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South Florida historian recalls Fab Four in new Ron Howard film

Staff Writer

Kitty Oliver was 15 and living in segregated Jacksonville when she attended her first concert: The Beatles.

The fab four rocked the Gator Bowl that Sept. 11, 1964. Crowds at the concert were integrated, something that the band demanded.

And for Oliver, the concert was her first time being surrounded by mostly white people.

The Fort Lauderdale resident shares that personal memory in Ron Howard's new documentary, "The Beatles: Eight Days A Week -- The Touring Years." The film opens Friday at some South Florida theaters and will be screened through Sept 22. The documentary will also be available on Hulu Sept. 17.

Also in the documentary: Larry Kane, a former Miami news radio reporter who got to tour with the band in 1964. Kane, now a Philadelphia resident, describes how he wrote to the Beatles' manager for an interview. Kane was surprised with an invitation to travel with the band throughout the United States, including the Gator Bowl performance, which was the band's only concert in Florida.

The 95-minute film focuses on the Beatles' prolific touring schedule between 1962 and 1966 when the band performed in 90 cities in 15 countries. The documentary also features interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and archived ones with George Harrison and John Lennon.

Through black-and-white footage of the band's press conferences and performances, Howard examines the group's impact on music as well as the racial dynamics of the 1960s.

Oliver, a journalist and historian, remembers that time as one filled with racial tension. Two months before the Beatles performance at the Gator Bowl, the Civil Rights Act had been enacted. But longtime attitudes about segregation still simmered.

"It was an apartheid that's probably difficult for a lot of people to even picture," Oliver remarked in a clip from the film. "The only white person I would even have contact with was a salesman who would come into the community. I was ripe for something different I think by the time I heard that the Beatles were coming to town."

Americans were curious about the British band members with the mop tops, matching suits and their opposition to segregation. The group refused to perform at venues such as the Gator Bowl if audiences weren't multiracial. Tickets to that concert were $5.

"It was my first concert and I went by myself," Oliver continued in the clip. "The only catch in my breath that I got was when I went to my seat and there were all those other people around me and I still can feel that to this day that there were all these white people around...everybody standing up with everybody and then just yelling as loud as I could and singing along."

The documentary includes interviews with celebrities such as Elvis Costello and Sigourney Weaver. Whoopi Goldberg fondly shares how her mother surprised her with tickets to see the band at Shea Stadium in 1965.

Oliver will talk about her experience with the documentary before the 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. showings on Sept. 21 at Savor Cinema, formerly Cinema Paradiso, in Fort Lauderdale.

"Racial tensions were a formative part of my young life in Jacksonville, and I've since built my career around creating and encouraging public dialogues on race and change in America in a hopeful way," said Oliver in a statement. The director of the Race and Change Initiative at Florida Atlantic University also works with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, where she consults and blogs about the region's multicultural history.

"Greater Fort Lauderdale's many cultures make it a great place to continue this work," she added.

"The Beatles: Eight Days A Week -- The Touring Years" is playing at Savor Cinema, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale, and Coral Gables Arts Cinema, 60 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables through Sept. 22. It will also screen at 7 p.m. Sunday at Silverspot Cinema, 4441 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek. The film is also available on Hulu.com.

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