It was September 12, 1964, the very height of Beatlemania, and 14-year-old Debbie Chase was exactly where every Beatles fan on the planet wanted to be: in the same room as John, Paul, George and Ringo.
But the Newton eighth-grader was determined to get even closer. And soon, on the strength of an audacity she marvels at to this day, she was indeed up close and personal with the Fab Four — thanks to a Globe reporter, Jack Thomas, who still occupies a special place in Chase’s memory.
Having recently released A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles were in town to perform at the Boston Garden. A psychiatrist had been quoted in a Globe article claiming the Beatles and their music had a pernicious effect on girls. In response, young Debbie wrote an indignant letter to the newspaper, defending her mop-topped heroes.
“Nobody could have been a bigger fan,” she says, noting that her scrapbook was already bulging with newspaper clippings about the Beatles. Her devotion to one of them in particular ran deep: “Paul was my everything,” Chase said in a recent interview over Zoom. “I dreamt about him every night.’’
Pouncing on the opportunity for a feature story, a Globe editor decided to have a staff writer chaperone Debbie to the concert. For the assignment, he chose a 25-year-old reporter who was then writing under the byline John C. Thomas but would become known to generations of Globe readers as Jack Thomas, forging a celebrated career that included stints as a columnist, TV critic, feature writer, and more.
Thomas was and is a man of eclectic, wide-ranging musical taste, and in 1964 he was himself a Beatles admirer who had recently bought a copy of A Hard Day’s Night. He picked Debbie up at her house in the Auburndale section of Newton, and off they headed to Boston.
“Jack wasn’t [much] older than the Beatles at the time,” she remarks. Says Thomas: “She was agape at the possibility of seeing the Beatles.”
He took her to a pre-concert news briefing with the Fab Four in a second-floor conference room at the Madison Hotel. Thomas inquired whether Debbie wanted to ask the Beatles a question through him, but, she says today, “I couldn’t think of anything that I didn’t already know.” So, Thomas situated her in the back of the room, told her sternly, “Don’t you move six inches till I get back,” and went over to join a knot of fellow reporters.
A few minutes later, Thomas was startled by an unexpected sight: “I looked across the room, and she was crawling on all fours, under TV wires and extension cords as if it was a big cobweb.” To his astonishment, the girl he had brought to the news conference had steadily made her way to a piano adjacent to the table where the Beatles sat, then crouched down behind it.
Debbie Chase is now a real estate broker in Framingham, and it has been almost 58 years since that day, but her recollection of what happened next is vivid.
“I’m [on the floor] next to John Lennon, and he’s looking down at me like What the?, and I’m waving at him,” recalls Chase. A couple of minutes later, she says, she grew even bolder, inching out from beneath the table and touching the bottom of the pant leg of each Beatle in turn, before crawling back beneath the piano.
At last, Debbie stood up, standing between McCartney and George Harrison. As flashbulbs began popping, the enormity of the moment finally hit her. Seeing the girl’s panicky expression, McCartney put his arm around her and said solicitously: “What’s the matter? You’re shaking. Everything’s going to be OK.”
On an impulse, Debbie asked him: “Can I kiss you?” McCartney bent down, tapped his cheek several times, and Debbie kissed him on the cheek. “He was so kind,” Chase says. Then Ringo Starr came over, extended his hand to the girl, and said in his friendly way: “Hey, glad to meet you.’’
After the press conference Thomas took her to the Garden, feeling conspicuous in his tan Brooks Brothers suit. When she got to her seat, Debbie created pandemonium by exclaiming to surrounding patrons: “I just kissed Paul McCartney!’’
“All these girls were jumping up and down,” recalls Thomas. Several police officers came over to make sure a riot wasn’t breaking out. In Thomas’s story, young Debbie expressed scorn for Beatles fans who screamed nonstop during concerts. “That’s stupid,” she said. “I only scream when they’re singing.”
The next day, Debbie discovered that she had attained celebrity status at her middle school. “Everybody wanted to touch the hand that had touched the Beatles, wanted to kiss the lips that kissed the Beatles,” she says.
But it’s something simpler about her encounter with the most famous band of the 20th century that stays with Debbie Chase now, six decades later. “What struck me was how nice and kind they were,” she says, then pauses. “I’m going to cry right now. It’s coming back to me. I don’t know if anyone could have had a more special experience than I had. It lives in my heart.”
Thomas would write about Chase and her Beatles story twice more: once in 1976, when she was 26 years old and living in Cambridge, and again in 1984, on the 20th anniversary of the Beatles concert, when they met for an interview over dinner at Ryles in Cambridge.
“I remember talking to him about life,” Chase says. “He tried to introduce me to classical music. I just respected him as a person so much.”
In an e-mail, she elaborated further. “That was the most magical moment of my life and we were there together. Like Paul, Jack was so kind and tender with me. Even though I was single-minded focused on Paul the entire time, now that I look back, I think more about the person that was there with me and made it happen and wonder what it was like for him.”
It’s a vivid memory for Thomas as well, and all these years later he speaks of Debbie Chase with the admiration of a guy who has spent his life in a business that rewards enterprise and chutzpah. “She had a lot more confidence than I would have had,” he says, marveling at it still. “I wouldn’t have had the boldness she had. I don’t think you could get away with that today.”
MORE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE BEATLES’ BOSTON SHOW: