Denis O’Dell, who produced two Beatles movies as well as Robin and Marian, How I Won The War and Heaven’s Gate, has died at the age of 98.
O’Dell’s son, Arran, confirmed his father’s passing on January 1st, revealing that he had died of natural causes on December 30th, at his home in San José, Cabo de Gata.
Denis O’Dell began working in film in the 1940s. Over the next 20 years, he produced a number of hit films, including It’s A Wonderful World (1956), Tread Softly Stranger (1958) and The Playboy Of The Western World (1962). By 1964, he had joined forces with The Beatles and began working as an associate producer on their legendary immortalisation of Beatlemania, A Hard Days Night.
O’Dell’s collaborative partnership with The Beatles continued throughout the 1960s, with John Lennon appearing as Gripweed in the 1967 film How I Won The War, a dark-comedy that saw Lennon star in his only ever non-musical acting role. It was on the set of this World War II comic drama that John Lennon wrote the bulk of Strawberry Fields Forever.
1967 also saw O’Dell and The Beatles collaborate on the band’s TV film Magical Mystery Tour, for which O’Dell worked as a producer. Following the film’s release, O’Dell was asked by Apple Corps to act as one of the group’s key creative leaders outside of The Beatles themselves. However, leading the Films branch of Apple Corps proved to be immensely challenging. According to O’Dell’s 2003 memoir At The Apple’s Core: The Beatles From The Inside, many of the films co-produced by the Beatles – including Adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings and The Three Musketeers – never made it past the initial stages of production.
Despite these challenges, O’Dell became an important friend to The Beatles and even contributed to some of their musical offerings. Take a listen to the 1970 track ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ and you’ll hear John Lennon introduce Paul McCartney as a singer named “Denis O’Bell”, at which point Lennon sings the line: “Come on Ringo, let’s hear it for Denis.” Unfortunately, for O’Dell, some of The Beatles’ fans took the song title quite literally and ended up calling the producer at all hours of the day and night.
As O’Dell later told author Steve Turner, there were so many calls coming in that “my wife started going out of her mind. Neither of us knew why this was suddenly happening. Then I happened to be in one Sunday and picked up the phone myself. It was someone on LSD calling from a candle-making factory in Philadelphia and they just kept saying, ‘We know your name and now we’ve got your number.’”