The movie rights for The Beatle Who Vanished, a book by Jim Berkenstadt about the life of drummer Jimmie Nicol who was a Beatle for 13 days, have been secured by Alex Orbison, son of Roy Orbison on behalf of the family’s Roy’s Boys Films, and Ashley Hamilton’s 449 Productions. Hamilton is the son of actor George Hamilton and actress Alana Stewart.
Berkenstadt’s book, first published in 2013, told Nicol’s story in detail. It included accounts of Nicol with the Beatles, his pre- and post-Beatles career and included many archival photos.
Nicol temporarily replaced Ringo Starr when the Beatle was hospitalized in 1964 for tonsillitis and pharyngitis just as the group was about to play a series of concerts. The new drummer passed an audition in front of Brian Epstein and received a new mop-top haircut. After a rehearsal with the group, he made his first formal appearance with them June 4 at K.B. Hallen in Copenhagen, Denmark.
During his almost two weeks with the group, he performed with them in 10 concerts at five venues, a TV show at Hilversum, Holland, appeared at press conferences and made public appearances as a Beatle. Besides Copenhagen, his concert performances were in Blokker, Holland; Hong Kong; and finally Adelaide, Australia, where he played his final Beatles shows. Afterward, he was given a check for £500, presented with a watch and dropped off at the airport. His time as a Beatle was over.
Orbison told Billboard in a phone interview he became interested in Nicol’s story for several reasons. “The arc of Jimmy Nicol as a person and the overall ride of his intersection with that historic high point of what seemed to be the beginnings of Beatlemania.” But he said it’s not just a Beatles story, but also revolves around what happened after his 13 days with the group were over. Nicol stayed in the music business playing with many groups, including Peter & Gordon, but mostly obscure bands. Nicol has since avoided the spotlight.
Orbison said his father’s connection with the Beatles also played a part in his interest in the film. Roy Orbison toured with the Beatles in 1963 in the U.K. “The fact that my dad toured with the Beatles and had become friends with them was always dear to me,” Alex Orbison said. Orbison started the tour as the headliner. But within a week, according to Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Live, the programs were being reprinted with the Beatles as headliners.
Orbison said another reason he was interested in doing the film was that he is a drummer. “I’ve been a drummer since I was eight years old. And my dad was very supportive and taught me things on the drums.
“I’m actually friends with Ringo through my mom (the late Barbara Orbison). The family side of it really occurred afterwards. When I first saw it just the fact that Jimmie Nicol was invited behind the curtain and was a legit Beatle able to do interviews and get all the perks and just be in and then to be dropped off back off at the airport. The second half of the story turns into a mystery. It seemed to have such a mass appeal.”
Hamilton told Billboard in an email he was also interested in getting rights to the book as soon as he heard the story. “I hear a lot of stories and this one grabbed me from the beginning. Everyone grows up wanting to be the president or a Beatle, but for 13 days! That has to crush one’s soul. It’s really the age old question — is it better to have never been or for 13 days?”
Berkenstadt, who calls himself “The Rock n’ Roll Detective,” told Billboard he never considered while writing The Beatle Who Vanished that it could become a movie. “It’s not something I thought about when I spent six years trying to flush out the person Jimmie Nicol, who had merely been a footnote in Beatles history. I just merely wanted to find out what happened to him,” he said in a phone interview. “But I’m excited that Ashley Hamilton and Alex Orbison find that it would be an interesting thing to partner up and envision the book in another medium and really expose it to a whole new audience, because it is quite a compelling story.”
He also said he’s considering a second edition of the book with a traditional publisher when the movie draws near. He self-published the original edition.
“I have an agent who will be talking to traditional publishers for a second edition of the book when a green light happens in the other media form of the book.” Berkenstadt said there have been developments in the Nicol story, which will be in the second edition. Berkenstadt, along with Orbison and Hamilton, will be executive producers on the project.
Orbison is also involved with other projects related to his father. Black & White Night 30, a 30th anniversary reissue of A Black and White Night Live, will be released Feb. 24. The new version, about a half hour longer than the original, includes unreleased songs and new footage not seen previously. Orbison is also planning a film on his father’s life.