Diving deep into Beatles lore; Bob Hieronimus knows more about 'Yellow Submarine' than almost anybody, which makes him suddenly in demand.


When it comes to yellow submarines, Bob Hieronimus has done just about everything but live in one.

A native Baltimorean whose murals and painted cars made him one of the city's more prominent counterculture figures in the 1960s, Hieronimus has taken on the roots of teacher, founder of a school for the study of metaphysics and mystic arts, and, since 1988, radio-show host (his :21st Century Radio" airs weekdays from 10 p.m. to midnight on WCBM-AM.

But one of the constants over all those years has been a fascination with "Yellow Submarine," a 1968 animated film "starring" the Beatles and their songs (more on that later) that has emerged as one of the era's most enduring pieces of psychedelia.

"Yellow Submarine" is filled with inventiveness and joy. There's Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D., the rotund know-it-all who speaks in verse and has a penchant for well-meaning mischief; there's Young/Old Fred, captain of the Yellow Submarine and the last hope for Pepperland; there's the montage of historical figures that accompanies "Eleanor Rigby"; there's the Dreadful Flying Glove and the evil Blue Meanies; and there are enough puns to make even the Marx Brothers envious.

"The first time I saw it, about halfway through, I didn't know what to think," Hieronimus, 56, recalls from his Baltimore County home. "Where in the hell were the Beatles? I didn't realize it was going to be all animation. Finally, I decided I'd pay attention to what was going on and stop worrying about when the Beatles were going to come on ... and I became fascinated."

Fascinated enough to spend almost half his life finding out about the film -- making him an authority now much in demand, thanks to MGM's current theatrical and video re-release of the film, complete with enhanced sound, brightened colors and an added sequence to the tune of "Hey Bulldog." Recently, he's been quoted in the New York Times, introduced the film at the Senator Theatre and hawked "Yellow Submarine" merchandise (not his own, but pieces being released in conjunction with the movie) on the Home Shopping Network.

The Beatles' business arm, Apple, "had suggested that, if anyone knows about 'Yellow Submarine,' and especially about the memorabilia, it would be me," says a chuckling Hieronimus. The home shopping stint had him flying into Florida the same day Hurricane Floyd was scheduled to hit the state.

Hieronimus admits the timing of the film could be better, at least as far as he's concerned; his book, "It Was All In the Mind: The Co-Creation of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine," is scheduled to be released early next year.

But that's OK. He loves talking about the film, and he clearly enjoys the spotlight it has shone on him.

He's worked hard to become an expert, spending the better part of a quarter-century gathering pieces of "The Yellow Submarine" story, spending $3,000 for the film's original script (which, he found, differs dramatically from what ended up on screen) and discovering that the film's creative process left emotional wounds that still have not healed.

One of the first things he discovered is that the success of "Yellow Submarine" really has little to do with the Beatles themselves, except as a source of inspiration.

"It's amazing that this movie ever happened at all, much less that it turned out as well as it did," Hieronimus says. "The Beatles did not want to get involved in this at all, and they had good reason to not want to get involved."

That reason would be a half-hour Saturday-morning kids' cartoon show, called "The Beatles," that featured bad animation, wasn't very funny and generally ticked the group off. (They fought for years to keep the series off British TV, Hieronimus says.) It was the same people responsible for the series who wanted to feature John, Paul, George and Ringo in a full-length film.

The Beatles "figured that this was going to be nothing more than a 90-minute 'Flintstones' cartoon," Hieronimus says.

But the group was contractually bound to release another movie through United Artists, and at the advice of their manager, Brian Epstein, they grudgingly allowed "Yellow Submarine" to be it. They wouldn't work on the film (other than the songs, their voices were provided by other actors), they provided what they felt were their worst songs, and they held their collective breaths, fearing the worst.

The film could easily have turned out as bad as they feared. But a group of young, talented and dedicated artists were put to work on the project. "You might call it a happy accident," says Hieronimus, "but I don't believe in those kinds of accidents. I think there's something bigger going on."

Whether by happenstance or divine intervention, the pieces that would soon make up "Yellow Submarine" started falling into place.

Even though "Yellow Submarine" was put together by TVC (for TV Cartoons), the British animation group responsible for the cartoon series, different people were assigned to work on it -- most notably German artist Heinz Edelmann, who would be the man most responsible for the film's look (not Peter Max, who, despite popular belief, had little to do with the film). Animators were urged to be creative, to take chances. And the original script, by producer Al Brodax, was thrown out and other writers were brought in.

"The Beatles didn't like Brodax," Hieronimus says. "They thought he was too old. They demanded that they have another writer, so they brought in Lee Minoff, who's now a psychotherapist in New York. His ideas were mostly thrown out the window, but he did suggest some important things, such as the Boob and Old Fred. And he did put a great deal of emphasis on mixing media, which is exactly what the film ended up doing, particularly in the 'Eleanor Rigby' sequence."

Writers Lee Mendelsohn and Erich Segal (who would go on to write "Love Story") were brought in to hone the script, and received screen credit. But just as important, Hieronimus says, were the writers who didn't receive any credit.

"There was no script," he says. "A finished script for the film never existed until after the film was done. Scripts would be brought in, and the artists would say, this is terrible. And they didn't do it. The writers kept sending them scripts, the artists kept rejecting them, and then the artists would put in their own stuff, which is what we see on the screen."

"This film succeeded because of their love of the Beatles. No two ways about it, these guys wanted to to do something of Beatles quality, they wanted to have something that reflected the Beatles' legacy. They didn't want a film that reflected 'The Flintstones.' The producers had said, we could make far more money if we make a 90-minute 'Flintstones,' but the artists said, if we do it that way, then we don't want to do it.

"Fortunately, the artists won out, but at an enormous price. The studio almost went bankrupt, Heinz Edelmann, who was working 16 hours a days, seven days a week, nearly lost his eyesight. His health was wiped out for years."

At one point, Hieronimus discovered, things got so bad between the animators and King Features, which was producing "Yellow Submarine," that the latter threatened to take over TVC and the unfinished film, arguing that it was behind schedule and threatened to go over budget.

"All these artists, as a group, said, 'No, we're not going to work for you,' " Hieronimus explains. "At that point, the artists got together and [stole] one-third of the negative and the corresponding print from the vault, so there was no way the film could be finished without them."

So it wasn't. And the resulting film made nearly everyone happy -- even the Beatles, who about two-thirds of the way through the project liked a rough cut so much that they offered to provide their own voices. By then, it was too late.

Nearly everyone was happy, that is, except for the artists most responsible for what's up there on screen. The bad blood that had emerged during the making of "Yellow Submarine" lingered for years.

"When they finished the film," Hieronimus says, "they didn't get anything [from the producers], they didn't even get a poster, because of all the threats and strained relations between TV Cartoons and King Features. They had had a major war there.

"This is why it took a quarter century for me to do all the research for this book, because these guys are on five different continents and haven't spoken to each other in over 30 years. They have no desire to get back together again, because there are still a lot of mixed feelings."

hen it comes to yellow submarines, Bob Hier-onimus has done just about everything but live in one.

A native Baltimorean whose murals and painted cars made him one of the city's more prominent counterculture figures in the 1960s, Hieronimus has taken on the roles of teacher, founder of a school for the study of metaphysics and mystic arts, and, since 1988, radio-show host (his "21st Century Radio" airs weekdays from 10 p.m. to midnight on WCBM-AM).

Pub Date: 09/26/99

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