A couple of notable excerpts:
The first volume of Tolkien’s trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring… ranks with those favored few works such as Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies that speak directly to a generation and are remembered throughout life. It is notable that the Rings trilogy outsold these two, at their peak, at places like Harvard and Yale […]
United Artists owned the movie rights on the story for 12 years, during which two well-known directors spent nearly a million dollars on screenplays without shooting a frame of film. Both were planning a high-budget, live-action production.
The two directors were Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman, although Kubrick’s involvement is largely apocryphal. I have yet to find a reliable source for the legend, but here’s how it goes: The Beatles wanted to make a Rings movie, with John as Gollum, Paul as Frodo, George as Gandalf, and Ringo as Sam. John Lennon, a great fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, supposedly met with Kubrick about directing, but nothing came of the project.
UPDATE: The Beatles wanting to do a Lord of the Rings movie, similar in style to Yellow Submarine, appears to be true, according to Stuart Lee’s A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien (2014) and Nigel Cawthorne’s A Brief Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien (2012). Kubrick is not mentioned by either source, but he is mentioned in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2007), which cites Apple Records film executive Denis O’Dell: The Beatles’ 1968 “plans… to make a film out of The Lord of the Rings with a two-record soundtrack… were shattered when designated director Stanley Kubrick declared that a cinematic adaptation… was ‘unmakable’.” It’s also widely reported that Tolkien, who would sell the film rights to The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969, got wind of the Beatles project and instantly nixed it.
John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur) was the first director with a legitimate shot at getting a live-action Lord of the Rings film done. More on that tomorrow.
(Images via Artwork and Olde Paper/eBay)