Cool Videos: The unreleased first adaptation of The Hobbit
Now this is an awesome find- the very first adaptation of "The Hobbit"! Made by animator Gene Deitch and Czech illustrator Adolf Born who cranked it out in a mere 30 days in order to secure the rights for producer William Snyder, it's a unique piece of film history, for sure.
Deitch has some words on his website about the production.
In 1964, before anyone but some obscure Brit kids ever heard of it, Bill handed me a faded little 1937 children’s book named, "The Hobbit". He recognized it was a great story, and he obtained the film rights to it and the other works by a fusty old English philologist, named John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Snyder’s rights extended to June 30, 1966. Just enough time. He set me to the task of making "The Hobbit" into a feature-length animated movie.
But it wasn't to be, thankfully, because "The Lord of the Rings" hadn't gotten huge yet and the fans would have gone insane at the changes.
Having assumed there was only The Hobbit to contend with, and following Snyder’s wish, we had taken some liberties with the story that a few years later would be grounds for burning at the stake. For example, I had introduced a series of songs, changed some of the characters’ names, played loosely with the plot, and even created a girl character, a Princess no less, to go along on the quest, and to eventually overcome Bilbo Baggins’ bachelorhood! I could Hollywoodize as well as the next man…
When Tolkien mania hit, Synder realized he could make a bundle of cash by not really doing anything, thanks to a poorly worded contract that simply said that he had to produce a "full-color motion picture version" of "The Hobbit" by June 30th, 1966... not mentioning that it had to be live action, or feature-length.
The Tolkien estate had now been offered a fabulous sum for the rights, and Snyder’s rights would expire in one month. They were already rubbing their hands together. But Snyder played his ace: to fulfill just the letter of the contract – to deliver a “full-color film” of THE HOBBIT by June 30th. All he had to do was to order me to destroy my own screenplay – all my previous year’s work, and hoke up a super-condensed scenario on the order of a movie preview, (but still tell the entire basic story from beginning to end), and all within 12 minutes running time – one 35mm reel of film. Cheap. I had to get the artwork done, record voice and music, shoot it, edit it, and get it to a New York projection room on or before June 30th, 1966! I should have told him to shove it, but I was basically his slave at the time. It suddenly became an insane challenge.
He managed to get it done, even booking a projection room in Manhattan on June 29th and pulling in people off the street to see it, giving them free admission as long as they signed a piece of paper saying they had paid to see the full-color film "The Hobbit." So Synder got the rights back, and he sold them for nearly $100,000- in 1966. Wow.
This is the product, charming in its own way.