Created | Updated Nov 1, 2014
Linda McCartney was a remarkable woman. In her lifetime she went from being a respected rock-musician photographer to the supporting wife of one of the most famous men on the planet, enjoying a celebrity relationship that lasted until her death. She was a reluctant musician who nevertheless performed in front of millions. She was also an influential business woman, cook and animal rights campaigner, using her influence to ensure that living a vegetarian lifestyle became perceived as mainstream diet rather than a fringe fad. She even appeared on an episode of The Simpsons. She achieved all this, despite being despised and criticised throughout her life.
Early Family Life
Linda Eastman was the daughter of Leopold Veil Epstein (1910-1991) and Louise Sara Linder (1911-1962). Louise was the only child of a wealthy department store-owning family, while Leopold had come from a poor background but, having won a scholarship to Harvard's Law School, became a lawyer for prestigious artistic clients, specialising in copyright law. They married in 1937 and when their son John was born in 1939, Leopold Americanised his name to Lee Eastman. Linda was the couple's second child, born in September 1942. There followed two more daughters, Laura and Louise.
As Linda's father represented artists, many would attend dinner parties at their home, and her father would often accept paintings in exchange for legal duties. In 1942, her father undertook some work for songwriters Jack Lawrence and Ann Rochell, and he asked that they write a song dedicated to his daughter as a fee. The song, 'Linda', was recorded by Buddy Clark in 1946, becoming a number one hit. It has since been re-recorded, and notably was covered in the UK by Dick James, who later became The Beatles' music publisher. In 1947, Linda even appeared performing it on television with Jack Lawrence, which Paul McCartney described with the words:
When the original recording became a hit, someone decided to do a television segment of Linda and Jack. This was very early on in the TV era. She was five years old, this showbiz wife of mine. She was at it way before I was.
Linda had quite a privileged and artistic childhood, growing up in the posh region of Scarsdale, Westchester County, in New York. Her family had a house in East Hampton and a Park Avenue apartment. She attended Scarsdale High School. When Linda looked back, she said:
All my teen years were spent with an ear to the radio.
Wedding Bells and Marriage to Mel
Linda attended the University of Arizona, majoring in Fine Arts. This is where she met and befriended Joseph Melvin See, known as 'Mel'. Then her mother died in a plane crash on 1 March, 1962, on a routine American Airlines flight 1 from New York to Los Angeles, which claimed the lives of all 95 on board the Boeing 707. This was the worst civilian air disaster in American history to date, but Linda later said simply:
My mother died in a plane crash and I got married. It was a mistake.
Linda married Mel See only three months after the tragedy, and on 31 December, 1962, gave birth to her first daughter, Heather. However by then, Linda had realised that the marriage had been a mistake. Her husband was now a qualified geophysicist. Linda described her relationship by saying:
When he graduated he wanted to go to Africa. I said, 'Look, if I don't get on with you here I'm not going to Africa with you. I won't get on with you there.'
Mel went to Africa regardless, and so Linda wrote to inform him that they were getting divorced. The divorce was finalised in June 1965.
When my marriage broke up, I decided to get away from everything I had ever known before. I moved down to Tucson, staying with friends, studying photography at [the Tucson Art Center] and spending much of my time riding round on the edge of the desert.[...] Photography made me a different person because it was something I loved doing and just nothing else mattered.
Before leaving Tucson, Linda took her first photograph to be published. This was a portrait of a British actor then touring with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art which appeared in Britain's Spotlight magazine.
If She Can Make it There She'll Make it Anywhere
In 1965 Linda and her daughter Heather left Tucson to return to New York, and she tried to find a job. Having taken a typing course, Linda applied to the Hearst Corporation, who gave her a job as a receptionist for Town and Country magazine, earning $65 a week. She had to take Heather to a nursery on the West Side, catch a bus to the East Side, hurry to be the first one in the office by 9am, and then at 5pm she would rush across town to pick Heather up. Her job also involved opening the office's unmarked post to ensure it got to the right person.
The advantages of the job meant that she was close to the Museum of Modern Art, which she often visited in her lunch break, and she also got to meet many of the country's top photographers.
A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss
In June 1966, Town and Country received an invite to attend the press launch of Aftermath, the new album from the Rolling Stones, released when their song 'Paint it Black' was top of the US Billboard chart. This was not the sort of thing that the conservative magazine was interested in, but Linda, who opened the envelope containing the invite, definitely was. She attended the event, held on board the yacht SS Sea Panther, with Christina Berlin, Linda's closest work colleague who just happened to be the daughter of Richard Berlin, head of the Hearst Corporation.
Linda brought her camera and was the only freelance photographer allowed on board the yacht. She flirted with the band, especially Mick Jagger, and took many highly-regarded photographs. She simply recalled:
I was the only photographer they allowed on the yacht. I just kept clicking away with the camera, and they enjoyed it and I enjoyed it, and suddenly I found that taking pictures was a great way to live and a great way to work...
My father used to say, 'if you want to be a photographer, go and work for a professional. Get trained.' Well, I never had the patience for that, I had to trust my feelings.
Danny Fields, then editor of the Datebook magazine1 and later author of Linda McCartney The Biography, described her work that day with the words 'these were the sexiest pictures I'd ever seen!' This proved a pivotal moment, for she quit her job at Town and Country to become a professional freelance photographer. Appointed the official photographer at important music venue the Fillmore East, she soon gained a reputation for taking artistic photographs of rock acts, and receiving commissions for doing so. Linda's style was to work with a hand-held camera, using the available light rather than a flash, and preferring black and white.
From being a nine-to-five flunky at Town and Country, my life changed overnight. I didn't have to rush as much. I had no assistant, I had no studio, but it was great. I'd walk through the Metropolitan Museum on my way downtown, walking through the park to take my film in...
Soon she had pictures appearing in Life and Mademoiselle magazines and in the very first issue of Rolling Stone, photographed acts such as Jimi Hendrix and The Doors before they became world-famous. Her contacts included Nat Weiss, who was to become Beatles manager Brian Epstein's business partner in America. She even dated a few musicians.
An Eastman by any Other Name?
When Linda started her photography career she was still using her marital name, Linda See. However, many felt that the name 'Linda See the Photographer' was as fake as Mr Bun the Baker – after all, photographers see. When Linda changed her name back to Eastman, many concluded that the reason she had used what they perceived to be a false name could only be because she was related to the Eastman-Kodak photography family, which she wasn't. As a photographer beginning her career, Linda did nothing to dispel these rumours as they at least helped ensure that she was remembered.
At this time, her closest friends were New York journalists, especially New York Daily News and Sydney Morning Herald columnist Lillian Roxon, Village Voice columnist Blair Sabol and Robin Richmond, junior editor at Life magazine.
Paul the Other One: Bagging a Beatle?
One problem with having journalist friends is their habit of remembering and quoting out of context what may have been intended as an innocent, harmless comment. It is widely reported that in early 1967, Linda once joked in a room filled with her friends that 'maybe I'll marry one of The Beatles. John? – he's married. Paul McCartney, then.' Two years later, on 12 March, 1969, Linda and Paul were married. So was it really a case of Linda pursuing Paul, brainwashing him into marriage as many of her critics have claimed?
It's the other way round. I pursued her. The night Linda and I met, I spotted her across a crowded club, and, although I would normally have been nervous chatting her up, I realised I had to. So when she passed our table I asked her to come with us to another club, and she said yes.
- Paul McCartney on who initiated his relationship with Linda.
In May 1967 Linda was commissioned to provide the photographs for the book Rock and Other Four Letter Words, and flew to London to photograph The Beatles for it. Arriving in London on 15 May, Linda bumped into Paul at the Bag O' Nails Club in Soho, and accompanied him to another club, the Speakeasy. Soon after, on 19 May, she was invited by Brian Epstein's assistant, Peter Brown, to attend the exclusive Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band launch based on her photography portfolio, and especially the pictures she had taken of the Rolling Stones. All in all in May 1967, Linda spent approximately an hour talking to Paul, before returning to New York.
It was almost an entire year later that Linda saw Paul again, when in May 1968 Paul and John arrived in New York to promote their new company, Apple Corps. At the press conference, Linda passed Paul her number, and Paul phoned later that day. They spent some time together over the next few days, and Paul was even happy to babysit Heather for Linda when she had to go to the dentist.
In June 1968 Paul phoned Linda to invite her to join him for a week on a business trip he made to Los Angeles with Capitol Records. This was at a time in which his relationship and engagement to Jane Asher had broken down. Although after a five year relationship Paul had proposed to Jane on New Year's Day 1968, they split up after Jane pursued her own career abroad and returned unexpectedly early to find Paul in bed with another woman, Francie Schwartz.
In late August and early September 1968, Paul asked Linda to join him in London; at that time the last few tracks of The White Album were being recorded. In October, he returned to New York for ten days with Linda, meeting her family. Paul grew a beard so that he wouldn't be recognised, and visited all the tourist attractions that he had not been able to see when in New York before as a besieged Beatle. It was in New York that Paul first proposed to Linda; however as Linda later said:
I really didn't want to get married again. I was so newly not married again so I went, 'No, no, no!' And we kept walking and it was like it was never said.
They returned to London at the end of October 1968, but it was then that Linda faced for the first time the unbridled hostility that the world had for her, simply because she was in a relationship with Paul McCartney. Outside Paul's London home camped a group of extreme female Beatles fans nicknamed 'Apple Scruffs', who were there all hours of the day, 'eight days a week'. Because Linda, and not they, were in a relationship with Paul, they were infuriated. Linda and, to a lesser extent, her innocent daughter Heather, had rude insults shouted at them. Linda was assaulted and tripped up in the street, had derogatory graffiti about her painted on the walls and road, and they even broke into Paul's house to destroy and steal her possessions, such as clothes and photographs. Linda would say:
Those first few days in Paul's house I lived in fear of going outside. I thought of Paul telling me how The Beatles used to be prisoners in their hotels when they toured, because there were thousands of people out there who loved them so much it was dangerous to be among them. Believe me, a dozen people who hate you and wait for you has to be just as bad. I was a prisoner in Paul's house. Heather was five. How could I explain this to her? 'Oh, it's okay, they'd hate anyone who lived here with Paul'? Please, you can't expect a child to know what that's about.
So on 5 November they escaped from London to stay at High Park Farm near the Mull of Kintyre, in a very remote part of Scotland. The farm was a three-room single-storey building with an earthen floor, which Paul had put some second-hand furniture in and made a settee by nailing together some wooden potato boxes and placing a mattress on top. Their relationship continued to blossom and in December 1968, on a holiday in Portugal, Paul proposed and Linda accepted. They then discovered that she was pregnant. They married in the Marylebone Registry Office2 on 12 March, 1969.
After the wedding was announced, the harassment got worse. Lit newspapers were pushed through their London home's letter box in crude attempts at arson. Excrement would arrive in envelopes addressed to Linda. This is not the sort of treatment that anyone should endure, let alone a pregnant woman whose only crime was to marry the man she loved. Linda had also inadvertently angered many of her old New York friends. As they were journalists, Linda had avoided contacting them for fear of any intimate discussions appearing in print, only for her former friends to consider themselves ignored and 'dumped' by Linda. They wrote angry articles about her and Paul in revenge.
Once again, Paul and Linda retreated to Scotland, only to be faced with worldwide speculation that, as he was out of the limelight, Paul must be dead. In fact he was trying to deal with the change into being a father, not only to his unborn daughter, Mary, born on 28 August, 1969, but also his newly-adopted daughter, Heather. The disintegration of The Beatles, the group that his entire adult life had revolved around and the animosity of his closest friend John, was taking a heavy toll. Paul described this, his life's darkest period, by saying:
At that time I felt I'd outlived my usefulness. This was the overall feeling: that it was good while I was in The Beatles. I was useful and I could play bass for their songs, I could write songs for them to sing and for me to sing, and we could make records of them. But the minute I wasn't with The Beatles any more it became really difficult.
In his official biography Many Years From Now, Paul admits waking up in the morning and turning immediately to alcohol, not even having the energy to lift his head from his pillow. Paul was trapped in a downward spiral of self-destruction and loathing, but was rescued by Linda. She made him focus his creative energy and return to songwriting as a solo artist. He repaid her with the first song he wrote and recorded after The Beatles, 'The Lovely Linda'. Linda rescued Paul and, in return, Paul wrote about her contributions for his first album by saying:
Strictly speaking [Linda] harmonises, but of course it's more than that because she is a shoulder to lean on, a second opinion... more than all this, she believes in me – constantly.
Six of the 12 songs on Paul's second solo album, Ram, were credited as co-written by Paul and Linda. Yet that was only the beginning in what would become a decade dedicated to touring with Wings.
Linda's third daughter, and Paul's second, was Stella Nina McCartney, born on 13 September, 1971. This was a difficult birth, as Stella3 was three months premature. While she was delivered by Cæsarian section at King's College Hospital, Paul was not allowed in the operating theatre and was sat outside, in his own words 'praying like mad' and 'thinking of the wings of an angel'. It was a time when Paul intended to assemble a new band, and it was a time when most people would be thinking about a name for a child, and there we were talking about a pop group..
As one thing that Paul had enjoyed most about The Beatles was having his best friend John in the group with him, he was determined that his new best friend and soul-mate, Linda, would share the experience with him and be on the stage too. Starting off small, by turning up unannounced at universities in Britain, their first gig was at Nottingham University on 9 February, 1972, when the group made £30, mainly in coppers, between them.
Paul described Linda's contribution with the words:
Linda is the innocence of the group. All the rest of us are seasoned musicians – and probably too seasoned. Linda has an innocent approach, which I like. It's like when you hear an artist say, 'I wish I could paint like a child again'. That's what she's got.
Linda herself was never entirely comfortable with suddenly thrust into being a musician, but did so as she could see how much it meant to Paul, and her support kept Paul going. She later described her musical career:
Playing in a band totally stopped me from being a working photographer; my career just stopped. Before that I was taking pictures for all sorts of magazines... but I joined a band and all the time that I was in that band I would have been taking photographs. Photography was more important to me than music, but my husband and my family were more important to me than photography, and I was prepared to give up photography for them.
Linda remained one of the cornerstones of Wings from 1971 until the band broke up in 1980. She also started writing music while a member of Wings, the first of which was the catchy 'Seaside Woman', which she performed live and recorded, but did not release for five years. Linda was at the centre of the group that created songs such as the highly-regarded Bond theme, 'Live and Let Die'4 – whose live performance was the first song to include a laser display – and the phenomenal album Band on the Run. By 1976 the band were playing bigger tours than The Beatles had at their height.
Yet despite this success, Linda still faced unfair bitter criticism. She wrote the song 'Cook of the House' for the album Wings at the Speed of Sound. This was a song about her love of cooking, a medium in which she enjoyed expressing her creativity and bringing family and friends together. Yet critics slated the song, arguing that it was quite blatantly sexist and detracted from the feminist movement as it involved a woman doing something traditionally associated with a woman's role. Presumably these song-hating feminists would have preferred it if a man, rather than the female Linda McCartney, had later created their own successful business out of a highly successful range of vegetarian meals and cookbooks?
Marijuana, however, does not count as a vegetarian meal, and is illegal in many nations worldwide. In 1972, both Linda and Paul were arrested for possessing this drug in Sweden, and fined £800. Eight years later in January 1980, Paul was arrested for attempting to smuggle it into Japan, a crime that could have resulted in an eight-year prison sentence. After nine days in a jail cell, Paul was released and sent out of the country; this was the only time in their married life that Paul and Linda spent apart. This experience spelt the end of Wings as a band and the finish of Paul and Linda touring until the end of the decade. In the 1980s, they settled down to a home family life, spending much of their time in Sussex.
Linda and Paul's only son, James, was born on 12 September, 1977. Their children attended the village primary school in Peasmarsh, and Heather attended the comprehensive in nearby Rye. These schools were close to their home, named Waterfall, and Paul's studio was built inside a neighbouring windmill. There Linda, her husband and children settled down and became a close-knit family, although enjoying trips to their homes in Scotland, New York and Tucson, Arizona. In early 1983 Paul became friends with Linda's first husband, Mel, as that was something which Heather had long hoped for5.
In 1980, Linda remarkably won a Short Film First Prize Palme d'Or du Festival international du Film at the Cannes Film Festival. This was for an animated music video based on her reggae-inspired song 'Seaside Woman' and photographs she had taken in Jamaica.
In the 1980s, Linda's photographs began appearing in exhibitions worldwide, having published her first of five books of her images, Linda's Pictures, in 1976. In 1987, Linda was named Women in Photography's 'US Photographer of the Year'. Yet by the end of the decade, when the children were older, another passion began to replace even photography in her life.
Being a vegetarian is about life, not ending it.
Linda became a vegetarian in the late 1970s; the family were about to eat roast lamb while watching the lambs playing outside the window in their Scottish farm. From then on the family swore that no animal would have to die in order for them to eat.
We just looked at the leg of lamb I was cooking and realised where it came from and we couldn't eat it any more. It was a couple of months before I figured out what to do about the gaps on our dinner plates where the chops used to be.
Linda not only figured out what to do about gaps on her plate, she wrote a series of vegetarian cookbooks. The first one, Linda McCartney's Home Cooking, was published in 1989. Linda quickly became the most successful author of vegetarian cookbooks ever. On 30 April, 1991, Linda launched her own range of vegetarian meals, Linda McCartney Foods, complete with a memorable 'Linda McCartney' jingle in Britain6. By 1994 her range had expanded from six dishes to 18.
Linda's aim was simple; to save the lives of animals. Her approach was to aim at a target consumer of 'Mrs Slightly Green'. This theoretical customer would wish to make a healthy family meal that appealed not only to a vegetarian family member, but also to those with traditional meat-eating tastes with no intention of changing their eating habits. This was a much greater proportion of the population than that made up of strict vegetarians. Rather than preach to the converted, she wished to make vegetarian food that meat-lovers would try. She believed that her vegetarian bacon meant that fewer pigs would die.
This approach was successful and popular, but it did open her up to criticism. By using Textured Vegetable Protein to make vegetarian equivalent of dishes based on traditional meat-containing dishes, she very much concentrated on 'fake meat', which, to tempt meat-eaters and compete in taste tests with real meaty meals, had a higher fat content than other vegetarian foods. There was also an unfortunate incident in October 1992, when in an act that has been believed to have been sabotage, beef traces were found in a batch of 3,000 of her Deep Country pies. When Linda launched her vegetarian meals in the USA in 1994, despite the range being mainly pasta-based with some Mexican meals to appeal to American taste buds, the food did not sell. Not even an appearance on an episode of The Simpsons in 1995 raised demand.
Yet she remained firmly committed to saving the lives of animals. At this time her closest friends were fellow vegetarian campaigners like television writer Carla Lane7 and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. When Carla casually mentioned that a friend of hers found the veggie sausages 'a bit greasy', Carla states that Linda ordered the sausages to be removed from supermarket shelves immediately until a less greasy alternative was found. The billionth meal was sold in the UK in 1999, only eight years after she had started. In 2014, 29 different Linda McCartney Foods products are available in UK supermarkets.
Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer on Saturday, 9 December, 1995. Although surgery removed the lump the cancer had spread. She began having regular chemotherapy treatment in early 1996, following which she lost her hair. A radical high-dose chemotherapy treatment was performed in Los Angeles in October that year, and by December it appeared that her health was recovering. In March 1997 it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver. Her illness prevented her from accompanying Paul when he received his knighthood that month, but in October 1997 she felt well enough to attend daughter Stella's Paris fashion show, and also attended Paul's Standing Stone première at the Royal Albert Hall in November.
In early 1998 Linda had treatment in the Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York, before heading to the family home in Arizona. After a day horseriding, her favourite pastime, Linda died peacefully at 5am on 17 April, 1998.
In order to avoid having reporters bombarding the grieving family, a cover story was released that Linda had died in Santa Barbara, though the Santa Barbara coroner's office were not amused. Linda's ashes were part-scattered near her Sussex home, and some were kept by Paul as a keepsake. Memorial services were held in London and New York. One of her last acts had been to assemble an album of her singing, called Wide Prairie. She had written 13 of the 16 tracks included on this album, two co-written with Carla Lane. This was posthumously released later that year.
Linda McCartney left an amazing legacy. She had published many books on photography and cooking, and appeared performing on numerous albums and in films with Paul. A statue of her was unveiled in Campbeltown, near her Scottish home. She also firmly believed in animal welfare, becoming an important spokesperson for organisations such as PETA – the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – and using her fame to spread their message. She also became a wealthy businesswoman while promoting her vegetarian lifestyle. It is true that she broke the hearts of teenage girls worldwide when she married Paul McCartney. She is also guilty of being not as musically talented as John Lennon, but she had never pretended to be.
Her life was dramatised in television movie The Linda McCartney Story (2000), when she was portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell. She had previously been played by Catherine Strauss in Beatles Biopic John and Yoko: A Love Story. Linda appears on backing vocals of some Beatles songs such as 'Let It Be'.
For most of her adult life, Linda wished to be a loving mother and devoted wife, which she admirably succeeded in being. In an age when celebrity marriages are measured in months, she remained Paul's loyal wife for over 29 years.
It should also be remembered that throughout her long struggle with cancer, often in the news, proving that cancer can strike anyone, even the wealthiest who can afford the world's best medicine. Even her tragic, early death can be seen as an achievement, as she certainly encouraged others to seek medical advice, and if by so doing only one person followed her advice and was treated successfully who might otherwise have succumbed, then even her death saved lives.