When The Beatles’ Pot-Smoking Made Filming ‘Help’ a Nightmare
By 1967, the cat was out of the bag as far as The Beatles and drugs were concerned. Before that, fans might have heard the band sing about a “Day Tripper” or felt like they’d been on an acid trip listening to Revolver, but after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Paul McCartney admitted he’d taken LSD.
That led to all sorts of speculation about the band’s music. On the subject of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” many insisted the initials (i.e., LSD) spoke volumes about the song’s content. (John Lennon said it was about a drawing his son Julian had made at school.)
Marijuana was a different story, however. During recording sessions, The Beatles were spotted puffing on a joint and having a laugh. And Paul later said he wrote “Got to Get You Into My Life” not about a woman, but about weed.
Fab Four pot use really took off in 1965. Late that year, they recorded the album George Harrison called the first when they were “fully fledged potheads.” And the stories about them filming Help! earlier in the year definitely back up that assessment.
The Beatles were ‘smoking marijuana for breakfast’ on the shoot
Looking back on the Help! shoot, John was his typically candid self. He described the movie as out of the band’s control because they hadn’t worked closely with director Dick Lester on their second film. But John offered another reason why Lester might not have tried to explain things.
“We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period,” he told Playboy’s David Sheff. “Nobody could communicate with us because it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time.” Ringo’s recollection was just about the same.
“A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film,” Ringo said in Anthology. “That helped make [the shoot] a lot of fun. If you look at pictures of us you can see a lot of red-eyed shots — they were red from the dope we were smoking.”
But while The Beatles were having a blast, a big-budget film crew was trying to shoot a motion picture. And that part got tricky with the Fab Four stoned for the duration.
The Fab 4 ‘seldom got past the 1st line of the script’ in afternoon shoots
In Anthology, Paul explained how The Beatles’ fun began to get in the way. “All we had to do was turn around and look amazed. But every time we’d turn round to the camera there were tears streaming down our faces. It’s OK to get the giggles anywhere else but in films, because the technicians get pissed off with you.”
Ringo said Lester had to consider mornings as the only time he could get Beatles footage for Help! “Dick Lester knew that very little would get done after lunch,” he said. “In the afternoon we very seldom got past the first line of the script. We had such hysterics that no one could do anything.”
Even with those small windows to work with, Lester and the band somehow made Help!, though it wasn’t as well received as A Hard Day’s Night. Looking back, Lester didn’t sound bitter about it.
“They were high all the time we were shooting,” he said. “But there was no harm in it then. It was a happy high.”