The onetime general manager of KOB radio spent three weeks with the Beatles, covering their first American tour, in 1964. This month marks the 50th anniversary of “Abbey Road.”
Schreiber’s blue press pass sits behind glass in his La Vida Llena apartment, scrawled with four of the most-wanted signatures in rock ‘n’ roll.
It all started 55 years ago at radio station KYW in Cleveland. Incredibly, he was one of only two American reporters to accompany the group as they toured across the country. He was 36.
In 1964, Schreiber was the news director at the Westinghouse-owned station. One day he returned from lunch to see his beleaguered colleagues drooping around as if they were attending a wake.
“Someone said, ‘WHK got the Beatles.’ That was our biggest competitor. I don’t know what possessed me, but I said, ‘Why don’t you put me on the tour?’ ”
A newsman to the marrow, Schreiber sensed more than a musical fluke in the Beatles’ explosive impact. The hysterical teenagers who mobbed them everywhere revealed a sociological underpinning wrapped around the backbeat.
“I don’t know a thing about music,” Schreiber said. “If my son was here, he’d say I’m the last person on earth who should have covered the Beatles.”
First, he had to promise not to ask for autographs.
A born storyteller, Schreiber taps his way around his apartment with the help of the white cane signaling his blindness. Torn retinas left him largely sightless when he was vacationing in Santa Fe in 1982, despite 16 surgeries. Now 91, he’s learned to live relatively independently, has a girlfriend and still exercises. He credits his recovery to the National Federation of the Blind and the kindness of station owner Stan Hubbard, who kept him on the payroll.
Framed Beatles photographs and memorabilia decorate his walls. A ticket stub for their 1964 appearance at New York’s Paramount Theatre lists a price of $2.50. Autographs and personal messages top a black-and-white photo of the four musicians.
Schreiber grew closest to John Lennon, who always sat in an aisle seat on the chartered plane. The pair played Monopoly to pass the time, while the others usually played poker. Sometimes Schreiber would doze off and Lennon would nudge him to signal it was his turn.
Lennon couldn’t understand America’s racial problems.
“He found out I had traveled with Kennedy and had interviewed Martin Luther King,” Schreiber said. “He couldn’t understand why blacks were so discriminated against. I had covered the Selma-to-Montgomery march. He kept wanting to know about the march and what was Martin Luther King like.
“He’d say, ‘Art, don’t fall asleep; let’s talk.’ ”
The Beatles could sleep the next day; Schreiber had to work.
“He was so bright,” Schreiber said of Lennon. “He talked about race relations, and he talked about what was happening in Great Britain’s politics. He’d say, ‘I noticed a lot of people out there standing on the highway.’ I said, ‘They’re trying to get a glimpse of you. He said, ‘But it’s nighttime.’ ”
Lennon regularly lost the games. All he really wanted was to buy the pricey Park Place and Boardwalk.
“George (Harrison) was quiet,” Schreiber said. “We would play a whole Monopoly game all night and George wouldn’t say 30 words. He was the banker, and John would accuse him of stealing.”
Sometimes Paul McCartney would stop by and talk songwriting with Lennon. Discarded sheet music littered the airplane floor.
“Paul would come up to John’s ear and say, ‘I don’t like this. Do you?’ and they would change it or throw it on the floor. And I didn’t pick one up. Think what those would be worth today.”
McCartney once raised Schreiber’s ire in Dallas. The cocktail waitresses were dressed like Playboy bunnies, which, of course, called for a photo op. One, in particular, caught McCartney’s eye.
“He said, ‘Get me her,’ ” Schreiber said. “I said, ‘I’m not your goddamned pimp; get her yourself.”
A chagrined McCartney later scribbled “Sorry” on a group-autographed picture. Schreiber said the Beatle saved his career by recording a message to his boss’s daughter, who was convinced the Beatle had waved at her during a Baltimore concert.
Ringo Starr sent Schreiber’s daughter a troll doll. When word got around, thanks to a gossip columnist, Schreiber faced 60 young girls clamoring at his door every night for weeks.
Years later, Schreiber called Lennon in New York with the hopes of penning a book or a magazine article about the band’s 20th anniversary.
“He said, ‘Great.’ We made a date, and it was two weeks after he was killed. What a tragedy, because he was so brilliant.”
Schreiber is the author of the 2014 book “Out of Sight: Blind and Doing All Right.”