John L. Eastman, lawyer for musicians and artists whose representation of famous clients like Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Willem de Kooning made him a force in the entertainment world, and who played a key role in a fight of power for control of the Beatles Company in the last days of the group, died on August 10 in East Hampton, NY. He was 83 years old.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his son Lee, a partner in their longtime family business, Eastman & Eastman in Manhattan.
Mr Eastman and his father, who was also named Lee, worked with a long list of high-profile clients over the years, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Bowie, Elton John and the estates of Tennessee Williams and painter Francis Bacon . But of all of them, they were most closely associated with Mr. McCartney, whom Mr. Eastman represented for more than 50 years.
Their relationship was both professional and personal. Mr. Eastman was the brother of Linda McCartney, Mr. McCartney’s first wife, and Lee was his father.
The Eastmans became involved in the fight for the Beatles business empire in early 1969. Mr. McCartney had hired the Eastmans, father and son, to be his representatives and tried to persuade his three bandmates to hand them over to the group business. . Despite its enormous success, the Beatles were then on the verge of insolvency.
But John Lennon and the other Beatles had chosen another New Yorker to lead the group: Allen Klein, who had worked with Sam Cooke and the Rolling Stones. Mr Klein had a reputation as a fierce negotiator and, as Mick Jagger once described him, a “gangster figure” – in stark contrast to the polished Eastmans, whose Manhattan townhouse office was lined with museum-quality paintings by de Kooning and others.
The conflict between Mr. Klein and the Eastmans, and the disagreement within the band over these men, would consume the Beatles for years to come, even after their formal breakup in 1970.
To break Mr. Klein’s hold on the group and to secure Mr. McCartney’s independence, Mr. Eastman orchestrated a lawsuit, filed in London on December 31, 1970, to dissolve the Beatles’ partnership agreement. As part of their preparations for the case, Mr Eastman suggested his brother-in-law wear a suit and tie in court. Mr. McCartney half complied: he appeared in a suit, but without a tie.
The other Beatles responded to the costume with frustration. “I still don’t understand why Paul acted the way he did,” George Harrison said in an affidavit. In March 1971, the judge ruled in favor of Mr. McCartney, appointing a receiver for the Beatles’ business interests until the dissolution of their partnership could be negotiated, which came several years later.
Early in their work with Mr. McCartney, the Eastmans helped him create what would become MPL Communications, his entertainment company. He holds many valuable copyrights, including music publishing rights to songs by Buddy Holly, Fats Waller, and Carl Perkins and hit Broadway shows like “Annie” and “Grease.”
With guidance from the Eastmans, Mr. McCartney also acquired ownership of all of his recordings and songwriting rights since the Beatles disbanded. Lee Eastman died in 1991 and Linda McCartney died in 1998.
In 2017, Mr. Eastman led a lawsuit brought by Mr. McCartney against Sony/ATV, the music publisher (now known as Sony Music Publishing), to recover his share of US copyrights on the Beatles songs he wrote with Mr. Lennon, citing an amendment to federal law that allows creators to reclaim those rights after specified periods. The case was settled, but Mr McCartney registered US ownership of these rights under MPL.
“John was a great man,” Mr McCartney said wrote on Twitter last week, with a photo of him with Mr. Eastman in yoga poses. “Not only did he help me a lot in my business dealings as a lawyer, but as a friend he was hard to beat.”
John Lindner Eastman was born July 10, 1939 in Manhattan and grew up in Scarsdale, NY, the eldest of four children born to Lee and Louise Lindner Eastman. His mother had inherited a fortune from Lindner’s department store in Cleveland.
His father, who had changed his name from Leopold Epstein, set up a successful law firm representing high-profile musicians, artists and writers, including bandleader Tommy Dorsey and songwriters Harold Arlen and Hall David.
John Eastman graduated from Stanford University in 1961 and New York University School of Law in 1964. The following year, after briefly working in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, he and his father created Eastman & Eastmann.
They developed a specialty working with pop musicians whose business had suffered under previous reps. Besides Mr. McCartney, they were best known for working with Mr. Joel in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he sued his former manager and lawyer. The case was settled and the Eastmans helped Mr. Joel rebuild his business.
“He was fierce when it came to protecting artists’ rights,” Mr. Joel said in a statement to The New York Times, “and I credit him for the longevity I achieved in my career.”
Mr. Eastman has served on the boards of a number of prominent organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History, and two music groups, the National Music Publishers’ Association and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, known as ASCAP.
In addition to his son Lee, he is survived by his wife, Josephine; another son, Jay; one daughter, Louise; two sisters, Louise Weed and Laura Malcolm; and 11 grandchildren.