Twenty Years Ago Today Page 6

I flew out to California to stay with George and Olivia in LA, showing a rough cut to both him and Derek Taylor who was now a VP at Warner records. Derek was an enormous supporter of the project and by an amazing co-incidence Warner Brothers picked up the proposed Rutles album, unloading it gently from a puzzled Clive Davis at Arista, who really didn't know what to make of all this Ruttling. Derek gave us a huge artwork budget for a ten page pictorial spread on the Rutles, which Basil Pao helped me assemble in a white hot fury in ten days in New York. This album is worth a lot of money today if you happen to have one. Derek also produced an endless stream of promotional postcards, one with genuine material stuck on saying "I think it was the trousers." Meanwhile we were ready for a Preview. Aviva Slessen had been editing the film, trying to find a balance between two directors and eventually we wound up editing the show on video because it was quicker, because parts of the movie were shot on video anyway and because the whole thing would only ever be for television. (There was never a finished film print of the Rutles, though some enterprising Australians duped one from a bootleg video and distributed it as a movie round Australia. I tried to sue but apparently theft is quite legal down unda.) Reminds me of the first time I visited Australia, when a burly Immigration Officer came up to me and said "Do you have a criminal record?" To which I replied "Good heavens I had no idea one was still required."

The first Preview we showed in a crammed cutting room high above Times Square. We invited a small crowd including Bobbie Zarem, the publicist, and Lorne Michaels, the executive Producer and various other friends who all stared at the tiny screen on the Steinbeck and seemed to have a good time. At the end of the screening we got them to turn round and look out of the window at the huge color TV screen in Times Square. They turned round in amazement to see Times Square lit up with the words "THE RUTLES ARE COMING!" Good timing that, and worth the last of our precious budget.

Bobbie Zarem was so knocked out with the viewing that he gave it to his good friend Frank Rich, Time Magazine's then TV critic who went out of his way to savagely tear it apart the next week immediately before we aired. It only required NBC then to schedule us in Prime Time opposite the enormously popular Charlie's Angels to ensure that when we aired we were absolutely buried in the ratings. The late night repeat however, a few months later fared a lot better and when the show went to England, it was such a smash hit at Easter that they repeated it a month later. In the end we had decided to do two cuts. The British version ran longer by about ten minutes and contained the "asshole" joke and a film called "You need feet" a parody of Yoko's "bottoms" film.

People always ask 'how did the Beatles react?' Well George was behind it all the way but the first time I played him the music he got slightly upset and started to sing "Instant Karma gonna get you!" in a very loud voice. It certainly did, since ATV music ended up grabbing all the copyright. But after this slight hiccup he loved the show and was very proud of it. He had supported me all the way, encouraging me to do it, telling me endless Beatle stories and even showing me The Long and Winding Road, an Apple cut of the documentary footage of the Beatles which none of them could agree to release. This Neil Aspinall film eventually became the basis for the recently released Beatles Anthology, but for a long time my movie existed as a strange parody of a film no one had ever seen.

Ringo liked the Rutles "after 1968" he added mysteriously. Paul was a little strange about it, somewhat guarded when we met, though Linda loved it and went on about it. Paul seemed to approve finally only when he learned that I had grown up in Wallasey opposite Liverpool. "Hey Linda, it's okay, he's a Scouse, he's one of us!" John and Yoko I heard through the grapevine absolutely adored it which I thought was very sporting of them especially as Yoko is portrayed as Hitler's daughter but then she has a very great sense of humor as I found out when I made a speech at a Bowie wedding many years later.

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