In this episode, I talk to Ivor Davis, a writer for more than half a century. He penned a weekly entertainment column for the New York Times for over 15 years, interviewing some of the biggest names in show business, from Cary Grant to Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton to Tom Cruise and Muhammad Ali.
He was the only British daily newspaper correspondent to cover The Beatles’ first American tour from start to finish, given unparalleled access to John, Paul, George and Ringo on the road, in their hotel and during long nights of card and Monopoly games as they talked frankly about their bizarre new life.
He also ghosted a regular newspaper column for George. Ivor’s first-hand, insider’s memoir, The Beatles and Me on Tour, is a fascinating travel back in time where for the first time he chronicles, frankly and humorously, 34 days with the world’s most famous band on the road—at a critical moment in the history of rock.
As a foreign correspondent, he travelled throughout the western hemisphere covering riots, floods, earthquakes and politics. He has reported on four World Soccer Cups for CBS radio. Ivor currently lives in Southern California and is working on two new books: one about movies and the other a true crime story.
What You’ll Hear
[2:26] About Ivor and his background
[3:48] Ivor’s favourite celebrity interview
[4:35] On the road with The Beatles
[7:24] The Beatles and Elvis Presley
[10:15] Why Ivor never got starstruck
[12:50] The celebrity Ivor wishes he’d interviewed
[15:58] Ivor’s Books
[19:39] Tips for writing a book
[21:10] The most interesting place Ivor’s visited
[22:58] How to find Ivor’s books
About Ivor and his Background
As a child, Ivor wanted to be either a policeman or a journalist. However, policemen had to be at least 5ft 9in in England, and he didn’t grow that tall. With his detective inspector career over in a flash, he chose journalism. It allowed him to ask people rude and intrusive questions and they had to answer him!
He realised that in order to be a successful writer for weekly papers, he needed to expand his horizons. So, he headed off for America and found himself in Los Angeles. He was disappointed not to get a job straight away at the LA Times, but he became West Coast correspondent for the London Daily Express.
Ivor’s Favourite Celebrity Interview
Ivor Davis enjoyed interviewing many celebrities throughout his career. He says Muhammed Ali was a gem, but once he started, he wouldn’t stop talking and he couldn’t get a word in edgeways.
Richard Burton was the same. Said Ivor: “He was a raconteur, and when he was sober he was great. When he was drunk he was even better.” Robin Williams and John Lennon were both geniuses, and great to interview.
On the Road with The Beatles
The day Ivor arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1964, there were 300 girls outside The Beatles’ hotel, all screaming. The band were jetlagged and just grunted when he introduced himself.
However, they quickly took him in and made him part of the family. And in those days, Ivor says you could simply walk into their hotel suite and help himself to whatever there was.
He adds that they were lonely, because they couldn’t go out anywhere without being mobbed. They spent six weeks shuttling to and from their hotel in a limo and didn’t get to go anywhere else.
Ivor Davis went with them in a second limo, and the band appreciated having someone to talk to. They were always welcoming, and John Lennon would even call him at 3am to come and play Monopoly. John usually won because he cheated!
Ivor says that John would often pause in the middle of the game to ring home to his wife in Liverpool and talk to his son in a baby voice. Then he’d go straight back to the game.
The Beatles and Elvis Presley
While on tour with The Beatles, Ivor was present when the band met Elvis Presley. In 1964, Presley was making films and the band were constantly on tour. In 1965 they were finally able to meet.
They visited him at his home, and for the first 10 minutes nobody spoke. Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, had agreed with The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein that there shouldn’t be any press present at the meeting (apart from Ivor) so there were no photos or recordings of the event.
After an awkward silence, Elvis turned to the band and said, “I thought you guys came to jam. If nothing’s happening I’m going to bed.” That broke the ice and they performed together.
Ivor Davis felt that Elvis was jealous of The Beatles, because he’d had a huge, successful career until they came along. The band knocked him off the number one spot and became popular with the girls.
He also made three movies per year which almost all flopped, whereas The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night was a hit. Although he promised they’d meet again, they never did, and he bad-mouthed them at every opportunity he got.
Why Ivor Never got Starstruck
Despite meeting so many celebrities, Ivor says he never got starstruck: “If you’re too goo-goo ga-ga when you meet a celebrity, they hate it. They want to be treated as a normal person.”
Of course, some of them do remarkable work; Robin Williams for example was such a great comic and would entertain people constantly. Nevertheless, Ivor knew if he was starstruck they wouldn’t take him seriously, so he always stayed professional.
He says he never asked for autographs or pictures, although he did get them from The Beatles in the early days. Unfortunately, he gave them away to people who’d asked for them. Candid photos were taken now and again, but he never posed or requested pictures.
The Celebrity Ivor Davis Wishes He’d Interviewed
Ivor Davis says there are a few people he wishes he’d met. Firstly, he would ask William Shakespeare how he wrote all of his plays, and secondly ask Winston Churchill how he won the war.
After that, he wishes he’d met Golda Meir, the politician, to ask her what she thought of Nixon and Kissinger. Finally, Ivor says he’s disappointed he never got the opportunity to meet JFK, but he spent a lot of time with Bobby Kennedy.
He travelled with Bobby in 1968 while he was running for president, and Ivor Davis says he would have been elected, because the American public loved him. After two weeks of touring the country, they arrived back at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
He declared his victory in the ballroom, and headed off to do a press conference, taking a shortcut through the kitchen. Ivor had followed Kennedy through, and heard what he thought were balloons popping. He found Bobby, covered in blood, being cradled by his wife.
Ivor Davis admitted it was terrifying and it’s a night he’ll never forget, but he went into operation mode. He interviewed people around the venue, without really understanding the significance of what had happened. It was only hours later, in the hospital waiting room, he learned that Bobby had died and it hit him.
Ivor Davis’s Books
Ivor has published three books, which are all very different, but he explains the reasons behind them. “The Beatles and Me on Tour is a memoir of an amazing ticket to ride I was given.
“The book tells the full story – John failing to play the bagpipes, the girls smuggled into hotel rooms in food carts and more. It’s a fun, first-hand romp through The Beatles’ tour.”
He decided on a change of pace for his second book – “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Penguins.” He was lecturing on a cruise ship in South America, going from Argentina to the Falkland Islands, which he learned was a British colony.
There were 2,000 British citizens and 1 million penguins. So he decided to write a children’s book about four of the penguins who decided to leave the Islands and form a rock band.
The first single from ‘The Penguins’ was ‘I Want to Hold Your Flipper’ and they appeared on a US TV show hosted by Ed Pelican and their manager was called Brian Fishstein – the inspiration is fairly clear! Ivor says parents enjoy the book as much as the kids, and he still does book readings when he can.
His third book has a very different style and tone. As a journalist and foreign correspondent in America, Ivor was covering the Manson trial from day one: “The day we heard about the murders, I went to Sharon Tate’s house, although I didn’t know it was her at the time.
“I was on that story from day one. The trial was a circus, and I went to the Manson movie ranch too, to find out more. “Manson Exposed: A Reporter’s 50 Year Journey into Madness and Murder” is my telling of that horrible, terrible time.”
Tips for Writing a Book
Ivor Davis says, if you’ve got an idea for a book, get it down on paper. It doesn’t have to be brilliantly written, and you can regurgitate it from your system. You can edit and re-edit it until it’s perfect.
Don’t say you haven’t got time to write a book, because you have. Once you’ve written the book, that’s great, but that’s just the beginning of a long road. It makes no difference if nobody knows about it. You MUST market and promote it – that’s the hard work.
The Most Interesting Place Ivor Davis has Visited
Ivor Davis has been fortunate to travel all over the world, often at the expense of his newspapers, which is always a bonus. He particularly enjoyed Masada in Israel, because that’s where history was made.
“I’ve also visited the diamond mines in Australia, which is very different, and very isolated. I also had an incredible time in Paris (France, not Texas! Don’t get them confused!)
“Paris is a great city, and I was there covering the World Cup for CBS Radio. The night I was there France won the tournament, and the city went crazy. It was a strange but amazing experience.”