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Still, John went along with the process. "We respected his views," he later told an interviewer. "We paid a lot more attention to what we were doing, did our best to be on time, and we smartened up." His attitude: "Yeah, man, all right, I'll wear a suit. I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me."
But while Brian transformed the group's appearance and stagecraft, he never messed with their music. The professional managers of that era, had they been interested at all, would almost certainly have required the Beatles to choose a front man and limit their repertoire to the bland, pre-packaged pop music that made acts like Cliff Richard so successful in Britain -- and so uninspired. Whether because he was a total amateur or because he saw something that others didn't, Brian loved the Beatles' sound, encouraged them to write their own songs and cherished their originality.
He was also possessive. Like a jealous suitor, Brian ruthlessly eliminated potential competitors for the Beatles' affections. He broke a performance deal with Leach over a petty matter. He insisted that Harry print only what Brian himself authorized about the group. When the Beatles decided to fire Pete as drummer and replace him with Ringo Starr, Brian lied to Harry, telling him that the parting was amicable and mutual. "It showed me that Brian was very manipulative," Harry recalls. "With us, he changed over time. He became more and more demanding. And then he discarded us like a box of tissues."
Soon, other managers noticed, the Beatles answered only to Brian. "If you said to George, 'What are you doing next Saturday?' He'd say, 'Don't know; talk to Brian,'" recalls Jim Turner, a young promoter who looked up to Brian. "Whatever he said, they did." Brian repaid their loyalty with his own. "His enthusiasm was amazing," Turner says. "It was almost like a father talking about a son who'd passed his university exams. It was deeply emotional. He would talk for two hours on the phone about it. It was so much a part of him. It wasn't about the money."
FROM THE BEGINNING, THE BEATLES HAD BEEN TIPPED OFF BY FRIENDS THAT BRIAN WAS GAY. His first reaction was to deny it. Ian Sharp, one of John's old art school friends, asked him and Paul, "Which one of you does he fancy?" When Brian found out, he had a lawyer send Sharp a letter demanding a written apology and an undertaking never to repeat the slur. Still, Brian couldn't hide his lust. In his memoir, Pete Best said Brian took him for a drive one evening to Blackpool, the seaside resort town north of Liverpool, and declared his "very fond admiration" for Pete. "Would you find it embarrassing if I ask you to stay in a hotel overnight?" Brian asked. Pete said he had no interest, and that was the end of it. "We both carefully forgot about the journey to Blackpool," he wrote.
But the Beatle whom Brian was most intrigued with was the most brilliant and most troubled. Brian could see early on that, to get things done, he had to convince John. They spent many hours talking about the band, the strategy and the future. Although John's family was the most affluent, John was the darkest, angriest and most prone to abusing those around him. He mercilessly prodded and exploited his wealthy new patron. Tony Sheridan recalls John pouring beer over Brian's head during a visit to Hamburg. "Brian reacted with mild shock: How can you do this to me? I'm wearing a suit. I'm Brian from a nice family, and people don't do this to me.
"They were very grateful for the fact that this guy had turned up in their lives," Sheridan says by phone from his home in Germany. "On the other hand, the disdain was always there somewhere, a little lack of respect."
Despite John's frequent hostility, Brian ceaselessly tried to persuade John to go on vacation with him. Finally, on the day after Cynthia gave birth to a son, Julian, Brian and John took off for Barcelona. The Barcelona trip is a milepost in the Beatles legend. Why did John agree to go, and what did they do there? Only two men knew for sure, and both are long dead. Before they died, they gave varying and ambiguous accounts of what happened. "I watched Brian picking up boys, and I liked playing it a bit faggy -- it's enjoyable," John told Rolling Stone. Brian, he later told Playboy, "was in love with me." In Spain, "It was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated."
John wasn't so blasé at the time. When Bob Wooler teased him about the Barcelona trip at Paul's 21st birthday party, a drunken John punched him in the face, kicked him when he fell and hit him with a gardening tool, sending Wooler to the hospital. Brian wrote Wooler a check for 200 pounds and a letter of apology purportedly from John. John's great fear, he once confided to Brian, was that the Beatles were just a hobby that Brian would inevitably lose interest in. When Brian protested that he was just as committed to the band as the Beatles themselves, John laughed bitterly. As Brian later told Alastair Taylor: "John said rich bastards like me didn't know what it was to want to succeed. I had the family business to fall back on."
THE REST, AS EDDIE PORTER LIKES TO TELL TOURISTS ON THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR BUS, IS HISTORY. After countless train rides to London in which he failed to ignite the interest of the big record companies, Brian eventually persuaded George Martin, producer of EMI's obscure Parlophone label, to give the band an audition. Martin liked what he heard. As is so often the case in the story of the Beatles' rise, they came across a man of talent and creativity who helped them take the next step to fame.
Their second record, "Please Please Me," climbed quickly to No. 1 on the British charts. Brian worked the Beatles like beasts of burden, dispatching them on a seemingly endless tour of Britain and booking them on every available BBC program. Then he pulled the extraordinary feat of getting them a three-program starring gig on "The Ed Sullivan Show." They became the first British pop act to dominate the U.S. charts.
|The Beatles and manager Brian Epstein return to London July 8, 1966, after their tour of Germany, Japan and the Philippines.(George Stroud -- Getty)|
After Brian's death, his mother and brother decided he should be buried in the Jewish cemetery on Long Lane. The hearse hauling his body back to Liverpool was delayed in traffic. "Leave it to Brian to be late for his own funeral," Peter Brown says.
The family asked that the Beatles not attend, fearing a huge, unseemly gaggle of squealing teenage girls outside the synagogue. The presiding rabbi, who had never met Brian, gave an incredibly callous eulogy, calling him "a symbol of the malaise of our generation." He was buried in the city he had long despised, among people he had little use for.
"Deeply mourned and sadly missed by his devoted mother, brother and all his family," reads the tombstone. No mention of the Beatles. Each of them, except Ringo, would later denounce Brian's management. They didn't like the recording, music publishing and merchandising deals he had forged early on. Most of all, as the years passed, they didn't like being Beatles anymore. They associated Brian with a life they wanted to leave behind. In the end, for Brian, at least, it wasn't about success or fortune or fame, although he craved all three. It was about love. Paul, who over the years has managed to be both Brian's biggest critic and an ardent admirer, seems to have understood it best.
"Brian," he told an interviewer 30 years after his manager's death, "would really be happy to hear how much we loved him."
Glenn Frankel, who teaches journalism at Stanford University, is The Post's former London bureau chief. He can be reached at email@example.com. Liverpool music historians Spencer Leigh and Ray O'Brien contributed to this article.