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John Lennon

 

 

 

John Lennon

 

1940 - 1980

 

 

John Lennon Remembered

 

 

 

 

Friend: Lennon's assistant planned to exploit Beatle

 

From the day he was hired as John Lennon's personal assistant, Frederic Seaman planned to exploit the former Beatle's life. He asked a friend to collaborate on a book, began stockpiling Lennon's personal items, and then eventually raided his collaborator's house looking for them, according to the friend.

 

"I was naive. It was not 100 percent clear to me what was going on until I came home and found my house ransacked," said Robert Rosen, who testified Thursday in a civil suit brought against Seaman by Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. "Then it was very clear what was going on."

 

According to Rosen, Seaman robbed his house in 1982 while Rosen was on a vacation sponsored by a backer for their book. The incident marked an abrupt turn in the relationship between the two men, who had been friends since their days at the City College of New York newspaper in the early 1970s.

 

Seaman later admitted to Rosen that he had pilfered his house for the Lennon-related materials the two had been keeping there. "[Seaman] said he did it, what was I going to do about it?" Rosen testified. "He inquired if I was going to sell my body on the street or commit suicide. I went into a state of shock."

 

Ono, 69, is suing Seaman for violating a confidentiality agreement she claims he signed at the start of his employment. She wants the copyright to 374 photos that Seaman took of the family in the last years of Lennon's life, and about $74,000 in profit from sales of Lennon memorabilia he allegedly smuggled out of the family's home.

 

Rosen supported Ono's assertions on the stand Thursday. Though he appeared nervous, the writer remained firm in his account of Seaman's literary ambitions and contradicted Seaman's claim that Lennon authorized him to keep the photos he had taken.

 

Seaman first entered the Lennon’s orbit through relatives. His uncle, Norman Seaman, had produced some of Ono's avant garde performances at Carnegie Hall in the 1960s, and his aunt, Helen Seaman, was governess to Sean Lennon, who was born in 1975. He was fresh out of journalism school when they hired him in February 1979.

 

The day he was hired, Seaman came to Rosen's house with the news. "We should collaborate on a book someday about the Lennon’s," he told Rosen, according to the writer.

 

For the next two years, Seaman called Rosen regularly to report on events in the Lennon household — sometimes as many as three times per week, Rosen said.

 

When John Lennon was shot on Dec. 8, 1980, the book project shifted into high gear. The next day, according to Rosen, Seaman called. "It was agreed that now was the time to begin working on it," the writer testified. Rosen drafted a contract, and two weeks later, he and Seaman signed it in front of a notary public.

 

Judging by the contract, which was shown in court Thursday, the two men had grand aspirations. One section of the document stipulates that the two evenly split any profits from "T-shirts, posters, buttons, John and Yoko Dolls, etc." But the real money was yet to come.

 

As part of a project Rosen said they called "Project Walrus," Seaman began bringing materials belonging to Lennon to Rosen's house in early 1981, including slides, documents, audiotapes and memos that Lennon had written to Seaman. "By the end, I had boxes piled up to the ceiling," he said.

 

In June 1981 Seaman produced the holy grail: Lennon's diaries.

On cross-examination, Seaman's attorney, Glenn Wolther, suggested that Rosen must have realized that the diaries were stolen. Rosen, who spat out answers to Wolther's questions in seeming disgust, said that Seaman claimed to have been brought into Lennon's confidence.

 

According to Rosen, Seaman said Lennon pulled him aside while on a trip to Bermuda in 1980, and ask Seaman to tell the real story of his life. "He said that [Lennon said] he should avail himself of any research materials necessary," Rosen testified.

 

Rosen spent weeks poring over the handwritten journals, photocopying parts and transcribing others. Around that time, businessman Norman Schoenfeld began underwriting the project. His arrival marked the beginning of the end of Rosen's involvement: Schoenfeld recognized the value of the diaries, and engendered in Seaman grand dreams of wealth from their sale.

 

As portions of Seaman's own diary, read in court Wednesday, show, Schoenfeld thought a $5 million price was not out of reach, and the team would soon be at "parties and yachts on the Riviera."

 

The prospect of simply selling the diaries instead of incorporating them into a book — which would have required Rosen's input — might have proved more appealing to Seaman, but he never got a chance to sell them. After he was violently cut out of the project, Rosen went straight to the police. Seaman was arrested and, in 1983, pleaded guilty to grand larceny and received five years' probation. A condition of the sentence: he was ordered to return all property he had stolen, including the diaries, audiotapes, letters, memos and even stereo equipment, to Ono.

 

Meanwhile, Rosen was preparing a manuscript on his experience with Seaman, and he shopped it around to New York magazines, including Rolling Stone. The proposal, which included excerpts of Lennon's diaries that Rosen had apparently committed to memory, caught the eye of Jan Wenner, a friend of Ono. He called Rosen, explaining that he couldn't publish the article without more proof, but added he wanted to speak to him about a different matter.

 

"He said the only thing I could do to save my karma was to tell the story to Yoko," Rosen testified. Over the next weeks and months, Rosen unburdened himself to the widow.

 

For 20 years, while freelancing for car magazines, interior decorating magazines, and even writing speeches for the secretary of the Air Force, Rosen kept alive his passion for Lennon. He ultimately published "Nowhere Man," a biography of Lennon, in 2000.

 

Earlier Thursday, Ono took the stand again to answer Wolther's questions about a photo credit included in a 1998 Capitol Records press packet. Wolther maintains that the photo, a 1980 shot of Lennon with his son Sean in Bermuda, was deliberately credited to another photographer, although Seaman had taken it. But Ono backed up the testimony of her photo librarian, who also testified Thursday, denying that she sought to shun Seaman.

 

Sean Lennon, now 26, has sat in the front row of the gallery each day of the four-day trial, paying increasing attention to the courtroom artists, mother-daughter team Shirley and Andrea Shepard. On Thursday, Lennon took up their tools himself to render the courtroom scene.

 

Onlookers who huddled around him during breaks to watch the progress of his sketch said the result surpassed that of the Shepards.

Lawyers will present their closing arguments Friday morning when court resumes at 10 a.m., and the eight-person jury may get the case Monday.

 

John Lennon Remembered

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