Did you know any of the Beatles prior to 1973? Did you consider yourselves friends, or was it more of a professional relationship?
I’d not met any of the Beatles prior to working on Ringo’s album cover. Over the course of a couple of years, I got to know Harry and Ringo pretty well. More so Harry. He’d commissioned a couple of pieces of art from me. He lived in an apartment on the corner of La Cienega and Sunset, and I visited him there a number of times.
During that time, I lived in El Segundo, a beach community outside of Los Angeles. There was a silent movie theater down the block from me and Harry and his current girlfriend came over. We had a few drinks and all walked down the block to see Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera, with the hand colored section. It was the first time either one of us had seen it. He was an intelligent, caring, funny and talented man with a penchant for things that were not good for him.
I was friendly with Ringo but I wouldn’t say we were friends. I was lucky enough to have been invited to his house while I was in England, where I met George Harrison, and his lovely wife Pattie. I’d met John Lennon a number of times while he was producing Harry’s Pussy Cats album. He was always kind and patient with me. I have two significant memories of John.
I was supposed to come to the Malibu house to give Harry and Ringo updates on Harry and Ringo’s Night Out. I was eager and anxious and got to the house mid morning. I didn’t know at the time that morning, for the house residents started after noon. I was sitting in at the kitchen table, waiting.
One of the house staff offered me breakfast. A bowl of cereal. I poured out a bowl full of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and was just about to pour the milk when John came in, sat down, smiled, looked at me, the bowl of cereal and said, “Ah, sitting on a cornflake.” Perfect.
One late afternoon, I think it was a Sunday, I was sitting on the couch. John came in and sat on the chair opposite me. I don’t remember what started the conversation, but he made a point to tell me that women were people too. They thought, felt, reasoned, reacted, created, explored, angered, were saddened, equal to that of any man. Often more so.
I was young and not very evolved. He must have seen something in me that prompted his observation. But that was one of those light bulb moments. I thought about what my attitude had been to the women in my life and realized it needed adjusting. His words altered my relationships profoundly for the better.
One of the things I learned during that time was how transitory your relationships are, especially with famous people. I saw it over and over, people who were near the inner circle desperately trying to hold onto their place in the mistaken belief that fame rubs off. It doesn’t, at least not in those days. The famous have their own friends, their own lives and their own sense of who they are and what they need to get done. If you can contribute to any part of it, you’re lucky and it can be hugely fun. The key is to recognize when it’s time to move on. And move on.
One of the saddest things I witnessed was a person who had been part of the celebrity society but was not as relevant as they once were and the desperation they went through just to stay where they were. When you hear a celebrity see a person coming and they say, “Oh, it’s her/him,” as if the Grim Reaper just stepped into the room, it’s kind of a heartbreak. But you can’t say anything. Partly, because they don’t believe you. They see it as a way to move them aside and move yourself in.
Can you tell us about the film Harry and Ringo’s Night Out? I don’t think it’s ever been released, and plot details seem scarce. Why was it shelved, what was it about, and how were your artworks to be incorporated with the live-action footage?
Harry and Ringo had done a movie called Son of Dracula. They had so much fun, they thought they’d like to do another. I wrote a synopsis of a movie I thought would work with who these guys were and the rapport they had. To be honest, I don’t remember where the title came from. They liked the treatment and asked me to write a full script, which I did. They made some changes, I made some changes, they made some changes, and after a while, we had a script everybody liked.
Early on, they decided they wanted it to be a live action/animation movie. Let me say, right from the start, I was way in over my head. I had no film experience. But they had faith in me and that was enough to make me believe I could do it.
The story – the short version – involves Ringo and Harry being sucked into an alternate reality in a place called Rockland, populated by a bunch of famous rock stars. Music is dying and these two were on a mission to save it. When they entered Rockland they acquired sidekicks. Ringo’s was the cherub and Harry’s was a wisecracking crow. Harry did the voice of the cherub and Ringo did the voice of the crow.
I designed the characters and painted the backgrounds. We contracted a couple of animators, on the sly, who worked at Hanna Barbera to do the animation. The live action was shot on a Paramount sound stage in front of a blue screen. I directed the live action.
The sky, throughout the full three minute pilot was speeded up live action cloud formations, which was very cool. When it was complete, Harry and I went to Warner Brothers after hours and he worked on a moviola, editing the piece together. Harry picked the sound track, and we had a film to shop.
It went to a few studios but there were no takers. A live action/animated movie would have been a major undertaking and an expensive one at that and no studio wanted to bankroll a film starring the Beatles drummer and a pop star that had never performed in public… and the project was dead. I think the finished pilot went to Harry. I still have most of the backgrounds, cells and live action with some bits and pieces.
It’s never been seen in public and never will. I think no one will see it because nobody cares. It was done and over. I’m only guessing it’s with Harry’s family. It also might be with Ringo or Michael Viner (who died in 2009) who funded it. Whoever has it, it has been over 40 years and that ship has sailed.
The Lennon bust is part of an upcoming art show at the Krab Jab Gallery in Seattle, Washington, USA, the second week in May 2015. In addition to the four Lennon portraits there will be an additional nine pieces based on songs written by John Lennon.
A collection of some of the best, most inventive artists working today will contribute work. The artists are: Alfred Paredes, Dan Chudzinski, Colin Poole, Conny Valentina, James Shoop, Jon Matthews, Kristine Poole, Michael Defoe, and me.
And May Pang will be exhibiting nine photographs from her personal collection. If you’re in the area at the time we hope you’ll stop by.
In 1991, I sculpted the first set of licensed vinyl Beatles dolls for the Hamilton Group. I did two sets, ten inch figures and seven inch. I had met Neil Aspinall briefly while I was in London doing the cover. By the time I did the doll sculpts he was director of licensing at Apple. They sent him the Paint Masters for his review. His only comment was, he felt John’s inseam was too short. On a 10″ doll…
Sincere thanks to Tim Bruckner for providing such illuminating answers as well as these fascinating glimpses into his archive. Thanks also to Dale Applebee for help and patience with identifying the figures on the Ringo album cover.