The Plaza Hotel was in for a jolt when four mopheads from Liverpool settled in a 12th floor suite for a short winter's stay in February 1964.

They dove into room service: J&B Scotch with Coca-Cola. They binged on "jam butties" (butter and jelly sandwiches), corn flakes and ice cream, and left bowls full of stubbed out "ciggies." The first morning, 37 sacks of mail arrived. And girls.Lots of girls.

Screaming, screeching, silly schoolchildren who would kill their grandmothers for a glimpse of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The lasses dressed as chambermaids and tried to sneak into the suite. They posed as record company representatives. Anything. They stormed the hotel's revolving doors only to be dumped unceremoniously on the street with legions of their shrieking sisters.

It was the first magical mystery tour for the Beatles. They landed at Kennedy Airport on Feb. 7 to make their legendary first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Feb. 9.

For 15 days, the country became inflamed with Beatlemania, and it would be years before the fever would die down.

They were cocky and sure at their news conferences. At one, John Lennon was asked how much money he expected to earn during the tour. His response: "About half a crown. Depends on the tax. How much have you got?" And to what did they owe their success? "Good press agent," John replied.

Ringo Starr was asked what he thought of Beethoven. His reply: "Great. 'Specially his poems."

It was a lark.

No one at that moment realized the rich gift and legacy to emerge from the four musicians. They went on to sell more than any group in pop history. Indeed, after their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the Beatles sold 2.5 million records in the United States in less than a month.

Lennon is dead now, shot outside his Manhattan apartment building on Dec. 8, 1980.

George Harrison lives with his second wife, Olivia, and 9-year-old son, Dhani, in a fortress-like Gothic mansion with spires and turrets at Henley-on-Thames in western England. He has lived out of the limelight for nearly 20 years, but re-emerged somewhat in 1987 to give his first full concert in 15 years in July at Wembley Arena and to record a hit single, "Got My Mind Set On You," which topped the U.S. music charts in January 1988.

He also has recorded with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty in a tongue-in-cheek group known as the Traveling Wilburys, and he is co-owner and an executive producer of the independent British film company, Handmade Films ("The Missionary," "Life of Brian").

Starr spent five weeks in an American alcoholism clinic last fall with his wife, actress Barbara Bach. They live in a secluded estate near Ascot in southern England. He became the first Beatle grandfather when his 20-year-old son, Zak Starkey, eldest of three children from his first wife, Maureen, became a father on Sept. 7, 1985.

Paul McCartney is working on an album, which includes some songs co-written by Elvis Costello, to be released later this year. He has too many commitments to consider the 25th anniversary, his spokesman Bernard Doherty said. "There have been a number of anniversaries in recent years. There will be lots of anniversaries coming up. He's still very busy making music."

McCartney said in a live radio phone-in on the BBC's Russian Service last month that the Beatles will never be revived because "to find a replacement for John is impossible."

McCartney has four children. His family lives on a fortified forest estate in Sussex in southeast England.

But in 1964, the Beatles had scarcely begun. Although wildly popular on the continent, the fabulous four and their records did not catch on in the United States until Jan. 17, when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" hit No. 1 on the Cashbox chart.

Within a year, they grossed $1.6 million in the first week's showing of their movie, "A Hard's Day Night," and Lennon's kooky book, "In His Own Write," climbed best seller lists overnight. In rapid succession, they made six hit albums, including 1967's anthem to the Summer of Love, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

"Sgt. Pepper" sold 2.5 million records in its first three months and stayed on the charts for a staggering 113 weeks. Capitol Records estimates the album's worldwide sales at 15 million since 1967.

This alternately melancholy, terrifying and exhilarating record captured as no other the complex textures of its time: a supercharged, corrosively contradictory summer when hippies grooved at the Monterey Pop Festival, black emotions exploded in riots in Detroit and Newark, and a war grew bloodier in Vietnam. Youthful listeners somehow heard all of this in "Sgt. Pepper," an album whose themes included Eastern culture, sweet and terrifying psychedelic fantasies, the widening gulf between young and old and, above all, loneliness.

"To me, the Beatles created an excitement about being in the business itself," says songwriter and performer Christopher Cross. " Paul McCartney has always been, and remains, my biggest influence of all time because of song structure. He and John taught me how to write songs."

The CBS press release heralding the Beatles' first appearance in the United States was, in retrospect, low-keyed. It identified them as "The Beatles of London" - a "wildly popular quartet of English recording stars." They were billed on the show with the comedy team of Mitzi McCall and Charlie Brill, impressionist Frank Gorshin, a tumbling act called the four Fays and 37 members of the cast from the Broadway musical "Oliver."

Sullivan, more animated than usual, handled the squealing audience as a father would a hyperactive child. He gently shushed them and made the girls promise to stay in their seats. He told the audience Elvis Presley had sent a wire wishing the Beatles "a tremendous success" in our country, introduced a commercial for Aero Shave and then swept his arm through the air as the curtain parted.

There was Paul, 21, wide-eyed and boyish, feverishly working the bass guitar and singing "All My Loving" at one microphone. George, 20, was on lead guitar. John, 23, on rhythm guitar, harmonized at another microphone. Ringo, 23, sat high above them on a platform, pounding out beats on the drums.

They were fresh and school boy neat in their Edwardian jackets, shirts and ties. Their hair, considered outrageously long at the time, fell in agreeable bangs across their foreheads and stopped somewhere mid-neck.

Three years later, the Beatles began to show signs of weariness and drifting apart. Exhausted from years of concert touring, McCartney and Lennon had each done some independent film work; Lennon met his future wife, Yoko Ono, in a London art gallery in 1967, around the time they recorded "Sgt. Pepper." Harrison went off to India to study sitar under Ravi Shankar. Two months after "Sgt. Pepper" was released, Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager and stabilizing influence, died. With him went much of the spirit that had held the group together.

In 1970, a year after the critically acclaimed "Abbey Road" was released, McCartney came out with a solo LP and a self-interview critical of the other Beatles. The LP and movie, "Let It Be," came out and by the end of the year, the group dissolved.