Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Beatles and Hitler

John Lennon as Adolf Hitler.
A few days ago, this self-portrait by John Lennon which depicts himself as Adolf Hitler was sold at an auction for $54,000.

The sketch was created while Lennon was attending the Liverpool College of Art in the late 1950s, and shows Lennon on a podium with his hand raised in a Nazi salute and the words "Heil John" repeated several times, with the implication they are being chanted by a crowd.

There are several known self-portraits taken from Lennon’s personal sketchbook which appear to depict the musician with an appearance imitating Hitler’s and accompanied by Nazi iconography.

Another page from John Lennon's sketch book.
"He drew these when he was a college student, and the fact that he even thought of depicting himself as Hitler is weird," Gary Zimet of Moments in Time told Page Six, which was arranging the sale. "Original Lennon drawings are very desirable and they are ultra rare." The drawings were first sold by Lennon’s first wife Cynthia back in 1991.

Of course, John Lennon's fascination with Hitler didn't end there.  When the Beatles were playing in Hamburg, at the Indra Club and the Kaiserkeller in 1960, the Top Ten Club in 1961 and at the Star Club in 1962, Lennon entertained the audience, sometimes with nazi references - usually mocking them. Of course, one must remember that in 1960, World War 2 was just 15 years behind them, and all adults in Europe vividly remembered the war years. For young kids like John Lennon and his friends, who were all born during the war, not much was remembered. Still, the horrors of the war was in the collective mind of everyone, and often spoken about and referenced. Lennon and his generation grew up in a badly damaged Liverpool, where the bomb sites were used as children's playgrounds. Everywhere there were people with missing limbs, survivors of the horrors of war.

For Lennon, as for most of us, it's hard to fathom that so many people let themselves be lead by such a terrible person as Adolf Hitler, and that they had it in them to commit all those crimes against other people, and humanity. And I believe that it's there the fascination lies.

In John's first book of absurd writings, "In His Own Write", he starts his introduction "About the awful" with: "I was bored on the 9th of Octover 1940 when, I believe, the Nasties were still booming us led by Madolf Heatlump (who only had one)."

When the Beatles came to Australia, they were greeted by public receptions unlike any of the other places they visited. Of course, the sight of such a massive audience brought their minds to their only previous recollection of huge crowds like this, Hitler's rallies, which they no doubt had seen in documentary films about World War 2. Their response was just a gut reaction.

Reacting to the crowd in Melbourne, 1964.

Newspaper clipping.
Hitler rally in Dortmund, Germany,1933

The Melbourne public reception, 1964.

The next reference Lennon made to Adolf Hitler was when he jotted down the name as someone he wanted to include on the cover of The Beatles' album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in 1967.
Hitler just behind the drum. Had he remained in place, he would have been covered by the Beatles.
A cardboard cut out was made and arranged in the set up for the cover shoot, but it was a small figure which, had it remained in place, wouldn't have been seen anyway - because the Beatles would stand just in front of him, wearing their "Sgt. Pepper" uniforms. However, even before the shoot, Hitler was nixed and removed from the setup. In photos taken after the Beatles had put on their uniforms, Hitler is placed behind the white door you can see in the photo above.

Hitler behind the door.

In 2007, Sir Peter Blake – who co-created the cover - told The Independent that Hitler did actually make the final line-up, but is simply obscured by the Beatles themselves. "Yes he is on there – you just can’t see him," Blake insisted. He added: "If you look at photographs of the out-takes, you can see the Hitler image in the studio. With the crowd behind there was an element of chance about who you can and cannot see, and we weren’t quite sure who would be covered in the final shot. Hitler was in fact covered up behind the band." As you can see from the photos above, Blake had it wrong, and Hitler was removed from the lineup after The Beatles had changed into their costumes.

And I do believe that this is the end of the story, as far as John Lennon's Hitler fascination is concerned. But in 1990, a biography about George Harrison painted the ex-Beatle as a devotee of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Extracts from the book was published in the British tabloid "The Sun" and in the U.S.A. in the supermarket tabloid The Globe.

George sued for damage, wanting to clear his name. "George is very much in favor of the lawsuit. He deplores everything Hitler stood for and can't imagine anything worse they could have said about him than to say he was a Nazi sympathizer," his lawyer Bert Fields said.

The book in question was Geoffrey Giuliano's "Dark Horse" from 1990. Here's an extract:
"Perhaps one of the most bizarre aspects of George's personality is the fascination he shares with friends Derek Taylor and "Legs" Larry Smith regarding Adolf Hitler. Harrison and his pals are not Nazi sympathizers, but they still find something undeniably fascinating about the Fuhrer. "It's just that they appreciate the unparalleled degree of his absolute madness," says a friend."

"Such tidy rationalizations fall short of explaining why Harrison keeps so many photos of Hitler around his house. Allegedly, he even displays a huge German swastika at times. Although Hitler borrowed the symbol of eternal life from Harrison's beloved Hindus, it is still difficult to imagine just how the normally peace-loving ex-Beatle justifies his attraction to such evil.​"

Giuliano then goes on to pin the origins of George's "sick fantasy" on Derek Taylor and Larry Smith. And perhaps he is right, because George himself wrote about Derek's Hitler fascination in his foreword to Taylor's autobiographic "Fifty Years Adrift": "Thanks to him, I do now know a lot more about the Royal Family and Hitler".

George Harrison's foreword to Derek taylor's "Fifty years adrift" book.

In Graeme Thomson's George Harrison biography, "Behind The Locked Door", the author mentions that there used to be swastikas all over Friar Park, but they were mostly taken down after the war. Apparently you could still see remnants of some of them afterwards.

In December, 1992, it was announced that the Globe had agreed to pay George a settlement for libel. The tabloid had published an article in 1991, titled "Beatle George is a Big Nazi Fan." It was reported that The Globe had misinterpreted Geoffrey Giuliano's "Dark Horse," which said that George collected Nazi memorabilia while pointing out that George hates Hitler.

Giuliano testified on George's behalf during the trial. After the case was settled, the Globe sued Geoffrey Giuliano for $400,000 and won.

7 comments:

Teddy Salad said...

In the "behind the door" shot, George is looking at the Hitler cutout. Then came "Behind That Locked Door." It all fits!

Shad Radna said...

Of course, John's middle name was Winston, so he might have struggled to become the Nazi leader.

Unknown said...

Hitler also gets a mention in Lennon's song God on the JLPOB LP. John sings 'I don't believe in Hitler'. Amongst other things, including The Beatles themselves.

Ariel C said...

More than a few rock stars, even other type of celebrities would mock the salute in the 60s. Doesn't mean they were fascinated by the Nazis. Check the link to this footage in '64. John Says "Stamp them out!"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoSsjNmzplE

Martin said...

Absolute crap that any Beatle was pro-Nazi. As Ariel says, many mocked the Nazis and that daft salute. Everyone from the Beatles, Spike Milligan, Keith Moon, right up to Fawlty Towers. Even Rodney does a 'Sieg Heil' gesture at Del Boy's horrible girlfriend in Only Fools & Horses. Not forgetting Stan and Jack constantly taunting Blakey over his Hitler moustache in On The Buses.Paul McCartney also showed his dislike of Hitler in the 1968 BBC documentary 'All My Loving'.

Also, to say someone is pro-Hitler because they are interested or well read on him is absurd. I have read several books on the Kray Twins. But that doesn't mean I agree with what they did or admire them as people.

Guidofish said...

I think George's reference to Hitler largely emanated from his love of the Mel Brooks film, "The Producers", which his friend Peter Sellars introduced him to. If you don't know the film, the plot is about Broadway producers trying to raise more money than they need to produce a play that they are certain will be so awful and offensive that it will close after the first night. Therefore, no profits to pay to the multitude of defrauded investors and they keep the the $Million they collected to produce a $60K flop. Of course, it all goes wrong as the Nazis are accidentally portrayed as the buffoons that they were and the show turns into the comedy sensation of the year. Hardly something anyone who admired the Nazis would enjoy, I imagine.

James Peet said...

Geoffrey Guiliano was and is a self-publicist. His books about the Beatles and the individual members are not the best, especially placed alongside Mark Lewisohn's books that are wonderful works of scholarly research and writing.

Obviously, I don't keep Geoffrey Guiliano's books next to Mark Lewisohn's books. That would be daft.