It was 1969 and Jerry Levitan, like many teens, decided to play hooky.
After the 14-year-old rebel heard a rumor that his favorite Beatle, John Lennon, was in town, he knocked on every door at the Toronto King Edward Hotel. Mostly, he found perturbed hotel guests minding their own business, but his boyish persistence eventually led him to the man he’d been looking for. This is how he became known as the boy who interviewed John Lennon for a full 45 minutes, a recording that he sat on for another 40 years.
Throughout that time, media outlets, documentarians, and reporters reached out to Levitan, begging for this intimate access to Lennon. Time and time again he refused, eventually going to law school and becoming a children’s performer by the name of “Sir Jerry.”
And yet, it didn’t occur to the busy lawyer and part-time actor to create something of Lennon’s interview until he met filmmaker Josh Raskin. Raskin was a 25-year-old animator who hadn’t done much outside of student films, but Levitan liked his aesthetic—and perhaps he had a soft spot for ambitious young people. He approached Raskin with the idea of using the full-length of the interview for a documentary, but Raskin volleyed another idea back: using Lennon’s message of peace for an animated short film. They called it: “I Met The Walrus.”
In many ways, Raskin viewed Levitan’s victory in seeking out his childhood hero as a “historical artifact.” The full-length interview (of which Raskin and Levitan cut down to just over five minutes) had moments in which Levitan expressed his distaste for drummer George Harrison, as Lennon explained the Vietnam War in a disarming way one might to a child. Raskin asserts this could never have been done by big stations like Fox or CNN.
Raskin, Levitan and their team of animators spent a year on the film in a second-floor studio perched above a paint shop. It was entered into film festivals in the Middle East and the Americas, and coveted a Daytime Emmy for “Outstanding New Approaches,” making it the category’s first internet recipient, alongside a nomination in the 2008 Academy Awards.
Levitan, however, was just happy to hear his hero’s words again.
“Piss for peace,” Lennon said in his interview with the boy. “Whatever you do, just do it for peace.”