One day in 1959, Rex Makin, a legendary Liverpool lawyer who died late last month at 91, received a telephone call from the wealthy owner of a local furniture store. Her name was Malka Epstein, but everyone knew her as Queenie, the English translation of her Hebrew name. She was calling about her son, Brian: smart but lazy, he was kicked out of one school after another, and spent his days cruising about, trying to solicit sex. Which was a problem, because Brian was gay and homosexuality, at that time, was still illegal in England. One day, propositioning a dock worker in a public bathroom, Brian was badly beaten and robbed. To his horror, his assailant rang him up the next day, and demanded money in return for keeping quiet. Terrified, Brian turned to his mother, and Queenie turned to Makin.
It was a natural choice. Only 34, Makin was already one of the better-known legal eagles in town, an imposing sort who liked to boast that he earned his living “by the sweat of my tongue.” A few years earlier, he had successfully defended a young lad named Harold Winstanley, who, while training as a footman to Lady Derby, seized a German MP40 pistol one day that left his employer wounded and a few others dead. The prosecution demanded the noose, but Makin, thinking on his feet, issued a statement strongly denying an affair between the young man and his aristocratic employer. With the rumor mill now spinning furiously, Makin diligently argued that his client was merely insane, thus saving his life. Equally reviled and admired, Makin took an office above a notorious sex shop, had it armor-plated, and enjoyed his new moniker: Sexy Rexy. It was all very amusing to a Jewish kid whose parents emigrated from Russia and sold seamen’s trunks for a living and whose uncle was Leon Trotsky’s secretary. To such an outsider, English manners were a balloon to pop.
When the young Epstein showed up for consultation, Makin gave him one of his unorthodox ideas, instructing him to report the incident to the police, set up a meeting with his blackmailer, and arrange for the brute to be charged with extortion. The plan succeeded, and Epstein, grateful and awed by the wily older man, began to consult with Makin frequently. It was during one such consultation that Epstein proudly told his lawyer that he was finally ready to go into business. He was about to become, Epstein said, the manager of a local band.
Makin was unimpressed. When he met the four musicians, he judged them to be “a set of scallywags,” and predicted that Epstein was in for another one of his bitter failures. But the young man persisted, asking his lawyer to draw up “an unbreakable contract” with the band. Makin laughed. There was, he told Epstein, no such thing in life, and advised him to purchase a standard contract at a stationary store and have his boys sign it.
They did, and when Epstein became the band’s manager, Makin became its de facto lawyer. He had his work cut out for him: when the boys caught the clap, Makin arranged for a discrete doctor. And when the most tempestuous of the bunch, a skinny fellow named John Lennon, celebrated his bandmate Paul McCartney’s birthday by punching the DJ at their local club, The Cavern, Makin diffused a potential lawsuit by effectively bribing the victim.
Soon, of course, Epstein’s band became the biggest the world has ever seen, and Makin, amused, looked on as throngs of screaming fans mobbed them wherever they went. Always ready with the mot juste, he coined the term that would last to describe what he saw: Beatlemania.
Epstein died from an overdose in 1967, and the Beatles were no more three years later, but Makin’s career remained pure rock n’ roll. He represented murderers and victims, pop stars and politicians, always making headlines with his theatrical style. And now, like rock n’ roll, he, too, is gone. Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet.