Saturday, January 24, 2015

Frank Mazzola, 1935 - 2015

Frank with his daughter Francesca
It grieves me to report the sad news that my friend Frank Mazzola, who became one of the most influential film editors of his generation by virtue of his re-edit of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's PERFORMANCE (1970), died on January 13, 2015, at the age of 79. The following obituary was written by Catherine Mazzola. It is a wonderful tribute to a great man.

Frank was born and raised in the heart of Hollywood surrounded by the film business, his father being the first contract player at Fox Studios. Frank worked as a child actor, appearing in such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) starring Charles Laughton, Always in My Heart (1942) with Walter Huston, Casablanca (1942), and Joseph Losey's The Boy with Green Hair (1948). Frank went on to study acting with Stella Adler and Jeff Corey and did theater at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. He was cast in a part of a high school student in Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1955) before being accepted into the University of Oregon on an athletic scholarship. Frank left Hollywood behind but only briefly.

On a school break, he auditioned for a role and was cast as "Crunch" in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), directed by Nicholas Ray and starring then-unknown James Dean. Because of his reputation from his days in the Hollywood High club, The Athenians, Frank was approached by Nick Ray and David Weisbart, Rebel's producer, to help recreate a reality about rebellious teens from middle class families. Frank was given an office at Warner Brothers, and according to Rolling Stone magazine, "he ended up helping director Nick Ray and screenwriter Stewart Stern shape Rebel into an accurate piece of 1955 sociology." Frank was instrumental in selecting Jimmy's '49 Merc and his famous red jacket, which was not unlike the original Athenian club jackets; and one of the Nick Ray biographies quotes, "...the knife duel between Jim and Buzz (Corey Allen) was staged with the aid of Frank Mazzola." Nick summed it up by signing a Rebel poster with a personal note of thanks, "For Frank Mazzola who helped so much to make the texture of Rebel into a living reality."

Having participated in the creative aspects of production on Rebel, Frank decided to pursue his love of film from behind the camera. Inspired by Nick Ray and David Weisbart, who had edited A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Frank chose editing to learn the process of filmmaking. As an assistant at Universal Studios, he was involved with Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). Following, he assisted at Fox Studios and The Mirish Corp., learning some of his most valuable lessons from working with Ralph E. Winters as the first assistant on Blake Edwards' The Party (1968). After creating artistically beautiful and complicated montages that received excellent reviews, Frank began his career as an editor on films such as Macho Callahan (1970), Stiletto (1969), and a re-edit of La Piscine (1969).

Frank was then sought out by film director Donald Cammell to create montages and re-edit Performance (1970), a film that was sitting on the shelf at Warner Brothers. Frank's work with Donald on Performance (1970) led to the film's release. It went on to receive cult classic status and according to The British Film Institute, "Performance is one of the most extraordinary British films, and arguably the greatest."

Frank's career as an editor excelled from this point forward with films such as Peter Fonda's directorial debut, The Hired Hand (1971), Donald Cammell's Demon Seed (1977), and A Woman Called Moses (1978) starring Cicely Tyson with narration by Orson Welles. The Second Coming of Suzanne (1974), which Frank co-produced and edited, won three of the top ten awards at The Atlanta Film Festival including the gold medal for editing.

Frank loved the artistry and creativity of filmmaking. As Rex Reed wrote in The New York Daily News, "Frank Mazzola, the excellent film editor, has attempted to do something different with film." Stanley Kauffman of The New Republic wrote, "Mazzola has used almost the whole contemporary editing vocabulary." Other reviewers have written that Frank is, "a master craftsman at film editing," he "creates a perfect sense of pacing," and his "montage sequences rate spontaneous audience applause." As quoted from the Stratford Film Festival: "The exhilarating beauty of the color cinematography and visual wizardry of the many montage sequences establish cinematographer Isadore Mankofsky and editor/montage artist Frank Mazzola as two of the world’s finest artists in their respective fields."

In 1999 Frank completed production on restoring and editing a Donald Cammell short, The Argument (1999). Video Watchdog wrote "the film is a surreal gem...abandoned, once lost, now found, The Argument, like the Phoenix, has been reborn." The screening of the short became the catalyst for Tartan Films and London's Channel 4, to join forces with Frank on the restoration of The Director's Cut of Donald Cammell's Wild Side (2000). Following the Wild Side premiere at The Edinburgh International Film Festival, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote: "Perhaps the most remarkable event of the festival has been Wild Side, the last film by the late Donald Cammell, presented in a radically new director's cut, lovingly prepared by editor and long-time associate Frank Mazzola...Under Mazzola's microsurgery, it emerges as classic cinema..."

In addition to Frank's behind the camera career, he has appeared in numerous documentaries about Donald Cammell and James Dean, most notably Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, the American Masters series, James Dean: Sense Memories and as a special guest on Larry King Live.

Throughout his life and career, Frank remained committed to the dedication of his time and creative energy as an independent force in maintaining film as an art form.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 31st at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood. In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation fund has been set up by Frank's oldest daughter at IndiegogoLife/FrankMazzola Memorial Fund.

With Affection,
Catherine and Francesca

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Elvis at 80

Note: This blog is an amalgam of observations I've made previously, with a few additional remarks added. It seemed appropriate to (re)publish some of these observations given the occasion of Elvis's birthday.

Today would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday. His death occurred over 37 years ago, but he lives on, and not only in the form of impersonators. Greil Marcus calls the image of Elvis who lives with us now the dead Elvis, and even wrote a book about it with just that title: Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession (1991). Marcus called this Elvis “an emptied, triumphantly vague symbol of displaced identity” (p. 33), but it also happens to be the condition of the android, the experience of the ghost having left the building. You can find this Elvis on coffee mugs, ashtrays, crushed black velvet, ties, T-shirts, scarfs, wine labels, billboards, Pez dispensers, limited edition dinner plates, clock faces, and appropriated for album covers. You can find it all over. The image is ubiquitous. Elvis’s meteoric rise to fame roughly coincided with the new technology of television, so in a sense Elvis has always been an image.

For those who may care that today would have been his 80th birthday, Elvis Presley will always be a daunting, elusive mystery. In Dead Elvis, Greil Marcus calls the invention of dead Elvis “a great common art project, the work of scores of people operating independently of each other, linked only by their determination to solve the same problem: who was he, and why do I still care?” Because dead Elvis is a collective representation, it both legitimizes and subverts “Elvis” the man. Perhaps the whole issue is irrelevant, except that Marcus can’t get past the vast amount of cultural expenditure invested in constructing dead Elvis. Nor can I. For now, dead Elvis is largely perceived as an exemplar of tastelessness and an example of what comedian Tom Arnold once said about his marriage to Roseanne Barr, “We’re America’s worst nightmare—white trash with money.” What are the reasons behind this cultural perception of dead Elvis?

The reasons underlying these perceptions are astutely explored in an essay by Linda Ray Pratt, “Elvis, or the Ironies of a Southern Identity,” which can be found in Kevin Quain, Ed., The Elvis Reader (St. Martin's Press, 1992). In one of the very best pieces ever written about Elvis, Dr. Pratt, writing as a Southerner herself, discusses Elvis with the kind of understanding and empathy that those outside the culture often lack. She makes so many acute insights that it is impossible to list them all here, but here are a few insights that may help explain why Elvis is held in such contempt by so many. Writing about Elvis in the context of Southern culture, she says:

C. Vann Woodward has said that the South's experience is atypical of the American experience, that where the rest of America has known innocence, success, affluence, and an abstract and disconnected sense of place, the South has known guilt, poverty, failure, and a concrete sense of roots and place.... These myths collide in Elvis. His American success story was always acted out within its Southern limitations. No matter how successful Elvis became in terms of fame and money, he remained fundamentally disreputable in the minds of many Americans. Elvis had rooms full of gold records earned by million-copy sales, but his best rock and roll records were not formally honored by the people who control, if not the public taste, the rewarding of public taste.... His movies made millions but could not be defended on artistic grounds. The New York Times view of his fans was “the men favoring leisure suits and sideburns, the women beehive hairdos, purple eyelids and tight stretch pants”.... (96-97)

Observing that Elvis “remained an outsider in the American culture that adopted his music,” she goes on to say:

Although he was the world's most popular entertainer, to like Elvis a lot was suspect, a lapse of taste.... The inability of Elvis to transcend his lack of reputability despite a history-making success story confirms the Southern sense that the world outside thinks Southerners are freaks, illiterates . . . sexual perverts, lynchers. I cannot call this sense a Southern “paranoia” because ten years outside the South has all too often confirmed the frequency with which non-Southerners express such views. Not even the presidency would free LBJ and Jimmy Carter from the ridicule.... And Elvis was truly different, in all those tacky Southern ways one is supposed to rise above with money and sophistication. (97)

Regarding the deification of the dead Elvis, she observes:

[H]is death confirmed the tragic frailty, the violence, the intellectual poverty, the extravagance of emotion, the loneliness, the suffering, the sense of loss. Almost everything about his death, including the enterprising cousin who sold the casket pictures to National Enquirer, dismays, but nothing can detract from Elvis himself.... Greil Marcus wrote in his book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music that Elvis created a beautiful illusion, a fantasy that shut nothing out. The opposite was true. The fascination was the reality always showing through the illusion--the illusion of wealth and the psyche of poverty; the illusion of success and the pinch of ridicule; the illusion of invincibility and the tragedy of frailty; the illusion of complete control and the reality of inner chaos.... Elvis had all the freedom the world can offer and could escape nothing. (103)

Her final, acute insight is painfully true: by saying that Elvis could escape nothing, she means escape the Southern mythology, both what he inherited as a Southerner by birth, and what someone from the South is perceived to be by non-Southerners. The contempt for his Southern cracker origins may have been why he was never allowed to be the great actor he could have been. Even Jimmy Carter as president couldn’t escape the stigma of being from the South: the mass media was brutal on him, his brother Billy, and even his daughter Amy.

Because societies can suffer from amnesia just as an individuals can, the specific meanings of “Elvis” no longer exist. Many young people today know Elvis is a rock star only because they have read that he was one. For Robert Ray (also from the South), writing in The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, dead Elvis is a grand example of a celebrity “whose fame, even at its its peak, is inseparable from camp.” He doesn't write that with glee.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Actress Tilda Swinton
According to the Wiktionary, the term xanthocroi was introduced by biologist  T. H. Huxley, from the ancient Greek word ξανθός (ksanthós, “fair,” “yellow,” “golden,” “blond”) + χρώς (khrṓs, “skin”). For Huxley, the term xanthochroi named “a division of the human population having fair skin and wavy blonde hair.” Not a word that is likely to appear in song lyrics, despite songs with titles such as Blondes (Have More Fun)” and Blonde Hair and Blue Eyes,” the word xanthochroid refers to a person with pale skin and yellow hair.

Rather obviously, xanthochroid is an extremely difficult term with which to make a rhyme. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), the protagonist, Longfellow Deeds, who writes greeting-card verse, remarks on the difficulty of finding a rhyme for the proper name, “Buddington.” So, too, is finding a rhyme for the loose cognate of xanthocroid, “yellow.” Not many words rhyme with it. There are songs about yellow roses, yellow moons, yellow roads, yellow submarines and yellow taxis, but only two songs, to my knowledge, that contain words that rhyme with yellow: Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” and Frank Zappa’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”  There is, however, an album title that is arguably an easy way to remember the meaning of the word xanthochroid: Blonde on Blonde.

A few songs about yellow things:

Yellow - Coldplay
Yellow Man - Randy Newman
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
Yellow Ledbetter - Pearl Jam
Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow - Frank Zappa
Yellow Dog Blues - Johnny Maddox
Yellow Bird - The Mills Brothers
The Yellow Rose of Texas - Mitch Miller
Mellow Yellow - Donovan
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini - Brian Hyland
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree - Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
18 Yellow Roses - Bobby Darin
Old Yellow Moon - Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
The Moon Was Yellow - Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra

Saturday, December 27, 2014

An Obscure Conqueror of Fame

Tara Murtha’s contribution to Bloomsbury Academic’s 33 1/3 series on classic albums, Ode to Billie Joe, is something of a sleight of hand. The monograph devotes only three pages to the titular LP. Instead, the primary focus is on the few known facts about Bobbie Gentry prior to her spectacular rise to international fame in 1967, the disputed authorship of “Ode to Billie Joe,” and Gentry’s reclusive life beginning about 1980. Happily, Murtha’s monograph demonstrates the value of impeccable research. The book’s fundamental thesis, how a young woman originally from Mississippi named Roberta Lee Streeter reinvented herself as Bobbie Gentry, is a fascinating read. Although she created an image of herself as a girl from the Mississippi Delta, a regional singer who emerged “out of a swamp fog” suddenly to appear on television (p. 5), Gentry in fact spent most of her life in Southern California, moving there in the mid 1950s at age 13. We are set up to expect an answer to the question, “Where is Bobbie Gentry?”, but we never get it. There is no final revelation, no answer to the question, because Bobbie Gentry has chosen to remain silent. She emerged from the fog, as it were, and then stepped back into it. For despite Murtha’s extensive and impressive research, Bobbie Gentry remains, to quote Joseph Conrad, “an obscure conqueror of fame,” a stubbornly inscrutable figure who in fact wrote no classic albums but one classic song. Actually, two classic songs, the other one being “Fancy,” a 1991 hit for Reba McEntire. But since Gentry had largely vanished from pop history by then, and because Gentry’s best album, Fancy (1970), was long out-of-print, McEntire effectively took possession of the song. Now 72 (Murtha points out that Gentry was born in 1942, not 1944 as is widely published), Gentry spent about fourteen years of her life as a star before retreating into obscurity, spending almost exactly the same time in the spotlight as another famous recluse, Greta Garbo.

But Garbo remained childless; Gentry did not. Murtha reports that Gentry married singer/comedian Jim Stafford on 15 October 1978. The next year, a son, Tyler, was born to them, and shortly after that, the marriage (her third) broke up. “In 1980,” Murtha writes, “Gentry was a 38-year-old single mother” (p. 125). If one were to venture reasons for Gentry’s decision to end her career, a rather obvious reason is the birth of her son: the end of her career coincides with the birth of her son. Another possible reason is that Las Vegas, where she entertained for most of the 1970s, lost its allure due to the death of Elvis in 1977 (Gentry became friends with Elvis in the 70s and also performed as “the female Elvis” as part of her stage show). As an artist she may have said all she wished to say, and decided, given the circumstances, it was time to move on.

Murtha’s book raises some practical and theoretical questions about the process of canonization, as well as the future direction of the 33 1/3 series that I’d like, briefly, to sketch out:

The practical question is whether the 33 1/3 series will, in the future, publish books on an artist largely famous for one song. With the exception of “Fancy,” Gentry’s subsequent albums included more and more cover versions, rendering them less significant achievements. As I mentioned earlier, the book is something of a sleight of hand, because it’s not about the album, Ode to Billie Joe, per se, but about an enigmatic artist and her one justly famous song (with a brief chapter devoted to the film inspired by it). While you can’t criticize a book for what it didn’t set out to do, one profitable direction might have been the intertextual linkage, pointed out by Greil Marcus, that “Ode to Billie Joe” has with “Long Black Veil”: “The singer [of 'Ode to Billie Joe'] is like the woman who walks the hills in 'Long Black Veil': she knows why Billie Joe went to his death, she knows what they threw into the black water, but . . . she [will] not tell . . . .” (The Old, Weird America, p. 141). The songs are different in that in “Long Black Veil” the dead narrator reveals the crime for which he was found guilty, but most importantly, both songs share the idea of the guilty secret. I mention this only to point out that if you wish to unpack an enigmatic song, intertextual analysis is essential. Murtha does acknowledge, however, the answer song to “Ode to Billie Joe,” Bob Dylan and the Band’s “Answer to ‘Ode’,” released as “Clothesline Saga” on the official Basement Tapes (1975). (See the chapter, “Kill Devil Hills,” in Marcus’s The Old, Weird America.)

Theoretically speaking, the book makes explicit an observation made by Robert Christgau over a decade ago, that the idea of a rock canon is “a complete absurdity.” It has never been completely clear whether at its inception the 33 1/3 book series set out to publish critical analyses of canonical rock albums, or (more likely, in retrospect) sought to engage in journalistic canonization. In any case, the economics of the publishing industry have dictated the series become more democratic in its selection process, publishing studies of albums that are cult classics (Spiderland), are critically acclaimed commercial failures (Song Cycle), and are commercially successful contemporary works (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). I should add that while economics has a good to deal with it, the title selection also reveals how we live in an age of aphorisms (statements of personal taste) rather than one of axioms (universally accepted truths that are potentially falsifiable). Hence in every instance the author reveals the reasons behind his or her personal attachment to the album under discussion, meaning the author is also a fan as well as a critic. I suspect the series will continue to rely on critical approaches based on the principles of race-, sex-, and gender-based criticism initially developed in the 1970s, but will also rely on Bakhtinian aesthetics (the artifice of social life, the public persona as an invention) in order to rehabilitate the reputation of neglected works and artists, Bobbie Gentry being a perfect illustration.

Still, I admire Tara Murtha’s book and welcome it as an important addition to the series.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dolan - Dolan - Carless (Hard Meat)

Five years ago, in December 2009, I posted a blog, The Importance of the Name, on Hard Meat, a British trio that released two albums on Warner Bros. in 1970 and then vanished. Recently, Michael Gray, the former manager of the band Big Front Yard featuring the Dolan brothers, kindly wrote to me and provided information on the fate of the Dolan brothers, whom he knew very well. I thank Mr. Gray, author of several important books on Bob Dylan, for taking the time to write. Please visit his blog,

Here is Mr. Gray's report:

You asked for more information on Hard Meat. On drummer Mick Carless, I have no information, but in their post-Hard Meat days I knew Mike and Steve Dolan very well, so I can tell you a bit about them. Mike Dolan died on August 2nd, 2014, from brain cancer, after having survived the throat cancer he had fought against a few years earlier. Steve, the younger brother, died on May 22, 2000.

I met the Dolans in 1973 when we all lived in West Malvern, Worcestershire. They played a few local gigs with a changing assortment of other local musicians; I met them by going to one or two of these gigs.

At some point in 1974 they became Big Front Yard (another bad name? – anyway, taken from a SF short story Mike admired) and I became their manager. They got nowhere.

When exactly they became Big Front Yard I’m not sure, but it only became a fixture after Mike and Sue went to London, supposedly for a week, while he rehearsed with, and joined, a group named Forsyth… and came home a few days later, Forsyth having broken up. They paid Mike off with £30. This was in March 1974.

£30 was about the amount Big Front Yard were being paid for some of their gigs: £30 to be shared between the band, roadie Phil, me and the petrol. They played gigs all around the Birmingham area in the mid-1970s. It was that weary period punk soon abolished, when groups had to be fine musicians with loads of heavy-maintenance equipment and one gas-guzzling old van after another to transport all that gear and themselves, just to be able to play in a pub for next to nothing.

Mike was the leader of the group, lead guitarist and lead vocalist. He lived down a winding hill just outside West Malvern, in a cottage that had once been a country pub and was still called The Bell, with his wife Sue (whose sister lived in the Napa Valley in California) and Jesse, their very Just-William little boy. (Sue and Jesse both live in California now.) The others in the group all lived around town.

The first drummer, I believe, was Alan Mennie, always known as Min, and he was older. If he’s still alive, he’ll be 73 now. My then-wife and I had a house on a hill, with two stories at the front but four at the back, and these extra layers were flats we rented out. In 1974 Min and girlfriend Dot had one of them. Min and I played chess together from time to time. I can’t remember when Min quit the group, but it must have been at some point soon after February 1975, when he was playing on the recording session they did at Birmingham’s commercial radio station BRMB (which are on YouTube). Min gets credits on albums by King Crimson and Pete Sinfield, and was always somewhat jazz-oriented. Many years later – in the early 1990s – he and Dot co-owned a house in a little village in Turkey with Mike Dolan and his girlfriend Glenn, and I remember calling in there once and seeing Mike emerging from the sea with his surfboard, looking far healthier than he’d ever looked in the 1970s of his youth.

Min seems to have disappeared without trace now, along with Dot and the son they had called Jamie. We’ve googled till we’re blue in the face but cannot find them.

There were a couple of drummers after Min – one whose name I’ve forgotten and one called Keith Baker, who was a local postman, and who in 1976 also became a tenant of a flat at our house. At one point early on, the band also included an organ player, and he’s to be heard to good effect on "Mad John’s Dream," the B-side of their one single. The A-side was "Money-Go-Round," a Dolan composition. It was recorded in a nearby barn, and issued on Rampant Records, a label formed by my then-wife and I specially to release their record. At some point around the end of 1974 they added a second guitarist, Sam Sun (Keith Sampson, I think), who is on the BRMB sessions and the single and was a long-time stalwart of their gigs. He’s dead now too. I believe he killed himself.

Live and on record, Big Front Yard sounded pretty much like Hard Meat – which, impressively, the Dolans rarely mentioned in BFY days. Big Front Yard played a couple of London gigs (Newlands Tavern, Peckham, Feb 19, 1975: fee £20) they hoped A & R men would come to, but nothing. They sent a demo cassette to John Peel. Nothing.

Mike also had a little home studio at The Bell, and there produced, and played guitar on, a couple of tracks by childhood friend of mine, Peter Harrison – whose splendidly politically incorrect stage name was Huge Black Gussie Watson – which I have on a home-made CD. Peter died in 2007. Steve played bass on an unissued track by Edwin Dude which I produced in 1981 and have yet to give up on…

I last spoke to Mike on the telephone when he was living in Cornwall in another relationship that broke up subsequently. In his last two or three years he spent half his time in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, with his final partner Jackie, and half his time, also with her, in another little village house in Turkey, having quarreled irretrievably with Min and Dot over their previous shared Turkey house.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Gray

As Michael Gray indicates, several recordings of Big Front Yard are available on YouTube.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Did John Lennon Buy A Second Phantom V?

Guest blogger Eric Roberts writes:

After a long hiatus, this rolling research project about the history of John Lennon's white Rolls-Royce rolls on. Having authenticated the current owners and the whereabouts of one of the most iconic cars of Sixties pop culture eighteen months ago, we thought it was a wrap. Job done. Since late January, however, very exciting news has reached us that will interest Beatles boffins and Lennon lovers alike. As of the last few weeks we have been sworn to secrecy until our inside informant advises us that we can “let the brakes off and go public.” So watch this space for an important announcement about EUC 100C/5VD63, John & Yoko's luxury peace and love machine.

In the meantime, our last entry answered the question, “When did John Lennon dispose of EUC 100C and to whom did he sell it?” One thing that still remains to be addressed is why Lennon felt the need to add a second 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V to his already  impressive collection of cars parked in Kenwood's garage.

Before we examine the available information, it has to be admitted that a degree of conjecture, or theorizing, is unavoidable concerning this question. Until we have an accurate date of purchase, which we hope will soon be forthcoming, certain assumptions are inevitable.

So what do we know? Unlike his original Phantom V, FJB 111C, chassis # 5VD73, Lennon acquired his second Phantom V second hand. The completed chassis, 5VD63, was delivered from Rolls-Royce's famous Crewe works in Cheshire, just over 50 klms from Liverpool, to coachbuilders, Mulliner Park Ward on December 22, 1964. Five months later, the completed vehicle was purchased by Patrick Barthropp Ltd., London.

The name Paddy Barthropp (1920 – 2008) still resonates among RAF veterans and survivors of the Battle of Britain. Wing Commander Barthropp was one of the most highly decorated yet unconventional “gun” pilots of the Second World War. Self declared “sworn enemy of stuffed shirts,” Barthropp had no time for boring routine and “only obeyed those rules he agreed with,” not unlike John Lennon, in fact. So it was that in 1957, he could no longer tolerate the red tape and petty officialdom of peace time service in the RAF.
Wing Commander Patrick Peter Barthropp DFC AFC
With his friend and fellow flying ace, Brian Kingcomb, Barthropp established a luxury limousine chauffeur service in London, catering to movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Gregory Peck and Gina Lollobrigida. Kingcomb was also a modestly successful movie producer and so it was a natural progression for Patrick Barthropp Ltd. to supply vehicles to film production companies. Hence, in early 1966, when a Rolls-Royce was needed for the film Georgy Girl, 5VD63 came to be immortalized on screen. Note the personalized registration number, PPB1--Patrick Peter Barthropp's initials.
Patrick Barthropp's 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V, chassis # 5VD63,
purchased by John Lennon in 1966
Later that same year, when Lennon ordered his driver and bodyguard, Les Anthony, to find a second hand Phantom V, it was logical that he should call Barthropps to see if they had any ex-hire cars for sale. And as it happens, they did. Less than two years old, 5VD63 was driven from London to Lennon's home, Kenwood on the St George's Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey for him to inspect. We have it on good authority that the original paint work of 5VD63 was not as it would seem to appear in the black and white film Georgy Girl and in available photographs of the car. In fact, the side panels were “velvet green” while the upper paint work--roof, hood and trunk--were “valentines black.” Lennon, however, had a clear vision of what he wanted--pure white, inside and out--the opposite of the all over black color scheme of his original Phantom V.

Our only current source of information regarding the year that Lennon bought 5VD63 from Patrick Barthropp is an ITN interview with David Allison of Christies, London, recorded just prior to a major children's charity auction in December 1985. In the short TV news item (see video here) we are told twice that JL acquired 5VD63 in 1966, the same year that he met Yoko Ono.

August 1966 had been a momentous month for The Beatles, with the release of Revolver to critical acclaim, swiftly followed by their last, nerve-wracking tour of America. Lennon must have been especially wrung out by death threats and endless questions from journalists about his “more popular than Jesus” remark to Maureen Cleave. Less than a week after the band's return to the UK, Lennon flew to Germany to start work on Dick Lester's film, How I Won the War (1967). Later, he reflected, “The Beatles had stopped touring and I thought if I stopped and thought about it I was going to have a big bum trip for nine months so I tried to avoid the depression of the change of life by leaping into the movie.”

By an odd coincidence, as Lennon left London for Germany and Spain, Yoko Ono flew into London from New York with her husband Tony Cox and their child, Kyoko. She had dropped everything, leaving the organizers of a Fluxus event in Central Park to hasily find a substitute performer for her notorious “Cut Piece,” in order to attend the Destruction in Art Symposium and participate in a month-long program of anti-Art events. More than capable of holding her own in the heavily male dominated company of international avant-guard artists, Ono asserted that “Happenings” had become establishment and explained that her work was “a rehearsal and not an ultimate state of mind.”

“Two Evenings With Yoko Ono” on September 27th and 29th at the Africa Centre, Covent Garden, was one of the highlights of D.I.A.S., as reflected by the hefty entrance fee. On both nights she performed “Cut Piece”, daring audience members to participate and to confront their suppressed lust and violence by slowly stripping her, piece by piece, of her clothing as she sat on stage in a state of mindful imperturbability.

One of the members of the honorary committee of the Destruction in Art Symposium was Barry Miles who, along with John Dunbar and Peter Asher, was a co-owner of the Indica bookshop and art gallery. Miles would go on to run Apple Corps' spoken word record label, Zapple, until Allen Klein closed it down, and is the author of Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney's biography. Miles states that as soon as D.I.A.S. was over, Yoko Ono approached John Dunbar and persuaded him to give her a show at Indica, where her self-published book, Grapefruit (1964), was already on sale. Five weeks later, on the night of the 9th of November, “Unfinished Paintings and Objects” was previewed to invited guests, among whom was John Lennon.
John and Cynthia returning from Spain, 6 November 1966
Mr. and Mrs. Lennon had only touched down at Heathrow two days earlier after two months filming in Spain, where he'd composed “Strawberry Fields Forever” in his spare time. Les Anthony drove Lennon in his black Mini Cooper to Mason's Yard in London's West End. Anthony relates that his employer had second thoughts about attending the event and chose to sit in the back seat for half an hour before leaving the security of the blacked out windows of the Mini and entering the gallery.
Indica Bookshop & Gallery, Mason's Yard, St. James, London, ca. 1966
Perhaps it was because Lennon was experiencing the effects of LSD, or perhaps he was reluctant to face what he referred to as the “smiling scene” and assume the mantle of his own celebrity status. In any case, Les Anthony accompanied Lennon and was able to observe first hand what happened when John and Yoko met for the first time. (Note: McCartney insists that it was in late 1965 that Ono first came to London looking for original musical scores for “Notations,” a book by John Cage. When McCartney declined, he referred her to Lennon, who obliged by giving her the original handwritten lyrics to “The Word” from Rubber Soul.)

Yoko took one look at John and attached herself to him like a limpet mine--with much the same destructive effect,” recalled Lennon's driver, Les Anthony. “She clung to his arm while we went around the exhibition, talking away to him in her funny little high-pitched voice until he fled.” -- Barry Miles, Many Years From Now

“In those first days, before John left Cynthia, he and Yoko used to do their courting, to put it politely, in the back of the car while I was driving them around.” According to Les Anthony, who was certainly in a position to know, the time between meeting and mating was exactly three weeks. -- Albert Goldman, John Lennon: In the Hard Day's Light

Yoko Ono, Peter Asher, Barry Miles and John Dunbar, 1966
Whatever the truth about how and when the relationship between Ono and Lennon began, two undeniable facts have been largely overlooked by Beatles historians. The stark white walls of the Indica gallery served to emphasize the whiteness of Yoko Ono's art works. In pieces such as Play it by Trust, white serves to obliterate the dichotomy between self and not self. Conceptually, conflict is disabled by the unifying color, white. Though she often wore black, the dominant impression of Ono's work from the Sixties is of white on white.
Play it by Trust, Yoko Ono, Indica Gallery, 1966
Then we come back to John Lennon's decision to purchase a second 1965 Phantom V Rolls-Royce not long after he met Yoko. As we've already seen, Lennon immediately had the car resprayed white with white fitted seat covers and even a white steering wheel. Is there a connection between these two facts?