by Dr. Bob Hieronimus
(author of Inside The Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic, Krause Publications, 2002)
Order Up Periscope Yellow here, or call 1-800-554-0626
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I like Al Brodax as a person, and I’m glad he has published his memoirs of his days as the producer on the Yellow Submarine. If my critiques of his book are perceived as overly zealous, that is probably because I’m a highly detail-oriented person and have made a chapter by chapter analysis. I am especially sensitive and irritated when I see any bit of misinformation published about Yellow Submarine. It may be self-serving to tell readers that I believe they will find a better factual record of the Yellow Submarine’s history in my own book, but I will still say it, because, to me, it is in the best interests of the other co-creators and the history of the Yellow Submarine that all readers be aware there are at least two versions out there.
They are: 1) Up Periscope Yellow by Al Brodax, which you can order by calling
and 2) Inside the Beatles Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic by Bob Hieronimus which you can order by calling 1-800-258-0929.
I asked Al Brodax for an interview about his book, but he declined. He did call me to say I should keep quiet about where I believe he went wrong in his book, however, and he did make a very good point. I do acknowledge that I’m basing my version of the Yellow Submarine history on the sometimes-fading memories of others. That is one of the reasons it cost me so much money and so many years to collect my interviews. I tried to get perspectives from as many sources as possible on as many of the tales as possible in order to corroborate them. Many of the discrepancies in the telling are explained by the Rashômon effect, everyone remembering their personal perceptions of the reality which can often be contradictory to one another. Probably no one else on the crew would take an analysis of this book to as great an extreme as I have, as they have all modestly moved on to other more important things in their lives. I, on the other hand, am driven to see any portrayal of the making of this film be as accurate as possible.
Here’s the problem: Nobody on the inside kept a diary, and everybody on the outside preferred to think there was no one on the inside but The Beatles. So now, 36 years later, just about the only proof we have for who made “The Beatles Yellow Submarine” is the collective word of those listed on the credits. There are bound to be discrepancies since this project was made in a huge rush. With everyone working overtime the fast pace is bound to have mixed and blurred some memories on many occasions. There is no bibliography in Up Periscope Yellow, no reference section, no documents that account for what he is saying is true. There are no records of any interviews, and indeed there is no way to confirm the stories he tells.
I freely shared tapes and transcripts of many of my interviews with Al Brodax, at his request. Also at his request, I removed from my book most of the emotional and personal characterizations many of the co-creators had made about working with Al Brodax. I did not take them all out, however, as that would have been untruthful to the historical rendering. Many of the other people who worked on Yellow Submarine felt very strongly about the way Al Brodax did business or the colorful anecdotes about themselves which they say are baseless in fact. As I have learned, this controversy is actually a key part of the puzzle in understanding the genesis of this film. Because I allowed these co-creators to speak their minds to some degree on this controversial subject, Al Brodax tried to prevent the publication of my book.
I’m not interested in riding the publicity wave or taking advantage of Al Brodax, but I won’t sit by quietly when I see demeaning inaccuracies about the co-creators of Yellow Submarine in print. I hope you can understand, and if you are interested in a careful analysis of discrepancies in Al Brodax’s book, then please read on. If you prefer to say, “all you need is love,” while averting your eyes from the unkind and unfair things he says about the other co-creators on this film, then stop here.
Up Periscope Yellow is certainly not without many merits. There are many occasions on which the recollections of all the co-creators DO agree with the version told by Al Brodax. The book is well-written and enjoyable, and this alone makes it worth the purchase. It is important to realize, however, that significant alterations have been made to the historical chronicle of events, and some of what he says has been made up.
I may be the only one who wonders about such things, but I noticed that this book it is told entirely in present tense, rather than in the past tense. I wonder if the use of the present tense is some kind of writer’s device that implies it is more a dreamy reverie of the author’s of how he would like to remember things, rather than declarative statements of this is what actually happened? To me, the direct quotation marks he has put around everyone’s words make it look like he walked around everywhere with a tape recorder on at all times, and yet I know many of these conversations could not have taken place as quoted.
Another literary trick he employs is the use of passive voice to better insinuate his participation on certain key decisions that greatly affected the “look” of Yellow Submarine. On page 81 he uses passive voice to state that “it was agreed to” seek an art form unlike Disney and also to avoid artistic reference to the Beatles TV cartoon series. This is true, but according to most of the other co-creators in charge of planning the look of the film, this was not “agreed to” by everyone right away. At the outset of the production, they remembered Al Brodax arguing they should follow the same cheap and easy style they had used to such great success with the TV series. This made sense since the TV series had been enormously successful in terms of creating a lot of footage quickly, with a minimal budget, and received great ratings. But, as it happened, the flower-power of Swinging London in the summer of love, 1967, took hold of the production, and the rest of the crew of artists insisted on a much more time-consuming and expensive, quality approach to the feature film. Even though they didn’t have the time or budget to do it, somehow, they miraculously got it done, surprising everyone with how good it turned out. According to all the co-creators I talked to, however, this was not what Al Brodax originally intended to produce, and some of them had to put their collective foot down (mainly director George Dunning) in order to follow more experimental and new animation arthouse techniques. This is a case of “give credit where credit is due”. On page 108 of Up Periscope Yellow, Brodax would have you believe he was thinking from the outset that: “The approach to the TV series was a simple, production-line exercise; this feature will be defined by the creative contributions of various top-of-the-line disciplines. Complex, exciting, most challenging.”
As I say, a subtle alteration on the truth, and some readers might say I am making mountains out of molehills to point them out to you. If you read on, however, you may see the pattern becoming evident that Brodax’s version of the making of this film is quite different from that told by the others who worked on it.
He explains away the essential mantra of the other co-creators that there was “no script” by comparing his approach to that of director Robert Altman. He claims he deliberately kept everyone in the dark about the script, and fed it to them in bits and pieces as a matter of control. On page 123, “Abe dubs me the Bob Altman of animation,” and then on page 130 “like the esteemed Bob Altman’s approach to movie-making in which each actor is given his or her sides, individual pieces of dialogue, never the entire script.... Control becomes absolute; isolated pieces allow no one to argue story alternatives.” (Curiously, Altman and his unusual approach to script and dialogue did not rise to prominence until 1970, two years after Submarine was completed.) According to all the other co-creators, however, Brodax did not exercise this tight “control” over the dialogue script by choice or design, but rather as a result of taking much too long to come up with a script everyone would agree upon. The result was most unusual for animation: a film made by artists. As British animator Bob Godfrey said “That is [the Yellow Submarine’s] strength -- and it is also its weakness.” In my book, Jack Stokes, animation director, remembered (on page 119): “We kept getting bits of script, and we were doing what we wanted to do with it and chucking out what we didn’t want. We had enough script written for about five hours. We were writing things that we needed, and really, we made it up, almost, as we went along. Once we got all these crazy designs from Heinz [Edelmann]-- that’s really what did it. We just followed on from those. We knew what we were trying to do, the general overall idea of the rescue of Pepperland from the Blue Meanies by The Beatles. We’d have to get to Pepperland to do it through the sea. That’s when we had the idea of the sea: the Sea of Holes, Sea of Time, and all that stuff. And all the time we were trying to use The Beatles’ songs, you see. Basically The Beatles’ songs were, in a way, describing what we wanted to do.... Fifteen songs with no connection to each other or the story -- how do you fit them in with any continuity and consistency? That we did it at all was a minor miracle or a hell of a lot of luck.” The other animation director, Bob Balser, put it more succinctly. Reacting to Al Brodax’s claims about controlling the script, and the allegations that only Brodax and Balser and two others knew where the production was going, and that this was done to create competition and therefore better work, Balser exlaimed: “That is a crock of shit, if you excuse my language.” (page 119, Inside The Yellow Submarine)
Another deft retelling of events happens on page 109 of Brodax’s book where he claims it was his idea to begin animating to Beatles songs even though there was no script yet. This idea more rightly belongs to the animation directors Jack Stokes and Bob Balser who were desparate to keep their animators busy while they waited for any script to be recorded. They had all been trained that one simply cannot animate without the voice track being recorded first. As Balser says on page 118 of my book, “There was no script, nothing. Because we knew we had to have a song and to keep everybody busy, I started out with ‘Nowhere Man’ ”. They assigned units and began animating the musical interludes, deciding to figure out later how to fit the songs into the script. According to Brodax’s version, this is a daring, inventive idea of his own. He says he wanted to defy the laws of animation film-making, and in his version, he had to insist that the directors and other producers begin working on the songs without any idea what the characters or plot of the movie would be. Was it his conviction and vision that pushed them into doing the impossible? I have no way of knowing for sure, other than the words of the other co-creators.
But one thing I do know for sure is not true, and it is the most disturbing to me, and that is Brodax’s unfair and untrue characterization of John Coates, producer and co-founder of TV Cartoons, the London production house that Brodax hired to make the film. Yes, he’s entitled to his opinion, but judging from Coates’ financial and artistic success following the Yellow Submarine, and judging by my own impressions from meeting John Coates, and judging by his widespread good reputation in the industry, Brodax’s low opinions of John Coates are distinctly his own. Brodax describes Coates as: “his nemesis, aka Mr. Pickwick, keeper of TVC’s books and aspiring producer.” In another classic case of distancing, he quotes these descriptives as coming from the late Abe Goodman, his assistant and man in London. Despite the fact that Coates and all the other co-creators had positive things to say about their working relationships with Abe Goodman during their interviews with me, Brodax has assigned him the role of “the heavy” in his book, claiming some of the nastier jabs at Coates are quotes from Abe Goodman. On pages 40 and 41, “they” say Coates is a “nimble player with the truth”, on page 70 that Coates purchased large items for personal use on the budget, and on page 250-252 that Coates “fiddled” with the budget to give themselves bonuses and unexplained expenditures. If Brodax (or Goodman) really mistrusted Coates and TVC so much after the Beatles TV cartoon series, then why did they choose to work with this studio a second time to make the Yellow Submarine?
On page 178 of Up Periscope Yellow, he again used his assistant Abe Goodman as the source of a quote comparing designer Heinz Edelmann to a Nazi. “Heinz doesn’t take orders or even suggestions too well. No matter what I tell him, suggest to him, he just shakes his head and does whatever the hell he wants. I think there’s a touch of the Nazi in him, think about it, ‘Heinz’, and he never looks me straight in the eye.” According to Brodax’s version of this history, he then defended Edelmann to Goodman by saying, “That’s because he’s wall-eyed and that eye can’t even see the wall too well. I get the same treatment when I even look like I’m about to bring up the Seal question. [a character Brodax wanted in the film that Edelmann refused to design.] That Nazi business is out and out meshugga, Abe, off-the-wall. There’s more Edelmann in him than Heinz.”
One of the things I like best about his book is when I see the apparent influence that my book had on shaping some of his stories. Some of his favorite old chestnuts from the 1980s and 90s’ lecture and interview circuit are either gone or much revised. Is that because some of his fellow crew members called these anecdotes into question in my book? As designer Heinz Edelmann said, “Mr. Brodax is an extremely creative inventor of anecdotes.”
Other critics have deflated other claims, particularly those who are well versed in Beatles-history. In his Beatlefan Magazine review of this book, Brad Hundt said that Al Brodax should have consulted some of the many Beatles reference books in order to avoid making blatant errors or fabrications that are easily dismissed with a fact check. For example, in my book, Inside The Yellow Submarine, Brodax described how George Harrison had helped him out of a deadline bind by providing the fourth new song for the film in a matter of hours. Here’s how he told it to me on page 41: “United Artists was giving me a bad time by phone: ‘Where’s the fourth tape?’ And it was very late at night, and we needed a fourth song.... And George Harrison said, ‘I’ll do a bit here. I’ll make a contribution.’ And he did “Only a Northern Song,” but we didn’t have a title. We looked up at the sheet, and the name of the company is Northern Song, so it’s “Only a Northern Song,” and sent a courier to the airport, and we got it to United Artists in New York on time. But he wrote that in no time flat.”
I showed how Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles Recording Sessions documented “Only A Northern Song” as completed and rejected for “Sgt. Pepper” in February 1967 at least three months before the Yellow Submarine film was even a proposal on the drawing table. Brodax could not have encouraged Harrison to write the song in the manner he described at the time he described. So in Up Periscope Yellow you’ll find he modified his story. On page 149 he says George Martin offered him “Only a Northern Song” calling it “a quickie George (Harrison) put together but I don't believe it’s of a piece as yet.” On page 206 he quotes Martin as saying: “and one other song they don’t even have a title for, just some weird scratchy sounds they think passes for music.” And on pages 246-247 he quotes Martin as saying: “I can’t even find a name for it... George looked no further than the legend on top of the sheet music -- copyright: Northern Songs.” Gone are the references to Harrison volunteering his help to get them out of a last minute jam and Brodax’s participation in the naming of the song.
On page 108 of Up Periscope Yellow, Brodax quotes George Harrison in the summer or fall of 1967 as saying “next time the pints are on Apple”. But this company wasn’t formed until February of 1968.
Another subtle revision was in his yarn about who was the real-life inspiration for the “Old Fred” character in the film, the crusty old salt who pilots the Yellow Submarine. When interviewed for my book, Inside The Yellow Submarine (pages 234-235), Brodax said: “Old Fred was a waiter at Wheelers, which was a restaurant around the corner. He didn’t know what the hell we were talking about, but we used to eat there a good deal. It was a marvelous fish restaurant on old Compton Street. We had our own floor there, and Old Fred was our waiter. He thought we were all crazy. He didn’t like us very much; we were rowdy. He had these rosy cheeks and he was very gaunt and tall, a weird looking guy. I said, You want to be in the movies? He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, have another drink.’ ”
Some reactions to reading this anecdote from the artists and producers who made the film were: “That sounds like a reasonable load of bullshit, actually. I think as a team we weren't particularly friendly with King Features or Al Brodax.” (Animator Tony Cuthbert) And “No, that’s not true. [Old Fred] is Jack Stokes! Well, it comes to mind that when I think of Old Fred, it was the most synonymous of all. Because he was a kind of ornery bloke, driving this banana, this Hippie Banana called the Yellow Submarine.” (Charlie Jenkins, Special Effects)
Brodax’s Old Fred story has been slightly modified in his own book. This time (on page 140) the bearded waiter at Wheelers who brought Old Fred to mind, “also strikingly resembles Jack Stokes”. The restaurant, which he’d described in my book as a favorite hangout for the crew where they “had our own floor” and often got rowdy, is mentioned just in passing as a “local London fish restaurant” and nothing more.
Reading my book also seems to have jogged his memory on the value of the first script by Lee Minoff. Prior to the publication of my book, Brodax had claimed in interview after interview that the first script was thrown in the trash when the Beatles rejected it, and the crew had to start all over from scratch, further delaying the animators. The Lee Minoff script was so bad, Brodax said, that he regretted the money they were forced to pay him from the meager budget and the contractual obligation that gave him an onscreen credit. In my book he told an amusing tale about the persistence of Minoff’s agent (page 188): “She literally met me at the airport, kind of a rotund, crazy woman, and she said, ‘Here’s the contract, and I put you on notice that this deal is going out the window unless Lee gets credit -- even if you don’t use a word of it.’ And we didn’t use a word, and he got credit.” There were even several acrimonious Letters to the Editor of the New York Times between Minoff and Brodax after the film was released about who deserved the writing credits.
When I interviewed Brodax for my book, here’s how he remembered finding Minoff (page 188): “I knew Charles Minoff, who was a writer on True Magazine. I said, ‘Do you have a younger brother who’s a writer?’ He said, ‘He’s trying to write. He’s a psychologist.’ He was just the right age. He was fifteen years younger than me. And I said, ‘What does he look like?’ He said, ‘Like one of those damn Beatles. He never cuts his hair.’ So we met, we talked. He was a good-looking, personable young man who had long hair.” Well, I guess Brodax later went back to check his notes, because in his own book the details in this story have changed. (page 73): “To Mary [Stewart, his producer] I assign the inevitable, find me a co-writer.... lots of ink, lots of publicity, a dream assignment, think a twenty-to-thirty-year-old. In short order, Mary delivers a name... She enjoys a column written by Phil Minoff of Cue Magazine. She finds him a delightful man with a lively sense of humor... A relative, a brother or cousin, Mary isn’t certain, but he is young, a Beatle fan, even dresses Liverpudlian.... This relative is a psychologist by trade, had written a play and is at the moment licking his wounds following an unhappy Broadway experience.”
Again I will say that discrepancies like these would not be worth noting if this were an isolated incident, or even one of a few, instead of par for the course.
Lee Minoff, the one who provided the very first story idea and script treatment, is indeed a trained psychologist. In Inside The Yellow Submarine Minoff had some of the keenest and sharpest criticisms about Brodax regarding the treatment he had received for his contributions to the film. Keep this in mind when you read the descriptions of Minoff as written by Brodax in Up Periscope Yellow (pages 74-77). Brodax calls Minoff: “bright, articulate and terribly in love with himself... Before a second coffee, the health and well-being of Minoff’s own ego is apparent.... His wit grounded in general discontent; he is still bristling articulately about [his Broadway flop]. Taking into account the wariness I feel about the final disposition of his script, I wonder about my place in the someday chronicle of the life and times of Lee Minoff, writer/psychologist.”
At Minoff’s suggestions I sought out and made a careful study of as many original scripts for Yellow Submarine as I could find: ones he wrote, ones contributed by Jack Mendelsohn, the final one given to the animation directors, and of course, the final version that we know from the videos/DVDs. After the line by line comparison of these scripts demonstrated in my book, Brodax can no longer claim that Minoff’s contributions were zilch. Fortunately, Al Brodax read my book. His Lee Minoff story has been revised, much to the benefit of Lee Minoff. On page 97 of Up Periscope Yellow, Brodax says Minoff’s script “does contain characters, a suggestion of the use of mixed imagery -- i.e., black and white photography in foreground and background -- and other assets that are innovative and deserve to be retained.” (which was proved for the first time on pages 193-194 of Inside The Yellow Submarine.)
Another writer who fares poorly in Brodax’s book is the legendary, accomplished cartoon and sitcom writer Jack Mendelsohn. Brodax didn’t have much to say about Mendelsohn in Inside The Yellow Submarine, but Mendelsohn sure had a lot to say about Brodax! Perhaps that is why in Up Periscope Yellow Brodax decided to repeat over and over again how inconsequential and egotistical Mendelsohn was. All he said about him in my book was rather positive (page 203): “We’d send drafts over [to Mendelsohn] and he’d rearrange things now and then. To the best of my recollection, he created the Apple Bonker idea. I’m not sure whether he called them skull crushing apple bonkers.” Then, despite both Mendelsohn and Brodax recalling how Mendelsohn would write a scene at a time, then ride his motorcycle to L.A. where he would wire it to London, Brodax tells us on page 204 of Up Periscope Yellow that his producer, Mary, handed him Mendelsohn’s entire script which she’d brought to London with her on the plane, and which he was now, apparently, seeing for the first time. And in this version, he doesn’t like what he sees at all. A few pages later he concluded that Mendelsohn’s “wit isn’t nimble enough for the audience we hope to find, the audience beyond Saturday morning family teens, the cool, the in crowd of the sixties. Jack is Hanna Barbera funny, even sitcom funny, but I fall asleep with the knowledge that our safety net is gone, but happily no longer needed.”
He does not explain why he suddenly believes this safety net is no longer needed. Is it possible that by this time he had realized that his artists had finally taken matters into their own hands? Tired of waiting for him to deliver a script, they had driven off in the Yellow Submarine (“this hippie banana”) by designing, drawing, storyboarding and animating WITHOUT a script, something completely unheard of in structured animated film production.
The biggest flip-flop between Brodax’s statements in my book and his retellings in his own book is his recounting of the so-called “kidnapping” of the film. In my book Brodax adamantly denied this event ever happened. In 1998 I asked Brodax to respond to a story I had heard from several co-creators all recounting more or less the same events about hiding a portion of the negatives and artwork until a payment dispute was settled. At that time Brodax’s response was: “I think they’re making up fiction just to make [your book] read better. But that’s baloney.... They get together. It’s like Clinton telling the kids that this is our story, and that’s what they did.”
I decided to include the story of the kidnapping of the film in my book, since it was corroborated by all the other principle core creators as having happened. I also printed Al Brodax’s denial side by side with the contradicting quotes on this event. Now, in his own book, Brodax not only “remembers” the kidnapping event in full detail, but even claims to have had a spy lurking in the bushes, who then rushed back to tell him all about it. In his new version of the story, he was on top of the situation from the beginning and in smooth control of what had been portrayed earlier as a rather embarrassing incident for him. The spy is identified as the company’s mentally handicapped messenger boy, who has since unfortunately passed away. It has also been pointed out that the only foliage available near the Knightway House studio is several hundred feet away from the doorway, and not much could have been observed from there.
In his defense, Brodax told me recently that the reason for the apparent flip flop on his story of the kidnapping of the film is because he had deliberately fed me misinformation in our earlier interviews on this one particular instance, because he didn’t want my book to be competition for his.
Another significant historical alteration in Brodax’s book is how he describes the creation of the initial test footage prepared to demonstrate the entirely new art direction the filmmakers wanted to take with the avant garde designer, Heinz Edelmann. On page 109 of Up Periscope Yellow when Brodax claims he was pressuring the artists to begin animating without any words, he says he argued back and forth with director George Dunning and then instructed them to: “Animate George [Harrison]. Put Charlie [Jenkins, Special Effects] and Heinz together. Make use of [Lee] Minoff’s mixed media-notion. Have one of the sound editors pull a [non-vocal] sitar section out of a Harrison piece.” This is at odds with the memories of Charlie Jenkins, Heinz Edelmann and Denis Rich, who actually created this test footage piece, as well as Brodax’s own account of this scenario in my book. In his earlier interviews Brodax always insisted that the first script by Lee Minoff was entirely useless and contributed absolutely “nothing” to the final film. But while he is more generous to Minoff in his own book than he has been in the past, in this particular scenario about the test footage Brodax appears to be taking far more credit for himself than he deserves.
In Brodax’s own interview with me on page 177 of Inside The Yellow Submarine he told a different version of how that first test footage was inspired: “Charlie [Jenkins] was a genius, another one of our heroes. After our first preliminary meetings, I left London and they said they would do some work. Heinz [Edelmann] had already been selected as the artist. I asked him to do one scene, any scene he chose to do. I’d come back and based upon that, we would have a green light from United Artists and we’d go ahead. They did a scene and among others was the basic one with George [Harrison] on the hill. There’s a cow in the background, and it’s a mix of live action and animation. This was done by Charlie, on his Magical Mystery Bench.... He did that scene and everybody held their breath for air. I came over, and of course, I had to be the front man in terms of going back to United Artists and selling it. But I loved it. It had nothing to do with anything Disney ever did. There was a cocktail party early in the morning in some hotel. He showed me his stuff, and Dunning held his breath, as did Stokes and everybody involved. And I said, ‘I love it.’ ”
Charlie Jenkins recalled it this way, on the same page of Inside The Yellow Submarine: “I directed and produced the first two minute test film with Edelmann and Denis Rich. We made a very short film. It wasn't too well animated. It was just to give a presence of Edelmann with music on film.”
Somewhere between the publication of my book and his book, Brodax has become the one responsible for not only insisting the artists begin to animate to music because of the script delay, but also for birthing the brilliant Charlie Jenkins’ use of Minoff’s mixed media-notion to animate George Harrison to sitar music.
Another small twist on the truth, but then again, his more egregious claims were thankfully laid to rest in Inside The Yellow Submarine, and therefore are not repeated in Up Periscope Yellow. My favorite example is his story of the origin of the Flying Glove, one of the main villains in Yellow Submarine. In a 1988 interview for Beatlefan Magazine, Brodax enjoyed telling the “story” of how the Flying Glove was inspired by a real-life lost glove of animation director Jack Stokes. On page 237 of Inside The Yellow Submarine it went this way: “The flying glove was totally a creation of Jack Stokes, who liked to drink a bit. And somehow one night he lost a glove and went home with one glove. And the glove showed up the next day. Somebody from The Dog and Duck, which was our favorite pub, knew it must have been his. It was a blue glove that his wife had knitted for him, and part of a finger was missing.” When Jack Stokes read this account of his glove’s inspiration for one of the characters in the film, he laughed and said: “I’ve never worn gloves in my life, for a start. I don’t know what he’s making up. It’s complete baloney. Nothing to do with anything. Complete “codswallop”. The glove basically came from Heinz. Definitely not. For one thing, [my wife] wasn’t that type. It’s a funny story, but it’s complete baloney.”
The truth is that art director Heinz Edelmann invented most of the farcical villains himself on a depressed, rainy weekend afternoon, having resolved to make one last attempt at creating something interesting enough to stay with the production. In fact, Edelmann had even used designs of flying gloves in his earlier professional artwork long before Yellow Submarine. Oddly enough, in Brodax’s book, the “inspired cadre of monsters” is credited to Lee Minoff, whose script he had formerly described as completely useless. He even goes so far as to list the monsters on page 113 of Up Periscope Yellow as if each of these had been fully developed in Minoff’s first script: “The Apple Bonker, The Count Down Clown-my favorite, The Dreadful Flying Glove,” continuing that, “Heinz should have a field day designing them.” As we learned, Heinz did have a field day designing them, all right, but that’s because he also invented them.
Here are a few smaller observations of how Up Periscope Yellow benefitted by the earlier publication of Inside The Yellow Submarine: •My publisher had the clever idea to draw an adorable outline of the Yellow Submarine around the page numbers on every page. Lo and behold, Brodax’s book uses the same device, though only on the first pages of every chapter. •Although his book is mysteriously devoid of any illustrations by the film’s art director, Heinz Edelmann, he does include the very same Milton Glaser illustration (of Bob Dylan) that I used in my book to demonstrate the similarity in their styles. •In many instances you will find quotes or stories from my book, as told to me by the co-creators of the film, repeated sometimes verbatim in Brodax’s book as if they were said or happened to Brodax instead. There is no way for anyone to prove they were not said to Brodax, of course, but the similarities and the coincidences of all these things happening twice is too striking for me to believe. For example, in my book, Heinz Edelmann paraphrased Picasso when he told me that once an artist becomes a connoisseur of his own work, he is no longer an artist. In Up Periscope Yellow, Brodax claims to remember Edelmann saying the very same thing to him at their first meeting.
This coincidence of double realities is strongest in Brodax’s stories about his private meetings with the individual Beatles. The Beatles stories in Up Periscope Yellow are indeed very entertaining, but is it just a very large coincidence that these meetings with the Beatles are practically identical to what Heinz Edelmann and Jack Stokes related about their own encounters with John Lennon in Inside The Yellow Submarine? I suppose these carbon-copy lunches with Lennon could really have happened on two separate occasions, but there is no way to ask John Lennon to verify it.
We quoted one of Lennon’s last memories on page 51 in Inside The Yellow Submarine where he told David Sheff for Playboy in 1980: “The Yellow Submarine people, who were gross animals, apart from the guy who drew the painting - the actual Yellow Submarine [Heinz Edelmann] - came and, apart from sort of lifting all the ideas for the movie from out of our heads and not giving us any credit... we had nothing to do with that movie and we sort of resented them and we didn’t know what it was. But I like the movie. I like Heinz’s artwork.”
Does this sound like the same John Lennon that Brodax recalls as a buddy sharing a joint with him on pages 190-191? Brodax had Lennon exlaiming: “A true pleasure to share a table with you,” and comparing his Yellow Submarine film to Aldous Huxley’s novels and essays.
According to Up Periscope Yellow, Brodax also inspired a brotherly closeness with George Harrison, also impossible to verify with Harrison. On pages 103-105, Brodax quotes Harrison as saying they were “cut from the same cloth, out of the same part of the forest that is this universe... Brothers.” With such strength of emotion, it’s a wonder Harrison never mentioned his camaraderie with Brodax in any of his interviews about Yellow Submarine. Instead, like Lennon, his praise was reserved for Edelmann’s designs, and it is pretty widely known from repeated quotes from the Beatles over the years that they absolutely abhorred the Brodax production of The Beatles cartoon series for ABC TV. It was their feeling of mistrust for his intentions and not wanting to be portrayed the same way in a feature film that was behind their non-involvement in the Yellow Submarine film in the first place. They all kept their distance, visited the set only a handful of times and would not have known enough about the Yellow Submarine at that time to compare it to anyone’s novels and essays.
Sir George Martin made this very clear in both my book and his own book, All You Need Is Ears, which we quoted on page 226 of Inside The Yellow Submarine: “The Beatles were against the idea from the beginning. At that time they were suspicious of anything that wasn’t their own idea.... The Beatles clearly thought it was going to be yet another rip-off, and wanted nothing to do with it.”
Brodax’s track record of accuracy is flawed at best. Even in his own book on page 165, he says: “I spout a flow of well-honed semi-truths culled from my reservoir of defensive maneuvers, all basically preemptive.” On page 58, he admits to a bold-face lie to Joseph Heller when attempting to manipulate him into writing the script of Yellow Submarine. “I told him what he was desperate to hear.... He’ll never know.”
Until Up Periscope Yellow, Brodax’s oft-repeated version of the origin of Yellow Submarine was that he had reserved the right to do a feature film with Brian Epstein if his TV project was a success, and then when it became a huge hit, badgered Epstein until he agreed to live up to that agreement. On page 28 of Inside The Yellow Submarine he said, “The cartoon series was highly successful, and during that whole period, it was my ambition to do a full-length feature... Brian Epstein, who was a very difficult person, but he did make the promise that if the cartoons were successful, I’d have a short feature. Grabbing at this straw, I understood that The Beatles wanted more than anything else to go to India to get their lives straightened out with this guru.... I suggested that they could go to India, with my blessings and have a feature produced while they were in residence in India.”
In Up Periscope Yellow there is no mention of the promise for a feature if the TV show was a success. In fact, in this version, Epstein’s people come to him, hoping he can suggest a writer for their next film, at which point he had the idea to suggest himself and an animated feature to help them out of their bind (pages 45-49).
CORRECTION: On page 242-3 Brodax remembered the sad day that his producer, Mary Ellen Stewart, was “buried in the cold, hard earth of January 1967” and that her obituary was printed in Variety. Since the film did not begin production until the summer of 1967, that date jumped out at me as incorrect, and I set about verifying if the publishing company had made a typographical error or not. According to Jenna Young at Limelight Editions, she “wanted the answer to be” that this must be a typographical error. When she had called Brodax on this, she explained, his answer had been simply “those were the facts that he had.” But that didn’t exactly answer our question, so we kept looking. I don’t want this misconstrued as any slight against a woman who sounds like she was a very hard worker and a valuable assistant to Brodax in all his productions at King Features, but it was important to verify, since the microfilm for Variety from November 1966 through February 1969 did not turn up her obituary. We have since verified by other investigative means, that Stewart did indeed pass away in January of 1968, not 1967, as it says incorrectly in Brodax’s book. I readily admit, therefore, that this makes invalid the conclusion I would have drawn otherwise regarding the level of Mary Ellen Stewart’s participation on the Yellow Submarine.
However, I do stand by my conclusion that Brodax’s unflattering descriptions of most of the other co-creators on the film are unwarranted and inaccurate. As agreed upon by everyone, there was an enormous personality clash between Brodax and the director of the film, George Dunning, which resulted in a great deal of tension on the set, a scenario that Brodax also acknowledges in his own book. By the time of the renovation and re-release of Yellow Submarine in 1999, most of the other co-creators had not spoken to Al Brodax since 1968. During the festivities in Liverpool in 1999, it did appear that everyone had buried the hatchet. Unfortunately, this is not the impression you get from reading Up Periscope Yellow.
That is why it is fortunate there is already the other side of the story on the record. Unfortunately, however, almost everyone who had anything critical to say about Brodax in MY book, is portrayed as sinister and untrustworthy in Up Periscope Yellow. He handles these comments much like a successful politician, I’d say, following up almost ever critical judgement with a strong compliment. And to his justice, he does dole out many deserved compliments to almost all the people he criticizes. Most of his personality barbs, however, are untrue in my opinion, if not just downright mean.
The best example of this is what Brodax would have you believe about John Clive, the actor and best-selling novelist, who portrayed the voice of John Lennon. Not only did he play John Lennon, but Clive also symbolically took on the role of the leader and instigator when negotiating anything with the filmmakers for the “four lad” voice actors. In Inside The Yellow Submarine, Clive is quoted at great length describing the ugly scenes when they supported director George Dunning who wanted the voices to sound like interpretations of the Beatles complete with Liverpool accents -- even the hard scouse that George Harrison spoke. Clive’s recollections were backed up by the other actors we interviewed as well as others on the production staff who also witnessed these fights between Dunning and Brodax over the strength of the accents. They all recalled Al Brodax arguing for the actors to modify the Liverpool accents to make the American film public better able to understand the jokes. Obviously the voice actors and Dunning won that battle, since most people in the general public believed that the Beatles recorded their own voices for the dialogue. This subsequently helped ticket sales and soon the three professionals actors (and one amateur) who provided the voices found their success working against them. They were pushed into the shadows behind the curtains as much as possible, and the production company even attempted to bar them from the premiere in order to keep the assumption alive as long as possible that the Beatles were the stars. These four actors never got a proper ovation for their starring roles, and yet, this anonymity did not seem to hurt any of their careers. John Clive went on to work on “The Italian Job”, “Clockwork Orange”, and “Revenge of the Pink Panther”. Then he became almost better known as a best-selling author when his first novel, KG 200, sold more than a million copies in the UK and the USA alone. He has a jolly, elf-like face and a boyish energy, even though he must be over six feet tall. He is very easy to talk to and a charming story-teller in his own right.
In my book, Clive was the most descriptive in recounting the disagreements between Brodax and the rest of the crew on the accents. (Page 112): “I think once he realized how determined we were to do this our way, and if he didn’t like it, we said, ‘You can go and jump in the lake, you know. Go f--k yourself,’ I think we said. Knowing that George Dunning was going to stand behind us, gave us the power to say that. We were quite prepared to face the boot. If he wanted to fire us, he could.... Once we made the point we were much more relaxed, and I guess we were a little more friendly towards him. And consequently, he was able to go away and absorb it and decide, ‘Well, now do I bite the bullet and fire these guys and go through that whole process again and dump all the recordings that they’ve already done?’ I mean, he had to face a lot of decisions there and largely they were tied up with finance.”
Geoffrey Hughes, the voice of Paul in the film, confirmed Clive’s account: “As John Clive rightly says, Al was concerned about the strength of the accents, but whenever Al asked us directly to calm them down, George would tell us to carry on the way we were. Al usually backed down on the floor, but I'm sure that he and George pursued it later.”
Here’s how Brodax responded to Clive in his own book. On page 217 he said: “John Clive... always seems to have his head bowed, kind of slithers around the stage, slit-eyed, scary, very hostile. Unattractive; Lennon, the opposite.” He has attributed this quote to his assistant Mary Ellen Stuart. On page 182, Brodax says “John Clive delivers a perfect Lennon, though after a tortured attempt at conversation with him it becomes clear that he doesn’t have the wit or the wisdom of John... I also sense a chronic discontent in Clive’s general affect.”
According to Brodax’s version of the accent controversy in Up Periscope Yellow, the “bad cop” was not himself, but actually Lance Percival, the actor who portrayed the voice of Old Fred. Percival had already worked for Brodax earlier, performing the voices of the ABC Beatle cartoons, and everyone knew the real-life Beatles hated having their accents modified on the TV show. On page 216 of his book Brodax says: “There’s an ongoing difference, sometimes an argument, between Lance Percival vis a vis [John] Clive, [Geoff] Hughes and the others in terms of clarity. As Liverpudlians, they insist upon keeping their delivery ‘honest’, they almost go out of their way to keep it as heavy as possible. They can’t seem to buy the notion that there’s a world beyond Liverpool that we hope to reach.” According to my interviews with both Percival and the other actors, however, we learned the Old Fred lines were rarely, if ever, recorded at the same time or in the presence of the other four actors playing the Beatles. How could Lance Percival be “the heavy” in the argument about the accents when he remembers working alone? As he said on page 113 of my book: “Something about doing voices, you don't always meet the other people involved.... You stand there with the earphones on and you get on with it. I never met the people who played Ringo and Paul. I didn't know at the beginning if it was really their voices.”
In addition to the strange claim that fellow actor Lance Percival was the one who was upset about the strength of the accents, Brodax also describes the recording sessions quite differently. On page 181 of Up Periscope Yellow they are: “the most satisfying collaboration we are to enjoy during the production; we argue, negotiate, agree and have second thoughts, but show no animosity, indulge in nothing personal, just deal with the task at hand.... Abe, Norman and Coates sense a rare harmony between Dunning and me.”
Another completely mis-portrayed individual is animation director Bob Balser, one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Balser is currently a voting member for the Motion Picture Academy, who followed Yellow Submarine with a string of production and directing successes like "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", (Emmy, Best Animated TV Program) and Peanuts, Charlie Brown and Snoopy series. Bob Balser is now an Animation Film Consultant and has in the past few years lived and worked in Spain, Egypt, Turkey, and France. He sits on many International Film Festival juries and is prominent in many other professional associations. I would hate to think that the portrayal of Balser in Up Periscope Yellow as rather pompous and self-important is some kind of retribution for the way Balser deflated some of Brodax’s claims in my book. This is the way Brodax describes his first meeting with Balser on page 154: “He has a fixed put-upon expression on his face. Soft-spoken, Bob has a good deal to say -- about his talent, experience, his love of Beatle music -- all positive and impressively stated, even if delivered peevishly.... As the absorption process takes place, an inevitable silence follows the delivery of such a large amount of information. My process complete, I’m concerned, gut-feeling concerned.” On page 184: “Stokes and Balser...constantly bitching about the lack of any semblance of continuity; more so Balser than Stokes... Their relationship can best be described a love/compete arrangement.” On page 205, he says: “Balser is altogether American, top of the line animator but a kvetch who also grumbles about sequence, sequence, he moans a lot when we screen his dailies.” And a page later, says: “Abe thinks it necessary to reconcile a difference between Balser and myself. No breach really exists, a matter of attitude perhaps, nothing more.”
In the dozens of interviews I conducted for Inside The Yellow Submarine, Brodax is the only one who claimed there was any competition on the set of Yellow Submarine. Just the opposite, in fact, most people remember it as the most strangely harmonious production they ever worked on, where flower power reigned and everything “clicked”. It was like a big family. In my book on page 122, Bob Balser was the one who best described the happy feeling everyone felt: “It was a marvelous project that sort of just developed. George Dunning was one of the great geniuses of animation: a very, very profound thinker and a marvelous designer. During the course of the film, he decided that he would put together a good crew of people, and we would have all the freedom to make that film. We had two groups working. Jack Stokes, the Animation Director, and myself divided the film in half and we had about 220 people working on the film. They rented some big office space, and we put up a lot of chairs and tables and animation discs, and it was a great, great deal of fun. It was like a big family. Everybody was enjoying what they were doing. It’s something that could never happen again. You could never gather the kind of people we had together.”
Heinz Edelmann, Jack Stokes, Norm Kauffman and especially George Dunning are all recipients of similar digs in Brodax’s book, but I won’t repeat them all here. You can read them for yourself in Up Periscope Yellow, but if you do, be sure to get my book, too, for the rest of the story.
Several years after I began collecting research and interviews with crew members, Apple announced it was digitizing and re-releasing a renovated Yellow Submarine. From a marketing standpoint, I should have rushed my book into production to get it into bookstores and capitalize on the publicity. I did not, however, because I was still in the overwhelmed stage of realizing how little I knew. One contact continued to lead to another, as I interviewed over thirty people who worked on this film, and each story had to be corroborated. Then came the awesome job of editing to decide what to keep in and what to cut. Of course there is repetition in my book. I figured no one else would ever go to the trouble of collecting these people’s stories and I wanted to at least give them this one chance to have their say. It took another two years to get the manuscript finished and then another year after that to go through publication production. Although I missed the dream deadline from a marketing standpoint, I’m consoled that we made it to print before Brodax’s book was published.
It is true that without Al Brodax there would be no Yellow Submarine. And even though from a creative standpoint, it seems his contributions were minimal, I still admire him for what he accomplished. He is also a terrific story-teller. After interviewing him repeatedly over the years, I can attest to his charm, and that comes through in his book, as well.
This film has spread so much love and joy and happiness around the world, it is unfortunate that so much controversy is revealed when talking about how it was born. I’m sorry if it is perceived that I am contributing to that controversy, but I just have to defend these artists who sacrificed so much and worked so hard not only to get this project done to perfection, but to stay happy while doing it. I refuse to see their names left out of the official tales again, or maligned in any way. The history of this landmark animated cinema masterpiece had to be documented, and I believe these artists deserve a chance to tell their personal, behind-the-scenes stories. Yellow Submarine was considered a unique and exciting project for most of those who worked on it, and although it would always hold a special place in their hearts, most of them moved on to bigger and greater accomplishments. There are dozens of international trade awards won between them along with a healthy dose of world fame and respect. Just read the biographies from pages 397-411 in Inside The Yellow Submarine to see how most of the other co-creators include Yellow Submarine as merely a stepping stone to greater success.
Up Periscope Yellow is producer Al Brodax’s autobiography of the
pinnacle of his career in entertainment, and read with that in mind, it can
be considered a fun book. But caveat emptor: accurate it is not. It suffers
from a strangely fluctuating chronology in the story-line, discrepancies from
one page to the next, and non-existent character development: many of the main
players in the Yellow Submarine project are not even named. If you want an entertaining
story of a wheeling-dealing television producer in the 1960s, read Al Brodax’s
book. If you want a book that serves justice to those who created the Yellow
Submarine masterpiece, be sure to read my book as well: Inside The Yellow
Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic.
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