Brian Epstein Marriage Tidbit

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alma cogan

Mrs. Brian Epstein? (or Mrs. Lionel Bart? or Mrs. John Lennon?)

MIKE GERBER • Happy to report that The Fifth Beatle, Vivek J. Tiwary’s graphic novel about Brian Epstein, continues to carve out a bit of space in the culture. Here is an interesting interview with Tiwary. Apparently Tiwary’s a strong supporter of marriage equality, and the book is affiliated with Freedom to Marry; in the course of discussing marriage equality, Tiwary says the following:

There’s a line in the book, during a television interview where Brian’s being asked about the Beatles’ romantic lives, and Brian said “I think Beatles ought never to be married, but they will be one day and someday I might too.” It was viewed as a throwaway joke at the time, but really it was a pretty heavy thing that he said – people who knew him well realized he was saying something quite dangerous for that time. Because forget about getting married, he was worried about staying out of jail, should his sexuality be discovered – that’s the way things were in 1960s England. If there had been marriage equality in the 1960s, it would clearly have made a huge difference in Brian’s life, it might have even saved his life.

Tiwary’s larger, and much more important, point is valid: there’s no question that much of Brian Epstein’s self-destructive behavior came from living in a time and place where his sexuality was considered criminal, and that living in a gay-is-normal world, with the option to marry, have children, et cetera might have discouraged his drug-taking, self-abusing, risk-craving behavior. Or maybe it wouldn’t have, we can’t know–but it’s a legitimate point and one that truly does argue for absolute equality and respect in matters of sexual orientation.

But I don’t think Brian was talking about marrying another man–for two reasons. The first is Alma Cogan, whom Brian had a very close friendship with from 1963 on. (Some in the Beatles circle expected she and Brian to marry, especially after he took Alma home to Liverpool to meet his parents.) Cogan died tragically young of cancer in October 1966, and her death surely helped cause Brian’s downward spiral in late 1966–the first real scare with Brian, if I remember correctly. Alma’s death plus the end of touring shaking Brian to the core makes a lot of sense.

Given who Brian was, where he came from, and what he seemed to crave, it could be that marriage to Alma–consummated or not–felt like his last chance to win the full approval of his family, especially his mother. Alma wasn’t only Jewish, she was also a product of pre-Beatles Britain; she was a pop star his parents would understand. On the other hand, Alma herself was dogged by rumors of lesbianism (though no less an authority than Dusty Springfield says ’tweren’t so), and was also squired about by Lionel Bart. And–supposedly–had an adulterous affair with John Lennon. So all this is quite complicated–but I get the feeling that Alma wasn’t simply a beard, because Brian himself was anything but simple.

The second reason is that gay marriage is very much a current issue, and while it might be politically useful and psychologically appealing for us to think that Brian Epstein longed to marry, none of what we know about his behavior suggests that he was just waiting for the right guy to settle down with. There were notable gay couples of the era that I could easily see wanting to marry each other–Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, for example–but Brian didn’t seem to have steady boyfriends, much less stable, committed partnerships. Epstein’s sex life wasn’t just furtive and serial, it also seems to have been somewhat impersonal, and to some greater or lesser degree part of the upper-class BDSM subculture of Swinging London. To suggest that he’d have married if only society had let him seems…convenient. Well-intentioned, a nice marketing hook for the book, but not really backed up by what we know.

Just as we diminish John Lennon when we turn him into Gandhi to give ourselves courage to do what we know is right, we risk missing something very important about Brian Epstein if we turn him into a martyr for marriage equality, a gentle gay butterfly broken on the wheel. Just as it was Lennon’s violent, impulsive nature that spurred him towards more peaceful politics, I suspect that Epstein’s darker, more transgressive cravings caused him to long for respectability–as Queenie and Harry would’ve defined it, not how we define it today.

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Stew
Stew
May 11, 2014 2:48 pm

I agree with you that Alma wasn’t “simply a beard,” not just because Brian was complicated, as you say, but also because I think very few of the gay-leaning men who married women and had families in that era would have thought of their wives as “beards,” even if their preference for men was acknowledged and consummated in an ongoing way. I also doubt that the women who were knowingly in these arrangements thought of themselves as simply beards. Sexuality and family is more complicated than that – for everyone, not just Brian. (There was the occasional arrangement by a Hollywood studio looking to avoid gossip about their leading man, where the marriage was truly a “sham,” but I think those were the exception more than the rule.)

J.R. Clark
May 11, 2014 5:32 pm

Some future historian/graphic artist is going to write/draw a hell of a graphic novel called “The Real Fifth Beatle: The Sir George Martin Story”. Wish/hope I will be around to read it!

Velvet Hand
May 13, 2014 9:28 am

Me too, as long as “The Real Fifth Beatle”, like The Book of Mark, mentions how George Martin didn’t really want to sign those Beatles at all but was pressured into it by a company displeased about that affair he had with his secretary WHILE ALREADY MARRIED TO SOMEBODY ELSE OMG WTF.

Hologram Sam
May 13, 2014 8:35 am

I have been guilty in the past of simplistic thinking concerning Brian, believing that if only his times were different, he could have settled down and married (like Sir Elton) and even adopted a child with Lady Gaga as godmother. But of course his reality was somewhat more complicated. Brian was drawn like a moth to flame to rough trade hustlers like Diz, and I doubt any marriage would have dampened those desires.
But maybe he would have been a happier person if Alma had lived long enough to convince his beloved mom she’d made an “honest man” of him. And no matter who he’d be chasing after hours, he could have breakfast every morning with a charming, talented lady. And maybe someone like Diz would have had less power over him.
But life never turns out the way it should. Ugly things like cancer and addiction and cruelty always seem to get in the way.

Velvet Hand
May 13, 2014 9:46 am

True, but I would like to add that even though we live in ostensibly more liberal/tolerant/accepting times already, the REAL breakthrough will only come when it is no longer mandatory for We Homosexualists to be associated with that terrible Gaga woman. Sorry, I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way. 🙂

Stew
Stew
May 16, 2014 7:09 am

@Nancy Carr – Sorry, the blog won’t let me reply directly to your comment above – One interesting factoid about gay marriage: “Homosexual marriage” was actually being openly discussed and considered around the time that the Sexual Offences Act was being discussed. (It became law in ’67.). The Act, of course, did not include homosexual marriage as enacted, but many saw it as a logical component of decriminalizing homosexuality. You can even hear both Lennon and McCartney refer to the homosexual marriage debate in separate, contemporaneous interviews. (They’re both pro, obvs.)

But, as I said above, no way was BRIAN talking about a homosexual marriage for himself in an interview, for heaven’s sake! I disagree with you that he couldn’t have imagined that. He probably could, but I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have happened for him, and maybe he was sure, too.

Hologram Sam
May 16, 2014 2:01 pm

Anybody who at this late date doesn’t think that one or more Beatles had a same-sex encounter–if even by mistake!–isn’t really thinking about what their sex lives must have been like. No “whoops, she’s a guy” moments? Rather unlikely, I think.

Allan Williams, in his book “The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away” claims that several transgender entertainers assured him they’d enjoyed Thurberesque incidents with the early Beatles.

J.R. Clark
May 16, 2014 8:53 pm

NO WONDER John drew in that manner!

Karen
July 19, 2014 11:06 pm

I take Brian’s statement to mean two things: a wish for a love-filled life, and an attempt to establish his (faux) heterosexual creds in the press. Probably more the latter than the former.

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