By Alan L. Chrisman
Cynthia Lennon, John’s 1st. wife, passed away April 1, 2015 at the age of 75 after a battle with cancer. I’d always wanted to meet her and in 1994, I got my wish. Someone had told me of a Beatles’ Convention in Stamford , Connecticut and she was one of the main guests.
I had never been to a Beatles’ Convention before, but my fellow student and friend, Al Whyte, and I had just completed a course about putting on events and our two’s school project (only a fantasy) had been to do a Beatles’ Convention. So we had a chance to actually go to one and also meet, as I say, John Lennon’s wife. I had read her book, Twist of Lennon, and could picture what it must have been like before they were very well-known in those early Beatles’ days in Liverpool.
Al and I met her briefly and she was even nicer and lovely than I had hoped. She signed my copy of her book and I nervously asked her some questions. I’d always wanted to see if I could try and see what John had been like past the pop star and media images. We also ran into her later coming down in the elevator of the hotel where the Convention was being held. She had long blonde hair and wore wire-rimmed glasses like John.
I had read the romantic story in her book about how John had met her at their Liverpool art school in 1958. But they were complete opposites. John was the angry, chip-on his shoulder rebel, especially because his mother had been killed by a drunken driver when John was still a teenager. Cynthia Powell was the more middle-class “nice girl”. But what they had in common was both of them being near-sighted and their love of art. But she was able to detect underneath the Lennon sneer, a softer side too. They would sneak over to John’s aspiring-painter friend, Stu Sutcliffe’s room to make love.
Cynthia was very supportive of John and his early budding Beatles’ band. And when Paul, George, Pete Best, and Stu Sutcliffe were sent to Hamburg, John would write back regular funny postcards and letters to her (even though they were playing in some of most decadent bars and temptations in Europe). When they returned from Germany and first played the Cavern, she was there too. But Cynthia didn’t have it easy. She was renting a room from John’s sometimes stern Aunt Mimi, while working at Woolworths and the two women didn’t get along. She then moved to a small bedsitter room.
When Cynthia became pregnant with their son, Julian, they got married in 1962. (John said later, “it had been the thing to do”). Even as The Beatles were becoming more and more popular, Cynthia was still stuck alone while The Beatles were on tour, having to put up with her husband being away a lot of the time, and with all the girls throwing themselves at the young men. And Lennon would sometimes take his frustrations out on her, violently even. There’s a scene in The film, Backbeat about the Hamburg days, where Astrid Kirchherr, the German art student who basically created the whole Beatles’ “look” says to Cynthia’s character, ”but John wants the world.”
At their height, as The Beatles were experimenting with drugs, Cynthia never really felt comfortable with their excesses. Beatle wives were rarely allowed to be in the studio when their husbands were at work. When their manager, Brian Epstein died, they all went to India to see the Maharishi, but John was secretly writing to this new artist, Yoko Ono. On the plane home, he admitted to his wife the many affairs he’d had. John advised her to go to Greece for a vacation, the day she returned, she discovered Yoko had spent the night with him at her home. Lennon and Cynthia soon divorced in 1968.
John had remarried Yoko but Julian had been pretty well ignored by his father ( much as John himself has been deserted by his father). It wasn’t until Yoko and John had separated for several months in 1973 and John was with May Pang in L.A. that May encouraged John to re-connect with Julian. Interestingly, I also met May Pang at that same Conn. Convention. I was surprised she was there; she wasn’t a scheduled guest. But I soon learned she was good friends with Cynthia and had come in to see her. I was able to meet May Pang too and get her to sign my copy of Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album and get photos of her too. Cyn. Lennon, May Pang with Al Chrisman & Al Whyte, 1994.
Al and I were so inspired by meeting Cynthia and May Pang and others at that Conn. Convention that we decided to actually put on our own Beatles’ Conventions. Also, soon after I got back home, Stu Sutcliffe’s sister, Pauline called me from England (I think Cynthia must have given Pauline my number). We had presented Cynthia with our “fantasy”. She seemed interested in our more ‘artistic’ convention than they usually were. Cynthia was an artist in her own right and she would later have exhibitions of some of her art.
We even thought of having her son, Julian, whom had had a successful album, Valotte, as a guest too (which she liked). Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it, but we did end up doing our Ottawa Conventions in ‘95 and ’96, with Pete Best and Louise Harrison as main guests, respectively. Cynthia Lennon would later write a second book simply called John in 2005. She was a lot more critical of John in that book than her first and even said she wished in some ways, she had never met him. Cynthia would, for years, have trouble getting much money and ran a couple failed restaurants and two of her marriages had ended in divorce before her final third husband died in 2013. When Yoko inherited John’s estate when John was killed in 1980, it still took years until Julian finally got a settlement which he shared with his mother. Julian has been bitter the way he felt he had been treated, but over time, all the Beatles’ wives and children finally did appear together at certain functions such as the premiere of Cirque de Soleil’s Beatles’ Love show.
Cynthia, despite having been married to one of the most famous people in the world, as I said, didn’t have it easy. But I was honored to meet her. I have no doubt that if Al and I hadn’t met Cynthia, we would never have actually done our own Beatles’ Conventions and gone on to meet several who knew The Beatles. That’s how much this lovely lady, Cynthia Lennon, had inspired me.
Tribute to Cynthia Lennon with son, Julian’s, song: