Thirty Years Ago Today Monty Python Star Graham Chapman Died
Celebrating 50 years of Monty Python and commemorating 30 years since the death of Graham Chapman we look back at a Graham Chapman solo project.
Yellowbeard was a British comedy film written by Graham Chapman among others and featuring an all star cast, including the last cinema appearance of Marty Feldman.
The film is also noted for the many problems it encountered before it reached the cinemas.
Getting Off The Ground
Peter Cook remembered how the idea came about “It all started when Keith Moon, Sam Peckinpah, Graham Chapman and myself were dining at Trader Vic’s. Keith suggested doing a movie about pirates and we were all discussing it and being enthusiastic, when I saw Sam, who was too tired to actually go to the lavatory, relieving himself in the artificial palm tree by the table. It was then that I thought the whole thing was rather unlikely to get off the ground.”
Cook was closer to the eventual outcome than he thought. Yellowbeard did indeed have a difficult time during it’s development. The original concept for the film was funded by Graham Chapman’s close friend and ‘The Who’ drummer Keith Moo. He was keen to play the lead role, but was dropped early on because of his deteriorating health.
The film encountered early complications largely due to the amount of time taken to get funding. There were at least four versions of draft scripts. The one that is “truest to Chapman and McKenna’s original version” is published in Graham Chapman’s book, “Yellowbeard: High Jinks on the High Seas”.
The major differences between Chapman and McKenna’s script and the one altered at Hollywood’s request, are the original had less emphasis on minor characters, and more emphasis on the overall plot. In October 1980 Chapman drafted in fellow comic Peter Cook to help with one of the rewrites. Hence Cook is given writing credits.
More Problems As Filming Begins
Scripts were not the only thing to suffer from changes. Among the bewildering number of changes was the change of the lead from Adam Ant to Sting to Martin Hewitt. Adam Ant quit over continuing production delays, whilst Sting was up for playing the lead until Hollywood producers decided the film was becoming too British.
Harry Nilsson was another well known friend of Chapman and was asked to write a preliminary soundtrack, including one song specifically for the film. This was not used, because the producers felt he could not be relied on to finish it.
Sadly Marty Feldman died of a heart attack during filming in Mexico City, December 1982. His work on the film was almost complete except for the scene of his character’s death, filmed a few days later using a stunt double. Chapman said about Feldman’s death: “I try to look at the positive side…I take pleasure knowing that Marty was back on form for his last role.”
Success Or Flop?
Although Yellowbeard did receive some positive reviews, critics were mostly negative and the film failed to live up to expectations at the box office.
After serving two decades in prison, Yellowbeard breaks out determined to recover the treasure that he buried so long ago, alongside his son, old crew, and the British Navy.
Graham Chapman – Yellowbeard
Peter Boyle – Mr Moon
Cheech Marin – El Segundo
Tommy Chong – El Nebuloso
Peter Cook – Lord Lambourn
Martin Hewitt – Dan
Marty Feldman – Gilbert
John Cleese – Blind Pew
Eric Idle – Commander Clement
Spike Milligan – Flunkie
Distributed By: Orion Pictures
Original Release Date: 24th June 1983