The Beatles: Fab but True: Remarkable Stories Revealed

Release Date: 
August 28, 2023
Reviewed by: 

“a worthy part of any Beatles’ fans collection.”

One has to admire the chutzpah of any author who dares, in 2023, to write yet another book about The Beatles. The story of the band has been picked over endlessly, and it’s felt in many circles that there simply is no more meat on the carcass.  

As a diehard Beatles fan, author Doug Wolfberg understands this so, instead of trying to unearth anything new, he attempts, in this collection of stories, to set the record straight. Most Beatles fans surely are aware of these anecdotes, but Wolfberg is trying a new tack to make them fresh: He finds as many sources as possible to correct the familiar folktales of the group that are often wrong, and makes connections that are often surprising.

Take for instance the chapter titled: “Images of a Woman: How Political Upheaval, a Duplicitous Promoter, and a Hotel Lockdown Led to a Singular Work of Beatles Art.”

Catchy title. It’s all about the Beatles disastrous 1966 world tour that helped convince the band never to tour again. We all have heard the story of how the Beatles snubbed Imelda Marcos in the Philippines and paid the price when she pulled the band’s security detail, but how many fans know how the band fared in Japan on a previous leg of that tour where they were more or less put under house arrest because of cultural differences playing out in Japan at that point?

While holed up in that hotel room with nothing to do, the band took advantage of some paint and a canvas that had been donated to keep them busy. The boys put a lamp in the middle of the canvas, each took a corner and away they went. When they finished, they lifted the lamp and signed their names.

Whether it was any good is beside the point. It was a unique work of art because all four had painted and signed it. Wolfberg traces what happened to that painting and reveals that it sold for $280,000 in 1989 and, for whatever reason, only $155,250 in 2012—hard to fathom since it is unique and signed by all four.

Wolfberg, who is an attorney and forensic researcher, says he verified all the information in his book by interviewing primary sources, going back to newspaper stories written at the time, and visiting London and Liverpool many times.

Of course, he’s the one picking the stories to tell, and they range in importance. How much do we really care about the condom set on fire in a Hamburg club that got Sir Paul and then-drummer Pete Best deported? It was a silly prank by young men high on life and no doubt drugs and alcohol. Wolfberg apparently does care, so much so that he wants sets out to learn if said condom was used or not. Pete Best assures us it was not used.

But other stories in the book have more depth. The chapter: “No Free Lunch (Box): The Lawyer Who Squandered the Beatles’ Merchandising Fortune” goes into the horrible deal that Brian Epstein and his friend David Jacobs made regarding the merchandising of Beatles trinkets at the height of Beatlemania. At that point, anything remotely connected with the Beatles flew off the shelves. Even making something as hokey as Beatle wigs became the equivalent of printing money.

The problem was that Epstein, who deserves credit for breaking the Beatles worldwide, knew nothing about merchandising and neither did David Jacobs, the friend he put in charge. They agreed to a deal with an independent licensing company called Seltaeb (Beatles spelled backward) which gave 90% of the profits to the outside company, while Epstein and the boys would got 10%. It is pretty much the opposite of the way these deals go.

How big a mistake was that? Wolfberg points out that the merchandising was worth about $100,000,000 or as he says it “exceeded the money they earned from all of their record sales and all of their live concert appearances—not just in 1964, but throughout their career as a band. It would easily have been their most significant source of income.”

When Sir Paul eventually learned of the mistake, he said “We got screwed for millions. [Epstein] looked to his dad for business advice, and his dad knew how to run a furniture store in Liverpool.”

Stories and interesting factoids like that make Fab But True a worthy part of any Beatles’ fans collection.