John L. Eastman, attorney and entertainment powerhouse, dies at 83

John L. Eastman, a lawyer for musicians and entertainers 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 the power struggle for control of The Beatles Business in The Last Days of the Band died on August 10 in East Hampton, New York. 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 named 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 artist 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 her father.

The Eastmans joined the battle for control of the Beatles’ business empire in 1969. Mr McCartney hired the Eastmans, a father and son, to be his representatives and tried to persuade his three bandmates to take on the cases to the group. 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 band: Alan 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 sophisticated 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 band’s disagreements over these men, would consume the Beatles for years to come, even after they officially broke up in 1970.

To break Mr. Klein’s grip on the group and ensure Mr. McCartney’s independence, Mr. Eastman organized a lawsuit, filed in London on Dec. 31, 1970, to void the partnership agreement with the Beatles. As part of their preparation for the case, Mr. Eastman suggested that his son-in-law wear a suit and tie to court. Mr. McCartney half complied: he appeared in a suit but no tie.

The other Beatles responded to the claim with disappointment. “I still cannot understand why Paul did what 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, which came several years later, could be negotiated.

Early in his work with Mr. McCartney, Eastman helped him set up what would become MPL Communications, his entertainment company. It owns many valuable copyrights, including the rights to publish music to songs by Buddy Holly, Fats Waller and Carl Perkins and from hit Broadway shows such as Annie and Grease.

With the guidance of the Eastmans, Mr McCartney also acquired ownership of all his recordings and songwriting rights after the Beatles broke up. Lee Eastman died in 1991 and Linda McCartney died in 1998.

In 2017, Eastman brought a lawsuit from Mr. McCartney against Sony/ATV, the music publisher (now known as Sony Music Publishing), to recover his share of United States copyrights on Beatles songs he wrote with Mr. Lennon, citing an amendment to federal law that allows creators to reclaim those rights after certain periods. The case was settled, but Mr. McCartney registered American ownership of those 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. “He not only helped me greatly in my business dealings as my attorney, but as a friend he was hard to beat.”

John Lindner Eastman was born on July 10, 1939, in Manhattan and raised in Scarsdale, New York, the eldest 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 changed his name from Leopold Epstein, built a successful law practice representing high-profile musicians, artists and writers, including 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 following year, after a brief stint in the US Attorney’s office 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 under previous representatives. Apart from Mr McCartney, they were best known for their work 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 the rights of artists,” Mr. Joel said in a statement to The New York Times, “and I credit him with the longevity I’ve had 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 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.

Leave a Comment