. It was just fantastic," Liss said.

Bill Liss remains a jazz enthusiast -- with an unlikely connection to pop history.

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