Most people know of John Lennon's famous marriage to Yoko Ono, but many do not know of Cynthia Powell, the first wife and first great love of John Lennon's life. She was conservative, proper, polite, and addressed her elders as "Sir" and "Ma'am." He was rebellious, moody, impolite, incorrigible, and he probably never called anybody "Sir" or "Ma'am" in his entire life.
If ever there was a case of opposites attracting, it was the case when a teenage John Lennon lost his heart to Cynthia Powell.
The two met at the Liverpool College of Art. Cynthia Powell was actually a year older than John, being 18 during the 1957 school term, while John had just turned 17. (John was to marry his second wife, Yoko Ono, later, in 1969, with Yoko being a full seven years John's senior. Apparently, John loved "older women").
The truth is, John Lennon was a total washout at the time and, having nowhere else to go, he somehow had managed to get an invitation to be a part of the city's art school. ("Surely on the road to failure" read one of John's contemporary school teacher's reports).
John would lumber into their drawing class wearing a long tweed coat and skin-tight pants, his long hair slicked back a la Elvis with oily grease, squinting in a near-blind state until he hesitantly donned his thick glasses (which he seldom did in public).
Cynthia first noticed John's rude, boorish behavior in class, as he would ask to "borrow" her pencils, rulers, and brushes, and would conveniently forget to ever return them. John would stand around before classes, telling dirty jokes with his cronies, as Cynthia would enter. "Shhh, quiet," he would say sarcastically, "No dirty talk, it's miss Powell."
She was repelled by the loud-mouthed Lennon, but one day, as she watched the obnoxious character with disgust, she saw a fellow female student stroking John's hair as he sat next to her. Cynthia realized, to her horror, that the repulsion she felt was actually jealousy.
Cynthia did not like the loud-mouthed, harsh side of Lennon, but on another occasion, when John had brought his guitar to class (a common occurrence) he actually serenaded the other students with an impromptu concert after class. Cynthia saw a soft, gentle look come over John's face as he strummed his beloved guitar and sang. This was a side of him she had never seen before and it fascinated her.
At the end-of-term party, John approached the surprised Cynthia and asked her to dance. Cynthia informed him that she was going steady with another boy. "I didn't ask you to marry me, then!" snapped John.
The two danced and soon realized they had fallen in love. John and his "Cyn" became inseparable. Like countless young lovers, before and since, they would sit in the local coffee bars sipping and nursing a cup of coffee, talking, and gazing into each other's eyes.
They loved going to the movies together and making out. John, being extremely near-sighted, but being too macho and proud to wear his black horn-rimmed glasses in public, often had a hard time seeing the movie. Cyn became used to telling him what was going on on screen when his weak eyes couldn't make out the action.
John wrote Cyn dozens of passionate, touching love letters while he and his group, the Beatles, were off playing in Germany. The letters reveal a clearly lovestruck youth.
"I love, love, love, love you miss Powell," "I love you like guitars," "I miss, miss, miss you, miss Powell" and other similar sentiments decorated the envelopes containing John's love letters.
In 1958, John drew Cyn a handmade Christmas card with a sketch of the two holding hands. "Our first Christmas together and I hope it's not our last," John inscribed on the card. John, always broke, scrimped and saved up enough money to buy Cyn a beautiful winter coat for her Christmas gift.
Sexually, John was seemingly insatiable and Cynthia also quickly learned of John's constant appetite for intimacy. After class, morning, noon, evenings, she and John would stop off in John's dirty, squalid flat and the two would embrace. To satisfy John's huge, unpredictable sexual appetite, the two would often duck into a local alleyway for a "quickie".
John's "fantasy girl" was movie actress, Brigette Bardot, the French sex kitten. To please John, the naturally dark-haired Cyn dyed her hair blonde to resemble Bardot. She also took to wearing the sexy, fishnet stockings John was so crazy about.
John was almost pathologically jealous. He still liked to chat and flirt with other pretty girls, but if Cynthia even looked at another guy, John would storm into a rage. At a local dance, Cyn made the mistake of dancing with one of John's close friend, Stuart Sutcliffe. John caught up with her, and in a blind rage, actually smacked her across the face. This cruel act of violence split the couple up for several weeks, before John's contrite apologies finally convinced her to go back to him. (John was a huge drinker and was a notorious "bad drunk," often becoming cruel, nasty and violent.)
But like two star-crossed lovers in a B-movie, John and Cynthia remained together, despite constant warnings to Cynthia from concerned friends to "stay away from that Lennon" and cautions that her lover was bad news.
Cyn soon learned of John's band, and met his early bandmates, the polite Paul McCartney and the angular-faced George Harrison. George could be quite annoying, "tagging along" with John and Cyn on dates, when the two, obviously, wanted to be alone. But it was not so obvious to the hero-worshiping 15-year-old George, as he would follow the twosome along to movies and local eateries. With the oblivious young George wanting to form a threesome, John and Cyn learned to routinely duck and dodge the tag-along Harrison in order to be alone.
Cyn would go to many of the band's early local gigs, always keeping her status as John's girlfriend a well-guarded secret, lest she be accosted or attacked by the early fanatical Beatle "groupies."
Finally, in the summer of 1962, Cyn came to John and told him that she had become pregnant. In an incredible act of integrity and honor (for the iconoclastic John Lennon!) John took full responsibility. "Well then, i guess we'll have to get married," John said gallantly.
The marriage ceremony took place on August 23, 1962. A loud pneumatic drill kept interrupting the church wedding ceremony, making to hard for the priest or any of the participants to be heard. A typically comical "Beatle" moment occurred early in the ceremony, when the groom was asked to step forward and George Harrison comically stepped up.
During the early days of the Lennon marriage, the marriage itself was kept as a great secret. Interestingly, John and Cyn got married only a few days after the Beatles got a new drummer, a dour-faced 22-year-old named Ringo Starr. New member Ringo, tellingly, was not invited to the wedding and didn't even know John was married until the Beatles were getting their taxes done and John claimed he could get a deduction because he now "was married."
The marriage was kept from the fans because it was believed at time that if one of the Beatles was found out to be married, it would lessen the group's popularity and appeal to their legions of girl fans. But soon the truth was discovered and a majority of the Beatles' girl fans, ironically, grew to like, admire and pleasantly "tolerate" the wife of their beloved John. (The reaction to John and Cyn from Beatle fans was vastly different than the later scorn, ridicule and hatred John was to later face when he came out with his new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, in the late-sixties).
John and Cynthia were to remain married for six full years before the enigmatic, mysterious Ono came along and stole John's heart forever. Cynthia lasted with her restless, impulsive, mercurial husband throughout the early days of Beatlemania, as she watched John and his band conquer the world. It is a tribute to Cynthia's everlasting patience and good-nature that she made it through six years with her unpredictable husband's incredible journey through affairs with other women, drugs, drink, fits of temper, capriciousness, incredible acts of cruelty, and Beatlemania.
Cyn gave John a son in March of 1963- John Charles "Julian" Lennon. Cyn was always a loving and caring mother.
After two other post-Lennon marriages, the still-attractive Cynthia found a happy life with her fourth and final husband, Noel Charles, who she married in 2002. She wrote two wonderful memoirs about her life with the great John Lennon. Like John, Cyn never stopped being an artist, still drawing and sketching as a treasured hobby.
I had the great pleasure of seeing Cynthia at a "Beatlefest" in Los Angeles several years ago, during a Q&A session with the audience. As I watched and listened to the former Mrs. John Lennon answer questions posed by the excited crowd of Beatle fans, I realized Cynthia Powell was just as she has been described by all who have ever met and known her- Cynthia was lovely, sweet, and friendly.
One could so easily see and envision how a young John Lennon had his heart so captured by this delightful lady those few decades ago. But with Yoko Ono, it's still always a bit difficult to see or understand why... well, let's not go there.
At the Q&A session at the Beatlefest, a fan asked Cynthia, "Do you ever wonder why John dropped you for Yoko Ono?" There was a quiet lull and some giggling from the crowd.
"Every day," Cynthia answered, to applause and laughter.
Cynthia Powell died on April 1, 2015, at the age of 75.