Another exclusive LordOfTheRingsGuide.Com interview!
Glenn Yarbrough may be famous to many as a singer of folk tunes and pop songs, but to fans of the animated versions of “The Hobbit” and “Return of the King,” he’ll be forever known as the voice behind “The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)” and “Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”
How did he get involved with the Rankin/Bass productions of these cartoon classics? From his home in Mexico, Yarbrough laughs, “That’s really quite a story. I was sailing. I’m a long distance voyager. I sail alone, a single-handed sailor. I love to just sail across oceans, and I happened to be at that time in the South Pacific in a little island called Huahini. Now, I don’t have any radio on my boat. I don’t believe in carrying communications equipment to get people to come save me if I get in trouble. If I’m going to sail across the ocean, I don’t want to get anybody else in trouble. It’s dangerous, but I’ve been lucky...
“In any case, I was down on this island, anchored there next to another boat. The (owner) came out one day and said, ‘Glenn, there’s a guy who wants to get ahold of you on the single side band (radio frequency).’ Nobody knew where I was, and I thought, ‘My goodness, how the Hell did he ever find out?’ So I went over there and it turned out to be Arthur Rankin. He said, ‘We’d like you to come back and do the music for ‘The Hobbit. I need you here in about two days. ’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m here in the middle of wilderness, I can’t get out of here. There’s no plane, and I’d have to take care of my boat. It’d take a week to get back.’
“He said, ‘No, no, we’ll send a helicopter from (the Tahitian airport in) Papeete. They’ll pick you up, drop you off at the airport in Papeete, and you can take a nonstop to New York City.’ I was still reluctant, but he said he’d pay me $15,000 or something like that. When I’m sailing, I’ve figured out what it costs me to live, and that’s about $3,000 a year. So I said, ‘Well, I’ll do it.’ I went in to Papeete and they had the music for me there, but I was tired and I just went to sleep on the plane.
“When I got to New York, I went directly to the studio to do it. He said, ‘Have you studied the music?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he got irate. He was really angry. I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I’ve got three hours to do this?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it and you’ll like it and it’ll be fine.’ I did it and he liked it alright, only he was kind of a nasty guy.”
It turns out that Rankin’s foul mood was temporary, and only due to negotiations with the “Hobbit”’s celebrity cast of voice actors.
“He said, ‘Well, okay, what kind of billing do you want (on the credits)?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t care, just give me the bills you owe me and I’ll be on my way.’ He was visibly changed. He said to me, ‘Thank God. I’ve been dealing with all these big stars that want everything, and they want top billing, it’s just driving me nuts. Finally, I decided to list everybody in alphabetical order in little, tiny letters.’”
“I said, ‘That’s okay with me!’ so I went back to sailing and about two years later, I happened to catch (“The Hobbit”) on television, and sure enough, he had put everybody in small letters, all the way down, until my name and then it said ‘Glenn Yarbrough’ in huge letters!”
Had he read the book?
“I had not at that point, no... I went to St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, in the Great Books program, and my interest was in academic kinds of philosophy. I just never used to read comic books as a kid.”
Regarding the Rankin/Bass cartoon of, “Return of the King,” for which he sang “Frodo of the Nine Fingers,” Yarbrough says, “I don’t even remember that. They probably (recorded) the whole thing at one time and then just divided the songs or something. I just remember doing one session.”
Those recording sessions -- and whole portions of the “Hobbit” soundtrack -- were preserved on a variety of records, including a 7” single with an illustrated 24-page booklet, two different 12” LPs with booklets, and a 2-LP boxed set with a full-blown storybook. The cartoon’s artwork is also preserved in a beautiful 230-page fully-illustrated printing of The Hobbit published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in both softcover and hardbound versions. Sadly, the glue used for the binding is poor, and pages tend to come loose. Regardless, the volumes are highly sought-after by collectors. Anyone looking for a copy might do better to seek out the 1989 reprint by Galahad Books.
“The Hobbit Game” -- utilizing artwork from the TV special -- was also produced to the delight of Middle-earth collectors and boardgame fans alike. In it, players take one of five paths to The Lonely Mountain and the dragon Smaug’s treasure. An absolutely mint copy recently sold at auction for $45. The “Return of the King” cartoon itself was preserved on a record/book set, giving Tolkien enthusiasts something else to hunt for.
In the late 1990s, Middle-earth Toys, which had the license to manufacture figures based up characters from the Lord of the Rings books, hoped to make PVCs of the “Hobbit” cartoon characters, but was unable to due to contractual restrictions. As for anyone wanting to see the actual Rankin/Bass cartoons, the current DVD and VHS pressings by Warner Bros. Home Video are the ones to get. Some earlier editions, such as Peter Pan Industries, Inc.’s 1997 version of “The Hobbit” were mastered from poor master copies, so the colors look washed out and the images seems blurry.
by Claude Flowers