My Mentor: Brian Epstein inspires this 'paperback writer' | Crain's

My Mentor: Brian Epstein inspires this 'paperback writer'

  • Vivek Tiwary | Photo courtesy of Tiwary Entertainment Group

  • The Fifth Beatle is now available in extended paperback. | Photo courtesy of Tiwary Entertainment Group

  • An illustration of Vivek Tiwary. | Photo courtesy of Tiwary Entertainment Group

At first glance, there are few commonalities between Brian Epstein, the manager and unofficial fifth member of The Beatles, and Vivek Tiwary, a theater producer and CEO of Tiwary Entertainment Group Ltd.

Epstein grew up in 1940s and ’50s Liverpool, England, far from 1980s New York City where Tiwary spent his high school years hunting down rock shows and going to fine arts events with his parents. Tiwary is proud of his Indian heritage and through his work celebrates people who have been underdogs because of their identities—while Epstein spent his life hiding who he truly was from a judgmental world. And Epstein’s career was cut short by a drug overdose at 32, while Tiwary, age 43, has a successful career as a theater producer, with 25 Tony Awards credited to his productions.

Take a closer look, however, and the similarities are clear. Both Tiwary and Epstein arefrom immigrant families: the Epsteins came to England from Lithuania and Russia, while the  Tiwary family immigrated from India to South America, then to the United States. Both Tiwary and Epstein had the opportunity to go into family businesses established by hard-working patriarchs. And during their formative years, both Epstein and Tiwary had to make a tough choice: do what you love or follow family tradition.

Those similarities are what drew Tiwary to research Epstein for his graphic novel “The Fifth Beatle,” which was released in expanded paperback last month. Originally published in 2013, “The Fifth Beatle” is expected to air as a TV show by the end of 2017.

There are places I'll remember

But Tiwary's journey didn’t start with the intention to write a book. He first became interested in Epstein while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial management and marketing at Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the early '90s, taking actuarial science classes while dreaming of a career in the arts.

“I didn’t want to sell out,” Tiwary said, remembering his late grandfather’s advice to “Do what you love. Work shouldn’t feel like work.”

Tiwary says he didn't feel like he had the right connections that linked to the arts career he wanted to pursue. He wanted to learn from someone who had been where he wanted to go—someone who had effortlessly married business and the arts— and his lifelong love of The Beatles turned him to Epstein.

At first, he said, “I didn’t care about Brian [Epstein]’s personal life. I wanted to know about the management of The Beatles.”

As he dug further, however, he realized he had found something more than simply a historical example.

“As I started to take inspiration and education from his life, I came up with this concept that he was the mentor that I was looking for. The living, breathing mentor that I couldn’t find, I found in these history books and interviews,” Tiwary said.

The more he learned, the more Tiwary abandoned his vision of the accepting, peaceful Summer of Love era, understanding that Epstein faced incredible odds. He had to deal with anti-Semitism in a boy’s club of older, upper-class music execs, not to mention being gay in a largely homophobic climate.

“The human side of the story just all of a sudden encouraged me to chase my dreams. I think if there’s one message to the Brian Epstein story, it’s that no dream is too impossible and no person is too unlikely to realize that dream.” Tiwary said.

After graduation, Tiwary decided not to join his family's business in food distribution—just as Epstein turned away from his family's furniture enterprise—and pursue the goals his mentor inspired. But, it wasn't until 2004, as he was wrapping up the revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun," that he decided to write the book.

He wanted to tell an uplifting story, something new, so he started with his mentor of 13 years.

Getting by with a little help from friends

“He could’ve just said influence, but I think it really was on a mentor level where he looked at what Epstein did with his life and he tried to fuse that his is own life,” says Lawrence Gelburd, who is now a lecturer at The Wharton School and is one of Tiwary’s real-life mentors.

When Tiwary came knocking on his door in 1991, Gelburd gave Tiwary his first job as an intern at Integrated Entertainment, a Philadelphia-based music production and publishing house.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to be doing very menial work, but you can look at all the contracts I draw up and you can sit in on every phone call that I make,’” Gelburd recalls. “Between those two things, that’s how he learned from me—plus I was also mentoring him directly.”

Tiwary took that experience to heart, and after he started Tiwary Entertainment Group in 1999 and his label StarPolish Records—founded with the intention of being a source of industry advice and community—in 2000, he decided to pay it forward.

Among Tiwary's own mentees is Robert Siano. Now a lawyer with his own private practice in upstate New York, Siano signed his rock band, Spinning Images, with Tiwary when Siano was an undergraduate at New York University.

“[Tiwary] was like Brian Epstein to my band because we were rejected by everybody. It just didn't work. I was smart that I had a backup plan,” said Siano, who remembers nights in the studio with Tiwary, having to make choices between books or the band.

Tiwary told him to prioritize the future.

“He valued education and the fact that I was going to school,” Siano recalled. “He always said, ‘Have a backup plan. Make sure you get what you want out of this life. Take every opportunity you can. If people tell you no, just go be yourself and do the right thing.”

Realizing his band wouldn’t make it was tough, especially because he had put so much effort into it, Siano said. But while Spinning Images no longer exists (it ended in 2004), the lessons he learned from Tiwary stick in his mind.

“I get inspired watching him succeed when a lot of people told him that he wouldn't and he couldn't and that he shouldn't and he never would, and there he is now enjoying all the fruits of his success,” Siano said. “It makes me feel like today is the day that I could make tomorrow better, and wherever I want to go I just have to try and keep trying.”

The determination to keep trying is also a lesson Tiwary says he learned from Epstein—but, he says, there’s still a distinction between idol and mentor, and a fine line between determination and obsession.

And in the end

“I think a mentor is somebody [from whom] you learn what to do and what not to do,” Tiwary said. “[Epstein] had different pressures, obviously, but I think that Brian didn’t make enough time for the positive things in his life, for the love that was surrounding him. He was so type A and so focused on his ambitions and his professional dreams that he didn't make time for the love in his life.”

Taking that lesson to heart, Tiwary makes sure to tuck his 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter in every night, even if has to go back to the office to work until midnight. Tiwary also volunteers time whenever he can with current students at The Wharton School, sometimes guest lecturing in Gelburd’s class.

As Tiwary’s old mentor Gelburd puts it, it’s a beautiful thing when “the mentor becomes the mentee and the mentee becomes the mentor.”

Follow Vivek Tiwary at @VivekJTiwary.

November 22, 2016 - 1:43pm