Denis O’Dell, an acclaimed producer best known for his work on films starring The Beatles, has died at age 98.
O’Dell’s passing was confirmed by his son Arran, who told The Associated Press yesterday (January 1) that he died of natural causes at his home in Almería, Spain on Thursday December 30.
Breaking out into the world of film in the 1940s, O’Dell racked up an impressive catalogue that sported such hits as It’s A Wonderful World (1956), Tread Softly Stranger (1958) and The Playboy Of The Western World (1962). He first linked up with The Beatles in 1964, mounting their production of A Hard Day’s Night as an associate producer.
His partnership with the group would continue for years to come. Per Variety, O’Dell is at least partly to thank for John Lennon’s involvement in 1967’s How I Won The War, a black-comedy film set during World War II that Lennon co-starred in (as his only non-musical acting role). Lennon famously wrote the bulk of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ during the film’s production.
That same year, O’Dell and The Beatles collaborated on their made-for-TV film Magical Mystery Tour. He worked closely with the group as the film’s producer, and after its release in December of 1967, was poached by Apple Corps as one of its four leaders outside of The Beatles.
Spearheading the Apple Films division proved unwieldy, however, as O’Dell noted in his 2003 memoir, At The Apple’s Core: The Beatles From The Inside, that future films co-helmed by the band – such as adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings and The Three Musketeers, as well as a peculiar script by playwright Joe Orton that would’ve had The Beatles play drag-wearing murderers – were doomed before they ever entered production.
Nevertheless, O’Dell was a dear friend to The Beatles, earning a shoutout on their 1970 track ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ – one of the last songs the band ever minted – wherein Lennon jokingly introduces Paul McCartney as a lounge singer named Denis O’Bell. Unswayed by the altered spelling, fans of the band took the song’s title literally, tracking down O’Dell’s personal number and calling him at all hours of the day.
As he explained to author Steve Turner, “There were so many of them 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.’”
O’Dell’s penultimate film credit came in 1980, when he served as an executive producer on Michael Cimino’s controversial Western epic Heaven’s Gate. His next and final credit came 41 years later, when last November, he was named as a supervising producer on the Disney+ docuseries The Beatles: Get Back.
O’Dell is survived by his wife Donna, daughters Laragh and Denise – the latter of whom followed in his footsteps as a film producer – and sons Arran and Shaun. He has 13 grandchildren, including Black Mirror and The Paramedic producer Denis Pedregosa. A private service and memorial will be held in the UK at an unspecified date.
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