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#askNat – concerning The Beatles and The Lord Of The Rings

For this week’s #askNat I’m responding to a Facebook reader who prefers to remain anonymous. Here is what this mystery person has to say:

Hello Nat,

I’ve read somewhere that at some point The Beatles were considering doing a film with themselves acting out J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. Is this really true? That would be so crazy!

An interesting idea indeed! Thank you for writing in. In early 1968, while The Beatles were in India, Apple Films manager Dennis O’Dell came up with the idea of having The Beatles starring in the epic fantasy. It’s three volumes (The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of The King) had been published in the mid-fifties, but when they appeared in a single volume under the title The Lord Of The Rings, it gained a cult following status that was very popular, particularly among the hippy generation. Dennis reasoned that this would make it perfect for The Beatles. He set out to get the filming rights and find a good director. He approached David Lean (now Sir David Lean), who among other films had directed The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. He loved the idea but was unavailable at the time. Dennis asked Stanley Kubrick next (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey) who took to reading the books and considering it while Dennis went to Rishikesh to talk to The Beatles themselves about it.

John 'Patrick' Byrne 1968 fantasy-styled painting of The Beatles originally considered as a cover for their planned 1968 LP A Doll's House which ended up being The White Album instead

John ‘Patrick’ Byrne 1968 fantasy-styled painting of The Beatles originally considered as a cover for their planned 1968 LP A Doll’s House which ended up being The White Album instead

 

The Beatles, particularly John Lennon, became very interested with the idea but when John and Paul McCartney later met up with Kubrick at MGM Studios, he turned the project down on the basis that it was unfilmable.

Some sources also claim that The Beatles, considering it a great idea for their third film, interested Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni (Eclipse, Red Desert, Blowup) in the idea. John wanted to play the creature Gollum, with Paul playing the hobbit Frodo Baggins. Ringo Starr would play another hobbit and close friend with Frodo, Sam Gamgee. George Harrison would play the wizard Gandalf. Although they attempted to buy the film rights for Apple, Tolkien ended up selling them to United Artists instead. Peter Jackson, who directed the 2001-2003 production of both The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the 2012 production of The Hobbit, was told recently by Paul McCartney at the Academy Awards that Tolkien himself killed the idea because he didn’t like the idea of The Beatles doing it.

So the idea was eventually dropped and the focus for Apple Films moved to another fantasy film – the animated Yellow Submarine movie, which by this point had already had much of the script and other work in progress anyway. In hindsight, I’m not sure that The Lord Of The Rings would have been a good fit for The Beatles, however I can’t help but wonder what kind of music they would have come up with for the soundtrack. If you have something of your own to add, please say what’s on your mind in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

Extra info: J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy was very “in” in the late sixties and seventies and characters and places from these books have been referenced in much rock music from the period to include a mention of Gollum in the Led Zeppelin classic “Ramble On” from their second album, Led Zeppelin II. Another example would be Rush’s second album Fly By Night which includes a song about the elven village “Rivendell” from Tolkien’s world, as well as the Tolkien-influenced Rush song “The Necromancer” from their third album Caress Of Steel.


Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a contact form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks).

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB page at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.


Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase music and media related to this post:

1) J.R.R. Tolkien 4-Book Boxed Set: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (Movie Tie-in): The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King – 2012 slipcase paperback edition of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

2) Yellow Submarine [Blu-ray] – 2012 fully restored Blu-Ray (or DVD) version of original 1968 Beatles film Yellow Submarine.

3) Yellow Submarine Songtrack – 2012 remastered Yellow Submarine Songtrack containing the music from the film remastered by Peter Cobbin.

4) Beatles/Beatles-related Music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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8 Comments

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    Perhaps their Magical Mystery Tour put Tolkien off on them as actors doing his work? lol I wouldn’t blame him. Also, it would have most definitely had a comedic approach to the film since they always had their humor with them. It’s probably better they waited until now, but oh boy, could you imagine this film with them? I can’t either. lol Probably best they never did it. Would it have changed the direction of other projects if they had? Would they have quit sooner rather than later? I doubt it would have made them stick together.

  • Stew Hall says:

    Glad that they didn’t do it!

  • ODIrony says:

    Don’t forget the Ralph Bakshi animated film version of Lord of the Rings. Also, as to Rock song references, Led Zeppelin also references ringwraiths in “The Battle of Evermore” from their fourth LP.

  • Stevo says:

    I love this imagining of the soundtrack album cover from a few years ago:
    http://www.superpunch.net/2011/01/stanley-kubricks-lord-of-rings-starring.html

  • carol says:

    I’ve seen the John Byrne painting of The Beatles before but didn’t know it was considered for the ‘A Doll’s House’ LP cover. I’ve always wondered why The Beatles had considered the name ‘A Doll’s House.’ Do you know what inspired them to think of the name? And who’s idea was it – John’s, Paul’s?

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