A longtime professor at Southern Methodist University, Jeremy DuQuesnay Adams has dedicated his life to education and writing. By his own admission, he knows very little about music. He was only involved with something music related on one occasion, but it just happened to do with the Beatles. In 1968, the group released the animated film Yellow Submarine to great critical and commercial success. The film is now recognized as a widely influential classic. And a major character in it was based on Adams.
Now 81, Adams sits in his home near SMU, wearing a Yellow Submarine themed tie, one of many he owns, which he bought in London decades ago. “I don’t know if they’ll ever make these ties again,” he says. “I carefully preserve them in the back of my rack.” He also has an entire room painted yellow, full of memorabilia from the film, which he dubs “The Yellow Submarine room.” It would stick out in any home, but Adams’ house, full of artwork and furniture that span hundreds of years, could easily be a museum.
As Adams remembers it, one of his classmates at Harvard, Erich Segal, is the great author of Yellow Submarine. Originally based on the Beatles song of the same name, the group went through several screenwriters before settling with Segal. “He’s listed as the fourth screenwriter,” Adams says. “But I saw him do 90-something percent of it.” Adams recalls Segal working with Heinz Edelmann, the German illustrator who did the art direction and character design for the film. “The two of them were a terrific team; it was fabulous to watch them.” Adams has a wonderful piece of collage art from Edelmann, signed and made out to him.
In the late 1960s, Segal also wrote a novel called Love Story, which became a bestseller. A film adaptation was also a huge success, the biggest box office draw of 1970. Segal went on to write more bestsellers and screenplays, as well as serving as a professor at half of the country’s Ivy League schools. But Adams remembers that Segal was originally famous for being a classicist, adapting 17th century Spanish, Italian and French theater for the modern American stage. “He was great at adapting scripts,” Adams explains. “That’s why they got him to do Yellow Submarine.”
Adams recalls Segal rewriting the screenplay “almost totally” and having lots of fun with it, while remaining very serious. Segal did not use drugs, didn’t even drink coffee or tea. He removed drug undertones as much as possible and inserted learning devices that both kids and intellectuals could enjoy. “The way I got into it was that I had this bizarre name,” Adams chuckles. “What parents do to kids is awful.” Back then he was going by Jeremy Y. du Q. Adams, which Segal loved. The character’s name was originally Jeremy Y. du Boob, but was later changed to Jeremy Hillary Boob.
“The Nowhere Man was all about these poor faceless guys who walked to work in the rustbelt towns like Manchester,” Adams says. But that was changed for the “baboonish” character Adams was presented as in Yellow Submarine, Jeremy Hillary Boob. The Beatles find him in “The Sea of Nothing” and sing “Nowhere Man” in reference to him. He speaks in poetry, is constantly creating and uses his feet to write footnotes for his 19th book. Ringo Starr feels sorry for Boob and invites him to join them in the submarine.
The character was intended as a parody of public intellectuals and polymaths, so Adams definitely fits the description. A professor of history with a Harvard education, he specializes in Medieval Europe. But he has written books on Joan of Arc as well as Louisiana from the colonial period. He is fascinated by King Arthur and seems knowledgeable about any of the countless subjects that come up throughout the conversation. Anything except music, that is.
Segal gave Adams’ character fitting Latin tags like "Ad hoc, ad loc and quid pro quo. So little time — so much to know!" “I don’t think I went around saying that,” says Adams. “I hope not. Maybe I did.” The character also says there are no holes in his education. Like Boob, Adams was also a compulsive publisher; he could never publish enough. He admits it was somewhat of a cruel jab. However, Adams is totally inept mechanically, so he did enjoy being represented by a character that turns out to be somewhat of a handyman. “It’s a wonderful kind of irony,” Adams says. “I’m totally thumbs when it comes to anything manual or mechanical. It’s one of my worst, most embarrassing limitations. So that was kind of cute.”
Looking back, Adams sees the film as representative of a certain 1960s sentiment, when people really believed that love is all you need. Before the true extent of the damaging effects of drugs was perceived, even that aspect of the culture seemed innocent. “They were the walking young gods,” Adams says of the Beatles. It was Adams' good fortune that those "young gods" granted him his own little slice of immortality.