“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim… ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.


Stanley Kubrick . 1970


The legend is that Mick Jagger bought the rights for $500 from author Anthony Burgess, who was hard up at the time. He must have been to have accepted such a paltry sum.  Mick would play Alex and his droogs would be the rest of what Burgess referred to as “a singing group known as the Rolling Stones.”

This urban myth was eventually refuted by one who should know, the Stones’ first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. “We were in the business of getting space [in the media], and so I said we had the rights to A Clockwork Orange, when in fact we didn’t. It was pure speculation and energy. The intention to make a film was there but it could never be a reality. Keith went along with it, but Mick looked down on it – he thought we were just being little gangsters.” This, by the way, is the same Oldham, who once pointed to the group and asked me: “What am I supposed to do with them? They’re so ugly!”

Jagger is then supposed to have sold the rights (which he didn’t have, you will remember) for a tidy profit, leading into a lengthy period where directors changed from photographers David Bailey and Michael Cooper to John Boorman, Ted Kotcheff, and John Schlesinger. Oh, and Ken Russell. His Alex would obviously have been Oliver Reed; they chose The Devils,i nstead. (What’s that? Reed was too old.  And not McDowell?!) 

There was even a petition in February 1968, to stop new plan of David Hemmings as Alex. Michael Cooper freaked out, recalled Terry Southern, and immediately typed a petition to Southern in outraged capitals. “WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, DO HEREBY PROTEST WITH EXTREME VEHEMENCE AS WELL AS SHATTERED ILLUSIONS (IN YOU) THE PREFERENCE OF DAVID HEMMINGS ABOVE MICK JAGGER.” It was signed by the glitterati of the hour:  Peter Blake, Marianne Faithfull, Donald Cammell (signing in as Don the Drom) and James Fox (they made Performance with Jagger), French star Christian Marquand (who had directed Southern’s Candy in 1967,with among others, Marlon Brando and Ringo Starr) and on the reverse side of the paper… it was co-signed by all four Beatles.



There is some muddle about who actually bought the rights first.  Writer Terry Southern or producer Si Litvinoff  (whose wife at the time, his first, was named… Toy Storey). Si had also worked as Southern’s lawyer. (Andy Wahol  was another client).  Michael Cooper told Southern about the book. In 1966, Southern told Stanley Kubrick about the book. (They’d worked together on Dr Strangelove). Kubrick proved disinterested in  the book. “Nobody can understand that [Nadsat] language.”  

Southern still felt a movie should, indeed must  be made.

“At one point I was making so much money on movie projects that I needed someone to handle paying the bills. I got involved with this friend of mine, Si Litvinoff, who had produced some showbiz things in New York like off-Broadway theatre. He did a couple of things for me as a lawyer. I showed him the book and told him how it would make a great movie. He said:

“You have enough money.

Why don’t you take an option on it?” 

So Terry took out a six-month option for about $1,000 against a purchase price of $10,000 –  “and some percentages to be worked out.”

Southern renewed his annual #1,000 option just the once. He couldn’t afford a second time. Hence, his pal, Si Litvinoff, and his pal, and business partner, Max L Raab, swept up the option.  Max was a clothing tycoon-turned-producer; he’d invented the Preppy look for women in the 50s. (Oh, really). “This film should break ground in its language, cinematic style and soundtrack,” said Si in a letter to UK director John Schlesinger. He added: “The Beatles love the project.”

Ah yes, the Beatles…

Raab apparently thought they would play Alex and his droogs (!).  Cooper suggested they would score the movie.  As if Mick Jagger would allow such an obvious best-selling album coming from anyone other than himself and Keith Richards. Bye-bye Beatles! And thanks for signing the petition, lads.

Southern wrote the script.  Litvinoff ordered another from Burgess, himself – 300 pages, according to John Baxter’s Kubrick book, but Litvinoff  said that screenplay, “which I have,” was 89 pages.

Raab, reported Burgess, was movie-struck since childhood. “He had read all the books I had written and found them cinematic, even the brief study of James Joyce. He would begin by setting up A Clockwork Orange, which the age of screwing and miniskirts was at last rendering acceptable for the screen, frontal nudity, rape and all, and he had his eye on various directors who would help me to write a script which should not reproduce the book too exactly. This was an aspect of film-making which bewildered me, the unwillingness to stick to the book.

“My four delinquents were variously to be turned

into mini-skirted girls and violent old-age pensioners.”

“The serious music crap was to be eliminated and hard rock substituted. I was learning a great deal about the film industry, though not quite enough.“

Si wanted Schlesinger directing Mick. Max favoured UK camerace Nicolas Roeg, looking out for a heming debut. And… it’s about here that Sanford Lieberson, aka Sandy, entered the fray (and wound up producing Kubrick’s film and running 20th Century  Fox in 1979). At first, he backed the other debutant director, Michael Cooper (who photoghraphed Peter Blakel’s Sergeant Pepper album cover).

An American producer living in London, Lieberson was stunned by book’s power and started checking into the rights situation. Almost inevitably, Sandy knew Si and explained his plans. “The language had an importance as great as the visual.It certainly would have been unusual – it wouldn’t have looked like any other film of that time.”

Jagger remained the #1 Alex. Even Burgess was smitten.  “I admired the intelligence, if not the art, of this young man and considered that he looked the quintessence of delinquency.“ But… the Stones found they didn’t have enough time to mess with movies.  And yet, Lieberson and Jagger found time to go off while Orange was still in a dither and make Performance in 1968 – co-directed by Donald Cammell (yes, Don the Drom of petition fame)and Nic Roeg. (Si later produced Roeg’s debut as a solo director, Walkabout, in 1970, and five years later, his Man Who Fell To Earth).

Next to bat – just not at the crease for long  – was jovial  Italian maestro Tinto Brass.  (One of my favourite interviewees). He’d made a ’68 splash with Nerosubianco (Black on White). Paramount flew him to Hollywood, gave him an office with his name on the door, and offered him Orange! Great, said Tinto (rashly, he admitted), but only if you finance  my next Italian  feature, L’Uuro (Howl). Tinto was shown another door. The one marked Exit.

There are, says the rjbuffalo.com site devoted to Brass and all his works, various Orange peelings in two of Tinto’s following movies, Action, 1979, and Snack Bar Budapest, 1988. And of course, he chose the Kubrickian Alex, Malcolm McDowell,as his Caligula.  Ironically, and probably coincidentally, props from the 1970 Brass film, Dropout, turn up in Kubrick’s Orange– sculptures by the Dutch artist Herman Makkink. And paintings by his brother, Cornelius. Five years later, Tinto would use Kubrick’s (and 007’s) production designer, Ken Adam, on Salon Kitty. Ken found the experience less suffocating than dealing with the micromanaging Stanley,

IMDd suggests that Kubrick only showed interest in the project once Max Raab put up $1m to back Nic and Mick – Roeg and Jagger. Certainly by  late 1969, Kubrick got back in touch with Terry Southern. He’d read it by now  – and second time around, “the book had an immediate impact”!  “What’s the rights situation now?” Terry introduced him to Si and Max, who made a quick, and highly rumunerative deal for  $75,000 or, $200,000 plus a 5% profit clause, meaning about $1.2m (the figures depend on who you talk to). 

Kubrick would direct, good old Si and Max would be exec producers, and the script, of course, would be Terry’s?  Well, no, of course not!  Only Tarantino makes fairy-tales about Hollywood.  Southern got…  just a letter. “Mr Kubrick has decided to try his own hand.”  Alone, for the first time. His first draft was dated May 15, 1970.  Shooting began September 7, 1970.

The delay was in locating the right leading thug. Once he saw Malcolm McDowell  in Lindsey Anderson’s Ifin 1968, he told his wife: “We’ve found our Alex.”

And if McDowell hadn’t been available?

“I probably wouldn’t have made the film.

As for “my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim,”they were apparently aimed, in consecutive order, at three Stones:   Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and  Keith Richards – and ultimately played by Michel Tan, James Marcus and Warren Clarke.  Brian Jones was suggested for the rival gang leader, Billy Boy –  Richard Connaught.

The film was withdrawn from British release in 1973 by Warner Brothers at Kubrick’s request after allegations (in and out of court) about copycat violence in the UK.  (Burgess based much of the book  on the rape of his own wife).

“To try and fasten any responsibility on art,” said Kubrick, “as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life, but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures.”


Footnote: This page would have been impossble without the rich research and

reportage located at former.rjbuffalo@gmail.com. Thanks, rj.


 ©REDITS     Alex McDowell, Warner Bros, 1970.     Petition photo, Paddle8, 2015