The youngest lawyer working at Capitol Records during the 1960s, Larry Thompson negotiated separate contracts for each Beatle during the group’s breakup. On his own during the ‘70s, he represented Sonny Bono in his divorce with Cher (later producing a movie of the week about the couple). Today the talent manager and independent producer guides the comedy career of William Shatner, who hosts “Iron Chef USA: Showdown in Las Vegas” Nov. 16. The master plan? Thompson says he just followed his mother’s advice: “Get out of Clarksdale, Mississippi. This place is nothing but a graveyard with a stoplight.”
Are you really “the man who broke up the Beatles”?
McCartney made a statement [that seemed to allude to a breakup in April of 1970] without discussing it with Lennon, Harrison or Starr. [But] McCartney didn’t file a lawsuit to end the partnership until Dec. 31. For those nine months of uncertainty, I was saying, “If you do want to break up, we still want to sign each of you.” Kinda giving them permission in a way.
Were you friends with the Fab Four at the time?
No, and I feel bad for divorce lawyers because they also meet people at their worst. Capitol hired me because I was into the new music and hung out in the clubs, and they needed that type of front. The older lawyers trying to sign young, longhaired, dope-smoking musicians didn’t have any [rapport].
What was the tone of your meetings?
(Sigh.) The Beatles didn’t know what they wanted to do. Four solo acts or two and two? Paul had Linda, and her father and brother were his advisors. Lennon [was] with Yoko, Ringo was whatever anybody wanted to do, and George had a mind of his own.
What about those blame-Yoko rumors?
It was a simply a creative force that played itself out. Yes, maybe Yoko was pushing Lennon and maybe Linda was pushing Paul, but that would have happened anyway. These were not bad women who gave bad advice. These were soul mates.
Compare Sonny and Cher’s breakup to the Beatles’.
I had battle wounds, I was prepared for that one! Just as McCartney and Lennon were looking to express themselves creatively beyond the group, Cher was also looking for her independence. Life constantly evolves, and so does how talents want to express themselves.
How did you know William Shatner could be so funny?
Just from being around him in social situations. “Star Trek” had become so huge, he was an icon. Serious directors don’t put that big a personality in a role. You can’t submerge it. So we started diffusing with comedy. People realized Bill Shatner wasn’t taking himself seriously, and that gave him a reputation [as] an accessible, fun guy.
So “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” [Shatner’s 1968 cover of the Beatles hit] was humor?
I don’t think he intended that initially, but once it was perceived as camp, we thought, “Well, hell! Let’s do camp!”