LOS ANGELES, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Producer Martin Lewis is observing Sunday's 39th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" by announcing a campaign to get the band's late manager Brian Epstein into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before the event's 40th anniversary.
Epstein was the young promoter who managed the Beatles along the way to international stardom. He died at 32 of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills in 1967.
The British-born Lewis -- who produced last year's special edition DVD of the Beatles' first feature film, "A Hard Day's Night" -- is certain that if it hadn't been for Epstein's eye for talent and tenacious representation of the band's interests, the Beatles might well never have been heard of outside their native Liverpool. The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, but Lewis said Epstein's contribution to their success remains overlooked.
The Hall of Fame Web site refers to Epstein in its account of the Beatles' influential career, noting that he discovered them and became their manager in 1961.
"Epstein helped polish the group's appearance, dressing them in dapper collarless gray suits and making them appear more friendly than menacing," according to the entry.
The Web site describes how the Beatles began to "splinter" after the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" album, and lists Epstein's death as one of several "subsequent events" that "helped bring down the Beatles amid a tangled maze of money matters."
Lewis told United Press International the Campaign to Honor Brian Epstein has been collecting signatures on a petition for a few years online (brianepstein.com). But with so many 40-year anniversaries showing up on the Beatles' timeline lately, he has decided the time is right for a full-court press to get the hall to open its doors to Epstein.
"We have 20,000 signatures so far," he said. "Our target is 100,000 signatures. At least."
Lewis said he would present the petition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation on the 40th anniversary of the Sullivan show appearance -- "make a big event out of it."
The Foundation was formed in 1983. The first induction ceremony to the Hall of Fame in Cleveland was held in 1986.
A nominating committee of rock 'n' roll historians chooses nominees each year in the "artist" category. Artists are eligible for the hall 25 years after the release of their first record, and are judged on such criteria as the influence and significance their "contribution to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll."
A special selection committee, using similar criteria, chooses inductees in the "non performer" and "side-men" categories. Non performers include "songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record company executives ... recording engineers, managers, journalists and other industry professionals."
According to Lewis, the Beatles themselves were a little late in publicly acknowledging the importance of Epstein's influence on their success, but when they did speak out they did so forcefully.
He quoted John Lennon as saying in 1980 that "after Brian died I knew we'd had it -- it was all over." He quoted Paul as saying in 1997 that "if there was a fifth Beatle it was Brian."
However, Lewis said it is "practically impossible" to find public recognition of Epstein's achievements.
"The newer generations of Beatles fans have no idea who this great man was," he said.
Lewis said Epstein did a lot more than manage the Beatles, guiding the careers of other successful British Invasion acts as well.
"Brian Epstein managed at least 12 artists, all of whom started out as complete unknowns," he said. "These included groups familiar to Americans such as Gerry and The Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas."
According to Lewis, in a two-and-a-half year span after Epstein-managed acts first released records in England, his bands scored 32 Top 20 singles, with 16 of them going to No. 1. Lewis said Epstein bands had nine albums in the Top 20 during that time, with five of them reaching the top of the charts.
And in the 16-months after The Beatles first broke in the United States, Lewis said Epstein artists had 33 singles in the Top 40 -- including eight No. 1 hits -- and four No. 1 albums.
Lewis aspires to see Epstein inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's non performer section, where such luminaries as Sam Phillips, Phil Spector, Bill Graham, Alan Freed and Beatles' producer Sir George Martin are enshrined.
However, the campaign seems to be headed for an uphill struggle.
Lewis said he once asked a member of the hall's board whether Epstein would ever get in, and was told that the chances were not good because Epstein is no longer alive and therefore cannot return any favors. Lewis said the board member -- whom he did not identify -- conceded that it was an appalling state of affairs, but that Epstein stood little chance of ever being the one non-performer admitted to the hall each year.
Lewis, based in Los Angeles, is familiar to American TV viewers as a political and social commentator who has appeared on the major networks and cable news channels including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.