Linda McCartney, much more than just Paul McCartney’s muse
On September 24th, 1941, Linda Eastman was born in New York City and she would go on to become one of the most famous women on earth after becoming the envy of girls across the globe when she married The Beatles heartthrob, Paul McCartney. However, Linda was much more than just ‘Paul’s wife’, she was an acclaimed photographer, musician and animal rights activist who played a key part in changing how we think about our attitudes towards consuming meat.
Her father, Leopold Vail Epstein, was born in 1910 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Louis and Stella Epstein. Sadly, due to rife anti-semitism of the time, Leopold tragically changed his name to Lee Eastman because of fears of the negative effect a Jewish surname would have on his family’s life. His sister, Rose Frisch, went on to become a noted scientist who worked on issues of women’s fertility and population studies. McCartney’s mother, Louise Sara (née Lindner) Eastman, came from a German Jewish upbringing with her father founding the Lindner Company clothing store in Cleveland, Ohio.
Music and art were a constant in Linda’s life from an early age, a factor derived from her father’s job working in entertainment law who, in turn, worked with high profile clients including Tommy Dorsey, Jack Lawrence and Mark Rothko. Lawrence even wrote her a song called ‘Linda’ for the young girl when she was just four years old, at her father’s request. The song, remarkably, was then recorded by Buddy Clark in 1947, who had a number one hit with the number. It suggests that she was always destined to be a star.
After graduating from high school, Linda went on to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, a place of study in which she received an Associate of Arts degree in 1961. Armed with a clear creative vision, she then headed to the University of Arizona where she majored in fine art. However, during her time in Arizona, Linda’s life was struck by devastation when her mother was killed in the 1962 crash of American Airlines Flight 1 in Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York.
Following her mother’s death, Linda turned to animals and nature as a source of tranquillity during a traumatic period. Caring for animals would be a passion that became ingrained within her psyche, remaining with her for the rest of her life. In 1962, she also found love with Melville See, a person whom she would later marry before having a daughter together later in the year. Three short years later, however, the couple divorced in 1965.
1965 would be a year which would be lifechanging for Linda. Shortly after her divorce, she began a relationship with photographer David Dalton, a life change which encouraged her to give photography a try. Within a few clicks, she instantly knew this was her calling. Linda was already working as an editorial assistant at Town & Country Magazine and it wasn’t long before she was one of the world’s most sought after rock photographers.
One turning point came when she photographed The Rolling Stones on a yacht, a situation which arose after the magazine was asked to attend a press event. “I was the only photographer they allowed on the yacht,” Linda once recalled. “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,” she added.
Eastman then landed the unofficial house photographer gig at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East venue as her portfolio continued to expand. Capturing some of the most important artists from the 1960s such as Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, John Lennon and Neil Young, Linda was making a name for herself.
Her most significant assignment, however, would come on May 15th, 1967, when the work brought her to London. During her time in the English capital, she would meet her soulmate Paul McCartney at the Bag O’Nails club. Whilst she was still in the city, she met The Beatle once again four days later at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Brian Epstein’s house. However, she then travelled back to New York and fell out of contact with Macca.
Then twelve months later, when McCartney was in the Big Apple, they reconvened and a few months later she went to London to stay with him. The two were totally in love and the next time she came out with her daughter, Heather, Paul managed to persuade them both to move to London permanently after forming a bond with both the Eastman girls.
They soon got married in a small civil ceremony at Marylebone Town Hall on March 12th, 1969. During their joyous 29-year marriage, the McCartney’s had four children together. Together, they also formed Wings, a band who became one of the most successful groups in the ’70s as well as creating Paul’s first album since leaving The Beatles, Ram, with one another.
An active member of the group she may have been but the music was never truly Linda’s calling and she even admitted that her singing in Wings wasn’t up to scratch. However, what she lacked in musical chops she made up for in determination and her role in animal rights activism will perhaps go down as her greatest achievement. Linda and Paul became vegetarians in 1971, she explained her change to vegetarianism by saying that she did not “eat anything with a face.” It was a powerful statement made all the more potent when she coined the phrase: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls the whole world would be vegetarian.”
The McCartney’s helped make vegetarianism more mainstream and Linda lent her support to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and Friends of the Earth. Linda also created her own line of vegetarian frozen meals in 1991 which helped make it easier and more accessible for people to choose not to eat meat. At the time, options were extremely limited and Linda essentially made vegetarianism possible on a much larger scale. The brand is one of Britain’s most established meat-free food products.
Linda McCartney was tragically diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, her condition soon grew worse when her cancer sadly spread to her liver and she passed away aged just 56 on April 17, 1998, at the McCartney family ranch in Arizona around her entire family.
Despite dying at such a premature age, what Linda McCartney achieved during her 56 years on earth is truly spectacular. The legacy that she left behind remembers her fondly as one of the great rock photographers as well as an animal rights activist who helped change the world in a positive way.