Denis O’Dell, a producer on two Beatles movies as well as “How I Won the War,” “Robin and Marian” and “Heaven’s Gate,” died Dec. 30 from natural causes in Almería, Spain at his home in San José, Cabo de Gata. He was 98.
Father of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” producer Denise O’Dell and grandfather of Denis Pedregosa, producer of Netflix hit “The Paramedic,” O’Dell’s connection with movies stretches back to the ‘40s.
He had already produced six movies, such as Brian Desmond Hurst’s “The Playboy of the Western World” in 1962, before his association with the Beatles, which began in professional terms with O’Dell taking an associate producer credit on Richard Lester’s “A Hard Day’s Night,” starring the Beatles and released in 1964.
O’Dell is generally credited with persuading John Lennon to go to Almería to star in the absurdist WWII drama “How I Won the War,” during whose shoot Lennon composed much of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a milestone in the Beatles’ output.
An associate producer on “How I Won the War,” O’Dell took a full producer credit on the made-for-TV “Magical Mystery Tour,” directed by George Harrison, Lennon and Paul McCartney, after which he was tapped as one of the four non-Beatle heads of Apple Corps, launched in January 1968 to channel the group’s disparate artistic and commercial interests after Brian Epstein’s sudden death.
Those interests, however, proved ever more disparate and Apple Films thoroughly frustrating. O’Dell recalled in his memoir “At the Apple’s Core, The Beatles From The Inside” how he raised funding from United Artists to make “The Lord Of The Rings” – John wanted to play Gandalf – only for Stanley Kubrick to persuade the Beatles over lunch that the books were “unmakable.”
Another never-made project was scripted by playwright Joe Orton and included the Beatles appearing in drag, committing murder and ending up in jail.
Such was the Beatles’ gratitude to O’Dell, however, that on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” one of the last songs the Beatles recorded, Lennon introduces McCartney as a lounge singer called “Denis O’Bell.”
O’Dell would go on to produce big films, such as Sidney Lumet’s 1973 “The Offence,” Lester’s 1975 Flashman-based “Royal Flash” and above all 1976’s “Robin and Marian,” starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, and Michael Cimino’s 1980 “Heaven’s Gate,” where he worked on the film’s prologue, set and shot in Oxford, but had little to do with the rest of the film.
By then, O’Dell had created a second residence in Almería, living in a spectacularly located house on a small hill overlooking a cobalt blue Mediterranean Sea. There he proved a generous host to anybody from the film industry visiting Almería and an integral part of its significant international shoot scene, which saw Steven Spielberg film part of 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” just down the road at the Playa de Monsúl and Ridley Scott shoot much of “Exodus” in Almería.
Despite ranking as one of Spain’s biggest film producers, O’Dell never sought the limelight. In a rare moment of public attention, in 2013 he was bestowed with the Almería Land of Cinema Award by the Almería Short Film Festival, its highest honor.
O’Dell took a supervising producer credit on Peter Jackson’s 2021 three-part documentary series “The Beatles: Get Back,” made for Disney Plus.
He is survived by wife Donna O’Dell, daughter Denise O’Dell, who co-produced “Sahara” and “The Kingdom of Heaven,” daughter Laragh O’Dell and sons Shaun and Arran O’Dell, as well as 13 grandchildren, including Denis Pedregosa, whose production credits also take in “Cold Skin” and “Black Mirror’s” “Black Museum” episode, and 13 great-grandchildren.