1964 photo by Ringo Starr, from his 2013 book Photograph.(Photo: Ringo Starr)
The mystery is solved. All six teens in a photograph Ringo Starr snapped nearly 50 years ago have been identified as alumni of Fair Lawn High School in Fair Lawn, N.J.
A week ago, USA TODAY published the drummer's photo of a carload of Beatles fans with a public appeal for clues to their names and whereabouts. The flood of responses led to five surviving classmates (the sixth, Matt Blender, died in 2011).
Driver Gary Van Deursen and passengers Suzanne Rayot, Arlene Norbe, Charlie Schwartz and Bob Toth, all now in their mid-60s, were shocked and elated that the famous Beatle was on their trail.
Schwartz relates, "The phone went off and my friend Vinny from Fair Lawn said, 'Ringo Starr is looking for you!' I'm getting calls from all kinds of people."
Toth didn't realize he was being pursued until Fair Lawn's The Record picked up the story Friday. "It amazed me that it's come back around like this," he says.
Norbe got a flashback watching a newscast. "The photo took up the full 32-inch screen, and I thought, 'Wait a minute, I think that's me,' " she says. "My phone rings, and my sister's screaming, 'Did you see yourself?' "
Rayot was swamped online. "I got so many Facebook hits because everyone recognized us in the picture," she says.
And Van Deursen, initially reported as dead by some sources, learned about the search from a British reporter.
"I'm glad to say I'm alive," he says. "I wonder if Ringo remembered us because it was his first trip to America?"
When The Beatles landed at JFK Airport on Feb. 7, 1964, about 4,000 fans and 200 journalists were on hand, including the Fair Lawn teens, who had skipped school. Later, on the Van Wyck Expressway, they encountered the limo ferrying Starr, who shot the photo and saved it for 49 years. It has been published for the first time Starr's limited-edition leather-bound Photograph, released earlier this year as an e-book and out in print Nov. 22 (Genesis Publications).
"I thought it was a great photo," Starr says of the Fair Lawn shot. "I thought their smiles was great ...I want to thank them for being so cool and smiling at me from their car. It was one of those moments.
"Peace and love to all you kids in the car. You're not kids anymore, are you?"
The five surviving classmates will be reunited Monday on NBC's 'Today' show.