by Jud Cost
Originally published in the show program for Broadway San Jose’s run of RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles (March 27 – 29, 2015)
This appearance of RAIN at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts Center awakens the ghosts of the South Bay’s love affair with the Beatles that began over 50 years ago when the Liverpool moptops first toured the US in 1964. The Beatles’ first stop on that tour was at the Cow Palace in Daly City, but the show was booked by Paul Catalana, the Bay Area’s premier talent assessor, from deep in the heart of San Jose.
Savvy enough to also book red-hot young pop juggernauts like the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits and the Dave Clark 5 during the 1964-65 height of the British Invasion, Catalana was the man calling the shots to bring them all to the San Jose Civic Auditorium (now known as City National Civic).
Catalana first got the taste for entertainment when he opened the El Rancho Drive-In Theatre in 1950, dubbed “the world’s finest” by the local press for its exotic game room and kiddie rides. The Tropicaire Twin-Vue would soon follow, presenting first-run blockbusters like Ben Hur. Catalana also brought the 1955 heavyweight title fight between champion Rocky Marciano and light heavyweight title-holder Archie Moore into San Jose Civic Auditorium via closed-circuit television, then in its infancy.
Catalana is also remembered for bringing an eye-popping array of talent to the Safari Room (1962-1968), a bustling club he conceived, designed and managed that adjoined an
East San Jose bowling alley, Plaza Lanes, owned by his good friend and business associate, Victor LoBue. Located at the corner of Story and White Roads, the Safari welcomed a Who’s Who of pop music and jazz through its doors. Wayne Newton, Della Reese, Nancy Wilson, the Righteous Brothers, Louie Prima, Duke Ellington, Mel Torme, the Supremes, Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, Roger Miller, Sarah Vaughan, Frankie Laine, Anita O’Day and Trini Lopez all played the Safari Room.
Don Baskin and Bob Gonzalez of San Jose Rocks Hall of Famers the Syndicate of Sound, fondly recall the night they and their girlfriends were Catalana’s special guests for a meet and greet after the Everly Brothers’ Safari Room show. When Catalana used some of his Beatles profits in 1965 to open a French restaurant on First Street in San Jose called Les Poupees, he booked the hungry, young Syndicate of Sound to play the bistro. Once again, Catalana’s promotional barometer proved right on the money when the Syndicate stormed the national charts in 1966 with “Little Girl.”
In the spring of 1965, famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen reported his take on Catalana’s negotiations with the Beatles. “Memo to all Beatles fans (include me in): The deal was signed and sealed yesterday with the Beatles to appear at the Cow Palace August 31, as we’ve been telling you all along, and again under the aegis of Paul Catalana, the San Jose promoter. The scam: $50,000 guarantee or 65% of the gross whichever is higher (last year, the guarantee was only $25,000, and the mopheads walked out with $50,500). Catalana, incidentally, wanted to present the Beatles at Candlestick, rather than the Cow Palace, but manager Brian Epstein protested, saying, “I’ve heard it sometimes gets cold and windy out there.”
Another encounter with the Fab Four took place on a night they spent at Palo Alto’s Cabana Hotel on El Camino in 1964. Teenagers mobbed the place, but only Jan Errico from San Jose was clever enough to make it inside their hotel room. Shortly thereafter, she became the vocalist/drummer with the local folk-rock combo, The Vejtables.
Errico went on to further fame with the Mojo Men, singing lead on their 1967 hit, “Sit Down I Think I Love You.” She claims the Beatles were real gentlemen, but her head probably still spins recalling the encounter.
It was inking John, Paul, George & Ringo on the dotted line that remains the major South Bay Beatles connection. Catalana filled the Cow Palace with screaming legions of Beatle fanatics for their first Bay Area appearance on August 19, 1964, and then again on August 31, 1965.
It’s of interest to note also that The Beatles and Brian Epstein stated in their contract with Catalana that they would not perform at the Cow Palace in front of a racially segregated audience. Of course, Catalana agreed to the clause—forever earning a place of honor in Beatles’ Valhalla.