Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
So far we’ve been treated to an array of artefacts from the period around the creation of the record. Over the last few weeks we’ve been drip fed previously unheard outtakes from the Sgt. Pepper sessions – one for Lucy In The Sky and one for the album’s title track.
There’s also been news of a documentary about the tumultuous Sgt. Pepper Beatles era, which is set to drop in July. But so far, this story has to be the best we’ve come across.
“My grandfather was on the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover”: Read the fascinating story of Huntz Hall and how he came to be on the most iconic album cover of all time.
Published on Dangerous Minds, Oliver Hall, who’s grandfather features on the album’s famous cover, explains how he came to be there.
The article tells the story of Huntz Hall, the mysterious figure lurking in the back row of the illustrious group, one person over (to the left) from Bob Dylan’s disembodied head.
As the story reads:
“In the original photo shoot for the album cover, Huntz appeared next to Leo Gorcey, his co-star in hundreds of Dead End Kids, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys movies. But Leo asked for money, and Peter Blake airbrushed him out. Huntz, bless him, did not ask for money, so he stands alone in the back row between a Vargas girl and Simon Rodia, whose head seems to be growing out of Bob Dylan’s. Lined up in front of him are Karl Marx, H.G. Wells and Paramahansa Yogananda.”
Hall reminisces about growing up with an obscurely famous grandfather, who’s own celebrity as an actor landed him in a position that few could grasp as fact.
“It is strange and puzzling to see your grandfather on the cover of a Beatles album,” Hall wrote. “When you are on the playground 20 years after the Summer of Love and you tell your school chums your grandfather is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, they respond that you are wrong and he is not.”
Stranger still to Hall was his grandfather scout-ish attire:
“The biggest puzzle was Huntz’s appearance. Squinting in the daylight, wearing a tarboosh, a green djellaba and a red velvet scarf, he looks more like a carpet dealer standing in the Jemaa el-Fnaa at high noon than a Depression-era NYC tough.
But, at last, I have discovered the solution to this puzzle: he is not wearing any of those things. Thanks to the good work of the Sgt. Pepper Photos blog, I now see that cover artist Peter Blake’s source was this black and white group shot of the Dead End Kids, with Huntz in familiar attire.”
Reflecting on who had the final say of the inclusion of Huntz Hall, Oliver wrote:
“While Blake says the Bowery Boys were his choice, my father—who has contributed to a forthcoming book of essays about the crowd on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s whose name I do not yet know—thinks the pot bust that sent Huntz to jail in 1948 must have endeared him to the Fabs.”
“All I know for sure is what Beatle Paul says in Conversations with McCartney:
‘I asked everyone, Give us a list of your ten top heroes. John, of course, got far-out, as usual. He put Hitler and Jesus in. That was vetoed. Hitler particularly. It’s not who was his favorite character but ‘We’ve got to invent egos for these guys [i.e., Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band], who do they like?’ I put Einstein, Aldous Huxley, just various people that we’d read something of. Steinbeck.
Then it got into funny ones. Cos you can’t go long in a group like that without it getting to be Billy Liddell, an old footballer. [Actually it was Albert Stubbins, another Liverpool player.] Dixie Dean [of Liverpool’s local rivals Everton]. And George came in with Sri Babaji, cos he was heavily into that, and this great idea that Babaji is one of the top Indian gurus, who keeps reincarnating. Fine, you know? Get a picture of Babaji, he’s in…
Then I’d fight with EMI and we had to write letters to Marlon Brando, all the people. And I said, Just ask, write a nice letter. They said, ‘We’ll get sued!’ I said, no you won’t, just write them. I said to Sir Joseph Lockwood [EMI’s chairman], ‘Now Joe, come on,’ cos I had a good relationship with him. ‘It’ll be all right.’ So they wrote letters and everybody replied saying ‘Yeah, fine, I don’t mind, put me on a Beatles cover, it’ll be cool!’ Except one of the Bowery Boys [Leo Gorcey] who didn’t want to do it, he wanted a fee. So we said, fuck him, and we left him off. One of them got on [Huntz Hall], one of them didn’t.’
Huntz told me he spoke to the Beatles on the phone and they sent him four signed copies of Sgt. Pepper’s. I’m sure that’s true, but if so, the records were subsequently mislaid. If you find them, don’t forget to give them to me, so that I might own, possess and have them.”
We hope this placates the curiosity of any Beatle fanatics who have poured over the Sgt. Pepper cover and been mystified by the hunched figure in the top right.
Cheers to Oliver for solving this mystery. Now we can enjoy Sgt. Pepper on its 50th birthday in peace.
Read the full story here.
[this story originally appeared on Dangerous Minds]