John L. Eastman, a lawyer for musicians and artists whose representation of famous clients such as Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Willem de Kooning made him a force in the entertainment world and who played a key role in a power struggle in control of the Beatles business 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 firm, Eastman & Eastman in Manhattan.
Mr Eastman and his father, who was also called Lee, worked with a long list of big-name clients over the years, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Bowie, Elton John and the estates of Tennessee Williams and the painter Francis Bacon. But of them all, the lawyers were most closely associated with Mr McCartney, whom Mr Eastman represented for more than 50 years.
Their relationship was professional and personal. Mr Eastman was the brother of Linda McCartney, Mr Eastman’s first wife. McCartney, and Lee was her father.
The Eastmans became involved in the battle 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 put them those in charge of group affairs. Despite their huge success, the Beatles were then on the verge of bankruptcy.
But John Lennon and the other Beatles had chosen another New Yorker to manage 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” — the opposite of the refined Eastmans, whose downtown Manhattan 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 group about those men, would consume the Beatles for years to come, even after their official breakup in 1970.
To break Mr. Klein’s control over the group and ensure Mr. McCartney’s independence, Mr. Eastman organized 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 that his brother-in-law wear a suit and tie to court. Mr. McCartney half agreed: He showed up in a suit but no tie.
The other Beatles responded to the lawsuit with dismay. “I still cannot 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.
At the beginning of their work with Mr. McCartney, the Eastmans helped him create what would become MPL Communications, his entertainment company. She owns many valuable copyrights, including publishing rights to songs by Buddy Holly, Fats Waller and Carl Perkins and from hit Broadway shows such as “Annie” and “Grease.”
At the Eastmans’ direction, Mr. McCartney also acquired ownership of all his recordings and songwriting rights since the Beatles’ breakup. Lee Eastman died in 1991, and Linda McCartney died in 1998.
In 2017, Mr. Eastman led a lawsuit by Mr. McCartney v. Sony/ATV, the music publisher (now known as Sony Music Publishing), to recover his share of United States copyrights in Beatles songs he wrote with Mr. Lennon. citing a change in federal law that allows creators to reclaim those rights after certain periods. The matter was settled; conditions were not disclosed, but Mr McCartney has registered US ownership of these rights under the MPL.
“John was a great man,” Mr. McCartney wrote on Twitter last week, along with a photo of him with Mr. Eastman in yoga poses. “Not only did he help me massively in my business dealings as my lawyer, but as a friend, he was hard to beat.”
John Lindner Eastman was born on July 10, 1939, in Manhattan and raised in Scarsdale, NY, the oldest of four children of Lee and Louise Lindner Eastman. His mother had inherited a fortune from the Lindner department store in Cleveland.
His father, who had changed his name from Leopold Epstein, built a successful law practice representing high-profile musicians, artists and writers, among them bandleader Tommy Dorsey and songwriters Harold Arlen and Hal David.
John Eastman graduated from Stanford University in 1961 and from New York University Law School in 1964. The next year, after working briefly in the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, he and his father founded Eastman & Eastman.
They developed a specialty in working with pop musicians whose business had suffered from previous representatives. Besides Mr. McCartney, they were best known for working with Mr. Joel in the late 1980s and early 90s, when he sued his former manager and lawyer. The case was settled and the Eastmans helped Mr. Joel to rebuild his business.
“He was fierce when it came to protecting the rights of artists,” said Mr. Joel in a statement to The New York Times, “and I credit him with every longevity I’ve achieved in my career.”
Mr. Eastman served on the boards of a number of prominent organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History and two music groups, the National Association of Music Publishers 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; a daughter, Louise; two sisters, Louise Weed and Laura Malcolm; and 11 grandchildren.