Mersey Beat founder and editor Bill Harry on Wednesday termed a longstanding legend that the Beatles (music group) took their name from the Beetles (motorcycle gang) in the Marlon Brando movie “The Wild One” as “fiction." In a posting on Facebook, later confirmed by email, he said the story was not true because he was there as the names were being discussed for the group.
“I was with John and Stu when they were coming up with the new names,” Harry said. “We'd never heard of 'The Wild One' and had never seen it because it was banned in Britain and not shown until 1968. Pauline Sutcliffe tried to explain the myth by saying Stu saw it at a film club. That's untrue. I ran the college film club. You couldn't rent a banned film anyway.”
That legend has had help over the years from various Beatles. George Harrison, in a 1978 radio program in the Earth News series, was heard in an audio clip saying, “John used to say in his American accent, 'Where we going, fellas?' And we'd say, 'To the top, Johnny.' And we used to just do that as a laugh but that was actually the Johnny who, I suppose, was from 'The Wild One.' When Lee Marvin drives up with his motorcycle gang and, if my ears weren't tricking me, I could have sworn when Marlon Brando was talking to Lee Marvin, Lee Marvin said to him, 'Look, Johnny. I think such-and-such. The Beetles think that you're such and such,' as if his motorcycle gang was called the Beatles."
He repeated the story in "The Beatles Anthology" book on page 41.
“There were the Crickets, who backed Buddy Holly, that similarity, but Stuart was really into Marlon Brando, and in the movie 'The Wild One, there is a scene where Lee Marvin says, 'Johnny, we've been looking for you, the Beetles have missed you.' Maybe John and Stu were both thinking about it at the time, so we'll leave that one. We'll give it 50-50 to Sutcliffe/Lennon.”
Paul McCartney also mentions “The Wild One” in the “Anthology” book on the same page.
“In 'The Wild One,' when he says, 'Even the Beetles missed ya!,' he points to the motorcycle chicks. A friend has since looked it up in a dictionary of motorcycle slang and found that it's slang for 'motorcycle girls.' So work that one out!”
But Harry says it was Derek Taylor who first brought up the film to the Beatles.
“Derek Taylor saw the film when he was in America after 1964 and heard Lee Marvin mention a motorcycle gang called the Beetles and asked George if that's where they got their name, ignorant that it was never shown in Britain. George, who wasn't present when John and Stu decided on names, assumed it might be the case -- and the myth appeared in the Beatles own 'Anthology.'”
He concludes, “John and Stu when discussing a new name, Stu said they wanted a name like Buddy Holly's Crickets, so they thought of beetles, but they had several variations including Beatals, Silver Beetles, Silver Beatles and finally Beatles in August 1960.”
John Lennon also says that in the “Anthology” book.
“We had one or two names. Then we began to change the name for different bookings, and we finally hit upon The Beatles. I was looking for a name like the Crickets, but that meant two things, and from crickets, I got to beetles. And I changed the BEA, because 'beetles didn't mean two things on its own. When you said it, people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”
And there you have it. It was a cute story while it lasted, though.
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