It could have been something. It could have been a contender. It could have been a Pet Rock before there were Pet Rocks.
Instead, the Great Beatles Sheet Extravaganza merely fizzled and was consigned to the slag heap of misbegotten ideas.
The timing couldn’t have been better. It was Sept. 6, 1964, and the Beatles had seven songs on Billboard’s Top 100 charts — plus an instrumental version of “This Boy” that they didn’t play but was used in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.”
On that day, the Beatles — a four-part pop band from Liverpool, England — checked into the Whittier Hotel in Detroit at 1:17 a.m. They left that same afternoon at 2:05 p.m. before playing two concerts at the Olympia Stadium.
Two enterprising employees of a Chicago television station, Larry Einhorn and Richy Victor, arranged with the hotel to buy the sheets that were slept on by the Fab Four.
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They made the same arrangement on Sept. 17 with the management of the Hotel Muehlebach in Kansas City, also buying the pillowcases, two per Beatle.
Beatlemania was at its peak, and Einhorn and Victor thought they could capitalize by selling 1-inch square pieces of certified genuine Beatle-slept-on bed linens for $1 apiece.
Each square came with a copy of an authenticating letter from the hotel stating which Beatle’s sheet it had been. Customers could choose the Beatle they wanted.
The offer drew some nationwide attention at the time. Victor talked about it on an ABC television program I don’t recognize, and Einhorn was featured on ”To Tell the Truth” along with two imposters who were pretending to be him (that’s how the game show worked: a panel of entertainers tried to figure out which of the three was telling the truth).
Note: The next paragraph contains math. Feel free to skip it.
On “To Tell the Truth,” Einhorn said they had cut the linens into 156,000 squares. King-size beds were fairly rare in 1964; a queen-size sheet is 96-by-102 inches, or 9,792 square inches. Fitted sheets are smaller, but hotels use flat sheets on both the top and bottom. Four Beatles times two sheets times two hotels equals 16 sheets — for a total of 156,672 square inches.
So that checks out. But other parts of the story do not.
On “To Tell the Truth,” Einhorn said they had sold 25,000 of the pieces of sheet in less than a month (he added that Ringo’s sheets were most popular). But the Allie Willis Museum of Kitsch’s entry for the Beatles sheets quotes Victor — 20 years later — saying they actually only sold 700 or 800 of them. “We lost money. We didn’t even get back what we paid for the sheets,” he said
The pair paid $400 for the sheets from the Whittier, and presumably a similar amount from the Muehlebach.
I’m inclined to believe Victor’s account that the sales were a dud. In the same account, he was quoted as saying he keeps the scraps in shopping bags and that he would have them for the rest of his life.
Victor died in 2005, in a train accident while on vacation in Portugal. He was 81.
Why didn’t the scraps of sheet sell? I think it’s because they were too small. One square inch of sheet is not a lot of sheet, even to the biggest Beatles fan.
Imagine if they had cut the sheets into 3-by-3-inch pieces. That’s enough bed linen for a half-crazed fan to be proud of and want to have. Sure, there would only have been 17,000 pieces to sell, but there might have been far more takers.
Even at a dollar apiece, $17,000 was serious coin in 1964, when the average household income was $6,600.
Meanwhile, there is still a market — or perhaps a new market — for the little pieces of sheet. In 2005, a complete set of four — one piece each slept on by John, Paul, George and Ringo — sold for $131.45.
More math: If all the original sheets could be sold in groups of four for the same price, that would net more than $5 million in 2005. Adjusted for inflation, that would be more than $7.8 million today.