Remembering Leon Wildes

Remembering Leon Wildes

Leon Wildes looks bemused as John Lennon flashes a peace sign on the steps of the federal courthouse in Manhattan.
Leon Wildes looks bemused as John Lennon flashes a peace sign on the steps of the federal courthouse in Manhattan.

Leon Wildes died on Monday, and a sliver of American cultural history died with him.

Mr. Wildes had two sons, both of whom have had successful — and very public — careers.

Michael Wildes, an immigration lawyer like his father, is the longtime mayor of Englewood.

Rabbi Mark Wildes, who is a nonpracticing lawyer, is the founder and director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, on New York’s Upper West Side.

Immigration is a burning hot topic in the United States right now — for two examples, look at our cover story this week, or listen to politicians — but Mr. Wilde’s most famous case came in what turns out to have been a far more innocent time.

There is a great deal to say about Leon Wildes, but we chose right now to memorialize him with a clip from the story I wrote in 2018, called “Safe Haven in America.”

“Leon Wildes, was John Lennon’s immigration lawyer, at a time when the Beatles were among the most famous musicians — to be realistic, among the most famous people, musicians or not — in the country. Probably in the world.

“Although John Lennon had said, in 1966, that the Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus,’ the modern Orthodox, early-middle-aged Leon Wildes had never heard of them in 1972, when he was hired to keep Mr. Lennon in the country. But his wife had. According to Michael Wildes, his mother, Ruth, was astounded by her husband’s lack of knowledge. ‘My father, bless him, was not exactly tuned into the rock music scene,’ Michael writes. His father told his mother that his new clients were ‘Jack Lemmon and Yoko Motor.’

“But Leon Wildes turned to out to be a quick study. It didn’t take him long to find out who his new clients really were.

“John Lennon wanted to be able to stay in the United States to help his wife, Yoko Ono, find her daughter, whose father had kidnapped her. But Lennon had been vocal about his disgust with the then-raging war in Vietnam, and with Richard Nixon, the president who was pursuing it. The notoriously thin-skinned Nixon was not happy with the situation. Nixon was able to use his power to get immigration authorities to try to deport Lennon, who had been convicted of possessing marijuana.

“Leon Wildes fought John Lennon’s deportation, and he won; it was that victory, Michael Wildes writes, that underlies President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That’s DACA, which President Trump declared to be over, and whose recipients have lived in unresolved fear and longing for the last year and a half.

“John Lennon won his fight to stay in the United States — or perhaps more accurately, Leon Wildes won that fight for him. But then the Beatle was murdered, assassinated by a young lunatic who stood in wait for him outside the Dakota, his looming, foreboding Central Park West apartment building.

“The Wildes still are in touch with Yoko Ono.”

Leon Wildes’ wife Ruth, his sons’ mother, died in 1995. He is survived by his wife Alice, his sons, Michael and Rabbi Mark, his daughters-in-law, Amy and Jill, and his


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