“I’m sorry for my sins.”
Brody’s presence in London caused a stir. He was still a celebrity, and Victor Lownes, then in charge of London’s Playboy Club and Casino, was more than happy to comp some rooms for Brody’s group. Brody was having trouble sleeping, imagining that he was being followed by the Secret Service or others out to prevent him from ending the War. He paced the hotel room at night. He had flat feet, and he pronated slightly when he walked, particularly in bare feet. From under the covers, Renée watched him as he walked back and forth. She asked him to come to bed and sleep but he was too agitated. Several times during the stay, Brody and Renée changed hotel rooms, just to keep those following him off guard. Then they changed hotels, moving to the Mayfield, then back to the Playboy Club.
When Brody went out in public, he was trailed by reporters and the public. He was traveling light, with just his guitar, one set of clothes—a floral shirt, crumpled trousers and a brown sheepskin coat—and his flight bag full of American $20s. Brody continued his giveaway, a tip of $50 to a cabbie, $500 to a Biafran student, $220 to a woman who wanted to de-criminalize marijuana, and over $3,000 to various others—elevator operators, cameramen, a waitress. Because of the persistent questioning about his fortune, Brody decided that he would simply agree that he was a fake and a con artist, that his giveaway was a publicity stunt. “I suppose you could say I’m the biggest con man in the world,” he told the London reporters. “Giving away money is just a publicity stunt to get the world to listen to me. But it’s a publicity stunt in a good cause—it’s for peace. I want to give my money to the needy and the poverty-stricken of the world. I can’t do it alone though, I need help, and this is why I’ve started this publicity stent to highlight the world’s state.” He added: “If you want to call me a fake, then I’m a fake.” But Brody’s odd announcements continued. He planned to break into the Bank of England and give out all the money, or he planned to return to the United States and give out all the gold in Fort Knox “to make everyone rich.” He angered many by promising to give money to the Queen “to help her out of her financial difficulties” but dismissed the criticism that ensued: “You people are just trying to discredit me. I don’t mind. You can say what you like about me being a nut who wants publicity. I am a nut for peace.”
Brody appeared on several BBC shows, claimed that he had received $150 million from donations from Londoners. In some interviewers, he claimed that he loved Nixon; in others, he called the President a “pig” for stopping him from ending the war. With Brody in the news, Michael Aronin made an inquiry about booking the Albert Hall for a concert, but that effort went nowhere. Aronin tried to bluff his way, mentioning that John Lennon might appear, but he had no success. Brody was not a draw, with or without Lennon, and the hall was booked by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, still riding the wave of their 1969 hit, “Oh Happy Day.” With some help from RCA, Aronin finally finagled an invitation for Brody to open the January 30 show for The Edwin Hawkins Singers. Negotiations bogged down as Brody wanted to close the show but eventually the details were worked out. Brody would open.
Brody was introduced as a “surprise guest,” and he walked on stage, with Renée close by. Unlike Honolulu, Brody was straight, determined to redeem his career. He and Renée sat on stools next to each other, just as they had done on the Ed Sullivan show. He sang “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “The War is Over.” He and Renée kissed at the end. He urged everyone to help end the War in Vietnam and to end hunger everywhere. He and Renée kissed again, and walked off the stage. The audience reaction, according to one newspaper account, was “polite and amused.” Brody was disappointed. He was beginning to realize his music alone would not bring the adulation he had enjoyed when he was tossing out $50s and $100s and writing checks. As a musician, he was not going to be followed and mobbed wherever he went. He talked about giving up, but he had something to do in London before he went back to New York.
Brody and his group traveled to the headquarters for Apple Corps. Ltd., which the Beatles had founded in early 1968 for tax purposes and in order to gain control of the band’s finances. The corporation would act as the umbrella for all of the Beatles endeavors—film, records, books, merchandise. The corporation had several divisions, including Apple Records, Apple Film, Apple Publishing and Apple Electronics. The headquarters were located at 3 Savile Row in the Mayfair district. The building, a white, five-story Georgian townhouse on the corner with Regent Street, soon became known as the Apple Building. It housed the Apple Studio in the basement.
The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, died of an overdose of sleeping pills in August 1967 as the idea for the company was developing, and the fledging company lacked the direction, organization and energy that Epstein would have given it. The corporation went through several different visions. At one time, a chain of stores was envisioned where the public could purchase Beatles records, memorabilia, etc. At another point, one of the avowed missions of the corporation was to find and fund struggling artists. Paul McCartney described this mission as “western Communism.”
The Apple Building soon became a Mecca for hippies, freaks, druggies and aspiring artists of all types seeking handouts. George Harrison would later comment that “We had every freak in the world coming in there.” The staff of Apple Corps. was also culled from the hippie world, and little work was accomplished. The staff used the Beatles’ money freely, charging personal expenses to the company or doling out cash to nearly anyone who asked. Drug use in the building was open and widespread, with the drugs often purchased with company money. The Beatles themselves initially had an amused laissez-faire attitude. The building was seen as a large commune, but the band soon realized that their new corporation was out of control. Allen Klein, who had managed Sam Cooke and The Rolling Stones, was hired to manage the Beatles in 1969. Part of his job was to clean up Apple Corps. and the Apple Building. He was ruthless—firing staff, installing a time clock, restricting the use of the company’s money. He also made certain that the Apple Building was no longer open to any who thought about wandering in from the street. His tough management style and abrasive manner offended some of the Beatles, particularly McCartney, who also distrusted Klein. By the end of 1969, the Fab Four had secretly decided to split for a variety of business, personal and artistic reasons. In January 1970, the Beatles were no longer working together in the studio. Lennon was recording a solo, “Instant Karma,” at the Abbey Road Studio, and McCartney, Harrison and Star were finishing up the Let it Be album by recording Harrison’s “I Me Mine” at the Apple Studio.
Brody and his entourage showed up at the Apple Building, unannounced and uninvited, on February 2, 1970. Brody wanted to see Lennon to talk about peace. An Apple official escorted them to a waiting room, where they sat, smoking cigarettes, for more than fifteen minutes. A couple of down-and-out hippies entered the waiting room and hit Brody for some cash. Brody became angry and said he couldn’t help them. The wait continued, and, finally, Derek Taylor, a press officer for Apple, politely explained to Brody and his entourage that Lennon was in a recording session and could not be interrupted. Taylor offered a cup of coffee and gave Brody a polite, very-British brush off. He suggested that Brody call back to set up an appointment. Brody asked if he could wait or come back later. “Mr. Lennon is very busy,” Taylor said. He ushered them out.
Brody returned to New York, dejected and depressed. He called UPI and announced his retirement. “I’m sorry for my sins,” Brody told the UPI reporter over the telephone. “I don’t have 48 missiles,” he said, confessing what everyone knew. “I don’t have troop planes. I don’t have any of that stuff.” He did not explain what he meant by stuff and did not need to. He had been debunked. He was not as rich as he thought or claimed. He had no talent as a musician. He was a pleasant enough young man when not high, which wasn’t often, but his moods changed dramatically, and the press and public had tired of him. There were other stories to be chased and sold. Brody had also grown weary of the entire affair. “I can’t seem to get anywhere in the United States. I am retiring. I am calling my career to an end. The world isn’t ready for me, yet. It’s too greedy.”
“I’ll make all my checks good before I retire,” he promised.
The day after Brody announced his retirement, the newspapers ran the story, including his promise to make good on all checks. When Brody originally announced the giveaway, one of the first in line at 31 Paddington Road was William Lowden, from Yorktown Heights, New York. He had woken up early on January 16, his 27th birthday, and began the drive to work in Eastchester. He heard on the radio that Brody was giving out money at his Scarsdale home, about five minutes away. The radio station gave out the address. Lowden wasn’t expecting much—anything really. It was a lark, a gamble, but the ride was short, and he figured he’d give it a shot. Lowden appeared at Brody’s Scarsdale home a little after 7:00 a.m. There were a few dozen claimants lined up, and more coming. Much to his surprise, he was ushered into the kitchen, where he made his pitch to Brody and Renée. He was six years older than Brody. Married with two small children—girls, ages 2 and 4—he was working full time as a Westchester County health inspector. He had a part time job as a waiter on the weekends. He was going to school at night, at Lehman College in the Bronx. Studying economics, he explained. He had classes four nights a week. If only he could get out from under the mortgage, he could quit one of his jobs and finish his degree. Brody liked the pitch and scribbled out a $13,500 check. Explaining that he had to transfer funds, Brody postdated it for January 30.
Lowden walked out, check in hand, as happy as a man could be. He folded the check and put it in his wallet. He drove to work and immediately called his wife. On January 30, he had appeared at the Scarsdale National Bank with the check that Brody had given him two weeks earlier but was told that the bank was not honoring any of Brody’s checks After Lowden read about Brody’s promise, he had renewed hope. He unsuccessfully tried to contact Brody several times. Lowden persevered and eventually got the Oleomargarine Heir on the phone. “Sure I remember you,” Brody said. Lowden didn’t believe him. “Come on over.” Brody said. Lowden did, driving immediately to Scarsdale via the Taconic State Parkway.
Brody was lucid and apologetic. He had a long story, something about a line of credit. He had stocks that were to be used as collateral for the line of credit. There had been a mix up. The bank had withdrawn the line of credit. The bank’s action was illegal. It wasn’t his fault. He was sorry. The two then drove to the Scarsdale National Bank, where Brody had a safe deposit box loaded with blue chip stock certificates. Brody grabbed a handful, and the two drove to Brody’s stockbroker, Bach & Company, in nearby White Plains. Brody handed the broker the certificates and instructed him to sell them and send a check to Lowden.
A few days later, Lowden received a $34,000 check directly from Bach & Company. It was made payable to “Michael J. Brody Jr.” It took several days and calls, but he eventually connected with Rick Herman, who by then had a power of attorney from Brody. Herman deposited the check in the account of Tarot Talent Productions, one of the corporations set up to assist Brody’s grand giveaway venture, and gave Lowden a $13,500 check. Lowden drove right to the bank and cashed it. It didn’t bounce.
In the weeks that followed, Brody also quietly made good on other checks. It was Brody’s attempt to prove that he was not a “big fake.” These stories were buried far from the headlines and carried in local papers. The national press ignored them. Even the $1,000 check that Brody had given to Peter Simmons, the NBC reporter, was eventually honored by the bank. Neither Simmons nor any other reporter published a follow up story.