First conceived 21 years ago when writer and producer Tiwary envisioned an immersive study of the great entertainment entrepreneurs, The Fifth Beatle was finally released in late 2013 and has already jumped into pre-production as a feature film. Along with Tiwary, illustrator Andrew C. Robinson spent seven years to complete the book, with four years of work on the art alone. Now enjoying the status of being a New York Times bestseller, The Fifth Beatle chronicles the Beatles’ story from the perspective of their manager, Brian Epstein. From his New York base, Tiwary recently spoke about the inspiration for the project and the life of the extraordinary man who vaulted the Beatles to stardom before succumbing to a premature drug overdose at the age of 32.
How difficult was it to study Epstein’s life in great detail leading to the book?
21 years ago, there were no used book websites. Back then, there was no Wikipedia, YouTube, Google. There are no books in print about Brian Epstein. There is a long out-of-print one called The Man Who Made the Beatles. I was stunned how little information there was about this guy. That fueled my interest in Brian. I uncovered a rewarding business story, what I was initially after. There was the human side of his story that struck a chord for me. He was gay at a time that it was against the law, Jewish at a time there was anti-Semitism. He was the ultimate outsider. I could relate to that sense of being an outsider and that big dream and the odds are stacked against you. That’s why that story has been so personal to me. He has been my historical mentor.
Without a foothold in available research, did you endeavor to contact people close to the Beatles story?
Because there were no books about Brian, I didn’t have a choice but to do interviews. I would read several hundred page Beatles prose biographies – who are the people who knew him best. His US attorney Nat Weiss shared his homosexual orientation and introduced him to the gay clubs in NY. Sid Bernstein did a lot of business with Brian and shared the Jewish cultural heritage. I tracked down Joanne Peterson and Peter Brown. Wendy Hanson passes away. I contacted these people as a student and unsurprisingly, they were all a little wary of talking to me. After a first call, they saw what I hope is clear: a very genuine project for me. I was a young guy who wanted to learn more about Brian. I was a kid wanting to learn. They took me in and over the years became closer and closer friends. Slowly, over those 21 years, they started opening up to me. That’s how I built up my knowledge base about Brian.
What qualities did you discover about Epstein in the early years that made him the right choice to manager the Beatles to their unprecedented level?
He was very confident in himself and really believed that he can make a change in the world, and was very restless looking for that thing. He discovered that in the Beatles. He tried his hand at a variety of things; his parents ran a furniture store, he moved back to Liverpool, started working in his family store, and opening a record department. In the 1960s, record players were big pieces of furniture. Brian’s idea was to also sell the records. They let him have a change with it. He did incredibly well with the store. He was a meticulous worker – they would find any record for any customer. He was not a huge pop fan, but by running the record store, he developed an ear for it. He could predict which song would be a hit. He did get it. He saw what kids were coming in an asking for. I think it’s part of why he had this vision for the band. He saw a group that were not unlike the classical composers that he loved – that they would stand the test of time. Brian believed that in 200 years the Beatles were like those artists – he loved timeless composers, and he thought that the Beatles were timeless composers.
Based on your research, how have you come to believe Epstein first heard of the band?
There is this legend that Raymond Jones came into the store and asked for the record, and that’s how he first heard of The Beatles. I do believe that a number of kids were coming in and requesting the Beatles record. Brian was writing for Merseybeat; he was given a column about what was selling and record reviews. It would literally be as though you wrote for Rolling Stone and never had looked at the cover.
Separating legend and fact, especially now, must have proved a huge challenge.
Because the Beatles are pop culture figures, doing research on them is particularly tricky. You have to go with what you believe and become one of the historians. As I did my own research, I spoke to a number of people and got contradicting stories. You just don’t know who to believe. It wasn’t until decades later that they were historical culture icons. Memories fade. People remember what they want to remember.
What do you think about the idea that the band, especially John, being skeptical about Epstein initially?
What I believe given the research that I’ve done, I don’t see any real evidence for that. The Beatles were not going anywhere. They weren’t advancing in their careers. They didn’t have the luxury to pick and choose. The Beatles were all very impressed with Brian. I’m sure [John] Lennon thought, “This is the guy I want steering my ship.” My understanding is that every member of the Beatles were impressed by Brian. In his later life, in the interviews that John did about Brian, he said that there were only two people in his entire life he trusted: Brian and Yoko.
Certainly, they would have known about Epstein’s homosexuality, and there was a famous vacation that Epstein and Lennon took just before the band came to America – what do you think transpired during that trip?
I think that they talked about the business and were friends and John very likely questioned him about his homosexuality and teased him in ways that might have been a little cruel, but I don’t think anything [else] happened. That’s kind of what I believe. I cannot imagine that anything happened. I think that Brian lived his life in fear that his homosexuality would get out, but there’s no way he would allowed himself to have an intimate sexual relationship with Lennon – that would have been the worst thing he could possibly do. Brian never wanted anything with John or any of the Beatles. Was he particularly attracted to John? I think so. It actually helped his vision. Here’s a group who could be loved by everyone if packaged properly. It wound up being critical to their success.
There’s a noted TV report in August 1967 where a news reporter caught them on camera returning from a trip with the Maharishi just after their discovering that Epstein was gone. How huge was the impact of Epstein’s death on the band, in your own opinion, and how did affect the remainder of the Beatles’ career
They were with the Maharishi, but they were in Bangor, Wales, when he died. At the end of the day, that analysis is probably a taste-oriented question. Some of the music that they made is some of the best that they ever made. It does feel a little bit more like four people trying to do solo work. From a band standpoint, it was kind of the beginning of the end. Brian viewed the Beatles as a family. He loved them they way that a father loves his children. I think he meant his boys, the children he would never have. You love your kids and nurture your kids, and dream big dreams for your children. They were a family; you guys have to stay together at all costs. Would he have been able to keep the Beatles together? Not likely. George [Harrison] didn’t want to be a third fiddle. I don’t know if he would have kept the band together, [but] there is no way that Brian Epstein would have allowed the Beatles to disband in such a nasty way. It was just so ugly. Here’s a band that brought into the world a wonderful message of love. There’s no way he would have allowed that to happen. He would have found a graceful way for them to retire or do other things, much like any family. I think that’s what Brian would have fostered for them.
You already have traction on translating the graphic novel into another medium – how is that progressing so far?
We are making a film this year. Peyton Reed is directing; Bruce Cohen is producing. We are going to start casting in March, making offers to actors. We have the great honor of having secured Beatles music rights through Apple Corps. Paul [McCartney] wrote us a lovely letter about it. We are the first film about the band to have secured unfettered access to the catalogue.