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Magical Mystery Tour: The Beatles' Biggest Flop

Did you know The Beatles made a TV movie? Magical Mystery Tour (1967) was their one and only attempt, but it holds another unique place in Beatles history—it was the first, and unequivocally the biggest, flop of their storied career.

The Idea

The genesis of the disaster known as Magical Mystery Tour was a flight Paul McCartney took from America to England in April 1967. At the time, "Mystery Tours" were all the rage in England—these being low-budget weekend getaways, groups of people riding overnight on a bus to a surprise destination. While on the plane, Paul took a big piece of paper and drew a pie chart, hoping to fill in the blank sections with entertaining ideas for a mystery tour.

The idea lay dormant until late August of 1967, when The Beatles' loyal and dedicated (and irreplaceable) manager Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose. A few days after Epstein's funeral, the boys gathered together and had a meeting. According to Ringo Starr: "Paul had a great piece of paper—just a blank piece of paper with a circle on it... We filled it in as we went along." So, with no script to speak of, the Fab Four rented a coach and hand-lettered it as the "Magical Mystery Tour," and off they went, with the hope that this mysterious scenario might somehow prove interesting and entertaining.

The Cast



An eclectic group of professional actors joined them for the fun, including Ringo's highly overweight "Aunt Jessie" (Jessie Robbins, center in the photo above), tour director "Jolly Jimmy Johnson" (Derek Royle), tour conductor "Buster Bloodvessel" (Ivor Cutler), and sexy blonde tour hostess "Wendy Winters" (Mandy Weet). The merry group also included a rubber-legged dancer named Nate "Happy Nat the Rubber Man" Jackley, a little girl named "Nichola," a stripper named Jan Carson, Shirley Evans the accordion player, a few assorted dwarves, Beatles assistant Mal Evans, and their friend "Magic Alex" Mardas.

Paul had wanted future guitar legend Jimi Hendrix to appear in the film, but unfortunately the great Jimi was slated to appear at the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival, which would prove to be his big breakthrough performance. (Ironically, Paul was the one who suggested Jimi be invited to perform at the festival.) One can only imagine what Jimi Hendrix's presence and genius would have done to salvage, at least to a degree, the ignominious Magical Mystery Tour.

In possibly the strangest directing credit in the history of filmdom, the Magical Mystery Tour was directed by five different people: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and the immortal Bernard Knowles.

The Production

The filming for this jolly adventure began on September 11, barely two weeks after Epstein's death, and lasted two weeks, ending for all intents and purposes on September 25. In all, 10 hours of film was shot and edited to just 52 minutes for the final movie.

While on the road in their colorfully lettered bus, a huge traffic jam resulted from all the onlookers wanting to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four. Furious, John jumped out of the bus and angrily ripped the lettering off the side.

The Shenanigans

A bizarre assortment of scenes resulted from the impromptu filmed madness. These included John and George ogling and leering at the stripper in a strip club, Paul wearing a military officer's uniform and listening to a zany soldier chatter on, Ringo and "Aunt Jessie" bickering, and John chatting with little "Nichola" and giving her a balloon.

An impromptu race was filmed, with some cast members running, some driving cars, and others pedaling on a long group bicycle. Ringo, driving the bus, won the race.

During filming, John told Paul about a strange dream he'd had in which he was a waiter and served spaghetti to a lady using a shovel. Paul told him they'd put the scene in their film, leading to possibly the single oddest scene in Magical Mystery Tour: John Lennon, decked out in waiter's garb (complete with a penciled-in mustache), shoveling—with a real shovel—huge portions of spaghetti onto Aunt Jessie's plate in a restaurant.

A scene with rubber-legged Nate Jackley chasing women, Benny Hill-style, around a swimming pool was edited out of the final film.

The Music

The movie wasn't all bad, though; The Beatles were too good to turn in anything without some great music. The music includes a very psychedelic version of George singing his droning song, "Blue Jay Way."

The indisputable highlight of Magical Mystery Tour is the only filmed version of John singing his incredible "I Am the Walrus," complete with himself in a walrus mask, playing the piano, and the other three Beatles wearing their own animal masks. This incredibly beautiful and surreal scene alone makes Magical Mystery Tour worth seeing.

There's also a rare scene of the Fab Four dressed to the nines, in formal white tie and tails, singing "Your Mother Should Know" and doing a Fred Astaire-style ballroom dance routine.

Paul filmed a likable sequence of himself jumping around and cavorting alone in the hills of Nice, France. (This was done, in violation of union rules, after the actual shooting was over; Paul hopped a plane to France and brought a friend to operate the camera.) Paul's song "Fool on the Hill" is played over this uncharacteristically intimate scene in the otherwise diluted-with-too-many-characters Magical Mystery Tour.

The Reviews

The film premiered on BBC TV the day after Christmas in 1967. Reviews were scathing.

"Blatant rubbish," declared the Daily Express, "...The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

Word quickly traveled to the States where, 9,000 miles away in L.A., Daily Variety's headline declared, "BEATLES PRODUCE FIRST FLOP WITH YULE FILM." Even The Beatles' musical director and good friend George Martin recalled, "It looked awful and it was a disaster."

Ringo immediately called the BBC and complained that their "colorful film" had been shown in black and white. A few days later, BBC 2 showed the movie again, this time in color, but it made little difference.

The day after the initial broadcast, Paul, taking full responsibility, stepped up before the BBC cameras and issued an unofficial apology:

"We don't say it was a good film. It was our first attempt. If we goofed, then we goofed. It was a challenge and it didn't come off. We'll know better next time."


Despite Paul's humble apology, the die was cast: Magical Mystery Tour was indelibly marked in Beatles history as their biggest disappointment and probably the one time they let their expectant public down, at least artistically. John Lennon would come to refer to Magical Mystery Tour as "the most expensive home movie ever filmed."

In 1995's The Beatles Anthology, Paul, the eternal optimist, said of the movie: "Looking back on it, I thought it was alright. I think we were quite pleased with it." But later, he added revealingly: "I'm not sure whose idea it was. It could have been mine, but I'm not sure whether I want to take the blame for it."


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
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Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

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Move Over, Star Wars Land: A Star Trek World May Be Coming to Universal Studios
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As Disney gears up for the 2019 openings of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at both its Florida and California amusement parks, there may be some sci-fi-themed competition on the horizon. According to Disney and More, there’s a rumor out there that Universal is planning a fourth Orlando theme park, which will include a land dedicated to all things Star Trek.

The blog also states that there have been rumblings that a Star Trek stage show at Universal would take the place of the now-defunct Terminator 2 3D show, but that’s just one option, with a Bourne Identity attraction being the other. Instead, the potential Star Trek show could be expanded to a whole area of the rumored fourth park, with a focus on a recreation of a sci-fi city, according to the site.

This rumored park would be the most high-profile Trek attraction since Las Vegas's Star Trek: The Experience (as seen in the main image). Housed at the Las Vegas Hilton from 1998 to 2008, Star Trek: The Experience included a restaurant based on Quark's bar from Deep Space Nine and the popular Borg Invasion 4D, which was an attraction that combined motion platforms, live actors, and a short 3D film to simulate a Borg takeover.

Any potential Star Trek land would be much further off than Galaxy's Edge's fall 2019 debut in Orlando. But with two new Trek movies on the horizon, and Star Trek: Discovery returning to CBS All Access for a second season in 2018, the venerable sci-fi franchise might just be able to ride a wave of momentum to become real competition for Star Wars—if not at the box office, then at least as a theme park.

[h/t Screen Rant]

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