Brian Epstein: The Man Behind the Beatles
Epstein had his eye on America but his connections were limited to the United Kingdom. In the autumn of 1963, New Yorker Sid Bernstein called him at home in Liverpool to ask if the Beatles might be interested in playing Carnegie Hall. Bernstein was a music business student at the New School for Social Research and while he hadn’t heard the group’s music, he’d studied British newspapers for class. Mention of the Beatles had simply been impossible to miss.
Bernstein offered Epstein $6,500 for two shows and Epstein was impressed. According to Coleman, he couldn’t wait to tell his friends at Isow’s, a Jewish restaurant in London’s Soho district where agents socialized. For Bernstein, it was always a pleasure to do business with Epstein. “Once he gave his word he never changed terms or renegotiated.”
The two made deals on the phone, not relying on written contracts. “It was like a handshake on the phone. He just had that kind of quality, you believed him, you trusted him. That isn’t true of very many people in the business. My experience has taught me that it is very few and far between that you find someone like Brian.”
Bernstein and Epstein planned the concerts, and in November, Epstein flew to New York and arranged the three now-famous Beatles appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Their first show still ranks as one of the most viewed programs on American television ever. By the end of 1964, the Beatles had replicated their British success in the United States and were the top performers in the nation. “Not only did he get them to the United Kingdom,” says Frankel, “He got them to America. No British pop act had ever succeeded in doing that. They were the first to cross over.”
Now that the Beatles were a worldwide success, the time had come for all five men to leave Liverpool. NEMS moved into flashy new offices near the London Palladium. Epstein bought a townhouse at 24 Chapel Street in Belgravia.
It was a heady time for Eppy and the boys. London in the ’60s was a happening place and the band fit right in. They released films such as A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and in 1965, they were knighted as Members of the British Empire (MBE). Epstein simply glowed when the Beatles received their MBEs and Paul McCartney announced that MBE really stood for “Mister Brian Epstein.”
Some have speculated that Epstein believed that he was excluded from the honor because he was a homosexual and a Jew, but most say he never expected to be knighted. By now Epstein was a secular Jew who was observant only when in the company of his family, but he never hid his religion. “Once in a while people would make a remark that was anti-Semitic,” recalls Weiss. “He would say, ‘I am Jewish.’ He spoke out against anti-Semitism. He’d get very angry. He was against all prejudices.”
As the Beatles matured musically in the studio, Epstein arranged ever-larger venues for their live shows. Stops on the 1966 international tour in Japan and the Philippines were especially exhausting, marred with misadventures that were out of Epstein’s control. It was, however, the U.S. segment of the tour that threatened to be dangerous.
It all started with a Lennon interview that made American headlines right before the Beatles were due to arrive in the States. “Christianity will go,” Lennon had said while discussing the state of world religion with a reporter from the London Evening Standard. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”