Originally published in Forbes.com
In early 1967 Beatles manager Brian Epstein was about to board a plane from New York to London when he had a strong feeling the plane was going to crash. His escalating drug habit and nonstop work regime had pushed him to the edge of sanity. As he boarded the plane, certain of his impending death, he passed a note to Nat Weiss, the Beatles’ legal representative in the U.S., that read, “Brown paper jackets for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” His life was flashing before his eyes, yet his final words aimed to protect the Beatles from the possibility of getting sued for the controversial album jacket, which features photographs of famous people, at that point without their permission. “Even on the brink of a nervous breakdown,” wrote Johnny Rogan in Starmakers and Svengalis, “his devotion to the Fab Four was all-consuming.”
As can be seen in the new the graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Broadway producer Vivek Tiwary, Epstein’s love for the Beatles was the secret behind his incredible accomplishments with them. Although The Fifth Beatle is a graphic novel, beautifully illustrated by Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker, its real power is as a primer for personal and professional success. “I really think that the heart of the Brian Epstein story is that it’s worthwhile to chase your dreams,” Tiwary told me. “No matter how crazy they may seem, no matter how many people may laugh at you, if you believe and you persevere and you fight for it, you can make your dreams come true.”
Tiwary became interested in Brian Epstein more than twenty years ago as a business student at Wharton. “I wanted to be an entertainment entrepreneur. Thinking that Brian and the Beatles were the team that wrote and then re-wrote the roles of the pop music business I thought I should study the life of Brian Epstein. I wanted to find out, how did he get the band a record deal when no one wanted to sign them? How did he come up with the suits and the haircuts? How did he convince Ed Sullivan to book them when a British band had never made an impact in the States? That’s what I wanted as a young business student.”
Tiwary also had another reason to take an interest in the Beatles manager. “Brian was gay and Jewish and from Liverpool, which in the 1960s were three significant obstacles. It was against the law to be gay. So in a lot of ways Brian was the ultimate outsider.” As an ethnic Indian making his way in the entertainment industry, Tiwary related to that outsider status. “With the exception of Bollywood, which is a very specific thing that I don’t do, you just don’t see people of my ethnicity doing what I do.”
The list of things Tiwary has done is impressive: he was one of the executive producers of Green Day’s American Idiot, A Raisin in the Sun starring Sean Combs (Puff Daddy), and The Addams Family, and he will soon bring Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill to the stage. His Broadway productions have garnered 25 Tony awards.
With each idea, people told Tiwary he was crazy, that punk music did not belong on a Broadway stage, that African American kids don’t go to Broadway. “That’s not very different from, ‘Pop musicians do not belong in Carnegie Hall,’” said Tiwary, “which is what everybody told Brian Epstein and Sid Bernstein when they brought the Beatles.” Like Epstein, Tiwary’s outsider status allowed him to look at Broadway with fresh eyes and re-imagine the possibilities of what it could offer. “I love breaking boundaries down,” he said. “If you find a piece of art that’s good enough then it doesn’t need to be pigeon-holed. It doesn’t need to be just for kids or just for punks or just high art.”
Epstein dedication to the Beatles made him a great manager, but it also sowed the seeds of his downfall. This is where The Fifth Beatle is most illuminating. “The biggest cautionary aspect of Brian’s story is the need to make time for yourself and for your family and I think that’s something that Brian did very poorly,” said Tiwary. “He didn’t make enough time for himself and for the love that was around him and that’s something I try to not do. I try to make sure that no matter how hard I work, no matter how hard I get wrapped up in things, that I make time for my family. I put my kids to sleep virtually every night. I feel that Brian would not have done that.”
While the Beatles thrived, Epstein languished. As the excerpted pages from The Fifth Beatle show, although the band members loved him, they had no idea he was lonely and depressed. “Brian shielded them from his problems,” said Tiwary. “This is where it gets tricky because that was part of Brian’s job: to shield them from his problems. You need to be the strong face of business to your clients. However, you also need to let them know what you’re going through so they appreciate what you do for them. They really loved him and I think he didn’t let them in enough.”
A recent study in the Academy of Management Journal speaks to the costs of managerial giving. The study, conducted at the head office of a recruiting agency, found that when managers supported their subordinates by talking to them about their personal problems, listening and expressing concern, they saw this support as going above and beyond their managerial role. But the employees saw the helping as just part of the manager’s job. They took it for granted and didn’t feel the need to show gratitude or reciprocate by offering support in return. As a result, managers felt disappointed and burnt out. One middle manager quoted in the study said, “Managing people is a thankless job. I know how well thank you goes down, but you very rarely get it for yourself.” The study, like Epstein’s story, brings to light the psychological costs of giving to others without getting your own needs met.
Epstein died in 1967, as he predicted, though not in the manner he expected. His death of an accidental drug overdose upset the delicate balance that enabled the Beatles to thrive. Although he had the vision to imagine the impossible – four ruffians from Liverpool becoming bigger stars than Elvis – and make it possible, he was not able to make his success sustainable. He did not take care of himself. And that’s why Epstein’s story is so relevant: it shows that achieving your dream is just the beginning. The real challenge is sustaining it.