Last week in Florida, a nine foot alligator emerged from a sewer, which only fueled the longstanding urban legend that there are alligators in the New York City sewers. An equally false urban legend of the same magnitude is that Linda Eastman McCartney was from the Eastman family of Eastman Kodak. This myth can still be heard in all corners of the globe. Linda McCartney, who was married to Paul from 1969 until her tragic death from breast cancer in 1998 at age 56, was not from the famous Eastman clan. In fact, her father, a Bronx native named Lee Epstein, changed his name from Epstein to Eastman after graduating from law school.
The public does not realize that Lee Eastman, the late father-in-law of Paul McCartney had a pivotal role in the final years of The Beatles, as well as advising his son-in-law so that he would earn more during his years with Wings than he did with in his Beatle years.
Lee Eastman came into this world as Leopold Vail Epstein on January 12, 1910. He was the son of Russian immigrants Louis Eastman and Stella Freyer. He graduated from Harvard Law School at a time in which that famed institution did not have many Jewish-Americans. Shortly after earning his Harvard law degree, Leopold Epstein changed his named to Lee Eastman. He married Louise Linder, the heiress to the Linder Department store chain. They had four children, including the future Mrs. Linda McCartney and John Eastman, an entertainment lawyer who would also figure prominently in Paul’s Beatles and post-Beatles business dealings.
In the magazine Women’s Own, Linda Eastman McCartney said of her family background, “My father’s parents – they’re dead now – were Russian immigrants, very warm, down-to-earth, working-class people. My dad just happened to be born intelligent and worked his way through Harvard Law School.”
Attorney Lee Eastman had numerous clients of prominence in his distinguished career. Some of them were Willem de Koonig and Robert Motherwell. He began to invest heavily in music publishing copyrights, owning such songs as “Never on Sunday” and “Young at Heart”.
After Linda Eastman had established a relationship with boyfriend Paul McCartney, it just so happened that in late 1968, the Beatles bass player felt the band needed advice to straighten out the mess at their new company Apple Corps. He turned to Linda’s father, Lee Eastman, who recommended to Paul that his son John would be the best person to straighten out the “Apple mess”. John Eastman, an entertainment lawyer, graduated from Stanford and then went on to NYU Law School. Prior to entering private practice, he was a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, the colorful Texas Democrat who served in the Senate from 1957-1971.
A full examination of the difficult business and legal issues engulfing The Beatles at that time is too detailed to cover in a blog post. As is well-known, Paul McCartney wanted Lee Eastman to straighten out the mess, while the other three Beatles chose Allen Klein. In 1984, Paul expounded on how his father-in-law and brother-in-law so successfully managed his solo career after leaving The Beatles. He mentioned one piece of advice that Lee Eastman gave him:
“The music publishing business I own is fabulous. Beautiful. I owe it all to Linda’s dad Lee Eastman and her brother John. Linda’s dad is a great business brain. He said originally, ‘If you are going to invest, do it in something you know. If you invest in building computers or something, you can lose a fortune. Wouldn’t you rather be in music? Stay in music. I said, “Yeah, I’d much rather do that. So he asked me what kind of music I liked. And the first name I said was Buddy Holly. Lee got on to the man who owned Buddy Holly’s stuff and bought that for me. So I was into publishing now.”
Paul also added that at that point in his career, half of his income came from recording, while the other half from his music publishing business.
Paul’s controversial 1984 film project Give My Regards to Broad Street has an interesting history. When funding was sought, Lee Eastman took ten minutes of sample footage which was filmed on a simple 35mm camera to 20th Century Fox; he successfully persuaded them to bankroll the film project.
Lee Eastman died on July 31, 1991, leaving behind a legacy as both a top tax attorney and a philanthropist in addition to having spawned an accomplished family.