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The Life of a Forgotten Muse: Cynthia Lennon

Silvia Munguia is an English teacher from San Diego, California. She studied Literature in Writing at UC San Diego earning her B.A. in 2013.

Cynthia photographed in her Kenwood home during the mid-1960s.

Cynthia photographed in her Kenwood home during the mid-1960s.

Many people quickly identify Yoko Ono as Lennon’s longtime partner but few recognize Cynthia Lennon’s name. Nevertheless, Cynthia was an important woman in Lennon’s life. Not only were they together for a decade, but she also was the mother of his first son, Julian Lennon. Cynthia witnessed the foundation of the Beatles and stayed with Lennon throughout most of the sixties, all the way from Please Please Me to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’s Band. In the following paragraphs, the author explains who this woman was and why she is significant to Beatles history.

Growing Up in Hoylake

Cynthia Lillian Powell was born on September 10, 1939, in Blackpool, England, to Charles and Lillian Powell. She was the youngest of three children. Her father worked at a General Electric Company while her mother was a homemaker. Cynthia showed an interest in art from an early age; she was admitted to the Junior Art School at the age of twelve. Her father passed away when she was only seventeen years old. Before parting, Cynthia's father told her that she would not be able to go to college because she would need to help her mother with expenses at home (by that point, her two older brothers had moved out). Cynthia’s mother knew how much her daughter dreamed of going to college and said to her, “Don’t worry love. You’ll go to college; we’ll manage.” In September 1957, Cynthia began studying at the Liverpool College of Art specializing in graphics.

Cynthia at age ten with a friend in Hoylake, where she grew up.

Cynthia at age ten with a friend in Hoylake, where she grew up.

Art School and Meeting John Lennon

A year later, Cynthia met John Lennon in a calligraphy class. Cynthia, who was a diligent student, would come to class ready to learn with all the required materials, while John would come empty-handed and would spend most of his time making funny remarks about other people in the class. Because of this, he would sit behind Cynthia every day, asking to borrow her materials whenever he needed them. Although Cynthia showed no interest in him initially, she was eventually attracted to John’s wit and charisma; John returned her affections and asked her out at the end of the school year. In her memoir, John, Cynthia writes, “My feelings for John were very different from those I’d had for any other boy: more powerful, more exciting and totally unshakeable. And I sensed in John the same strong feelings. Perhaps each of us recognised and was drawn to a deep need in the other. But at the time I didn’t analyse it. I simply felt certain that this was no passing fling. It was real love.”

Soon after they started dating, Cynthia learned that John had a band called “The Quarrymen'' which would later become “The Beatles.” He introduced her to the other members: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best. Cynthia liked the band from the beginning and got along with the boys. John eventually dropped out of college to concentrate on his music. Nevertheless, he continued his relationship with Cynthia. While Lennon would go off with his band to play in clubs in Liverpool and other places in Europe (like Hamburg, Germany), Cynthia would continue with her artwork in college. She almost completed her studies yet failed her final examination. Just when Cynthia was contemplating re-taking the exam, she found out she was pregnant. This came as shocking news to Cynthia, but when she communicated what was happening to John, he immediately offered to marry her saying, “There’s only one thing to it, Cyn, we’ll have to get married.”

Cynthia with John and the other Beatles at the premiere of 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964.

Cynthia with John and the other Beatles at the premiere of 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964.

Marriage to John

Cynthia and John married on August 23, 1962, in Liverpool. When Cynthia gave birth to their son, Julian, on April 8, 1963, John was on tour and did not meet him until three days later. This was the beginning of what would be a lonely marriage for Cynthia. "I was proud, excited, and a little frightened. It was all taking off so quickly…the more successful the boys were, the further away from me John felt. I was getting used to being a mum, but most of the time I felt like a single parent…it was hard not to feel frustrated with being stuck at home. I loved Julian, but I knew that if I hadn’t had him I could have seen much more of John and that was hard…I felt shut off from the life he was living. After years at his side, I was excluded, just as it was all happening." Cynthia had dreamed of becoming an artist, but it is said that John did not want her to work outside the home. According to Cynthia, John did not want his son to be raised by anyone other than his mother because he had not had that opportunity. John, on the other hand, spent most of his time on tour or in the recording studio. While on the road, he had countless affairs with many women. Although Cynthia did suspect he was being unfaithful on a few occasions, she never had any proof, and John would always deny the accusations.

Even though Cynthia would spend much of her time at her Kenwood mansion alone with Julian, she did accompany John to many memorable events. One of these was the Beatles' first U.S. tour in 1964, of which she said, “ I think John wanted me to go because it was so exciting to come to America for the first time. I'd never been to America, and it was a treat for me. It was really a fantastic experience...” In addition, Cynthia was by John's side on many other major occasions, such as at the premiers of his Beatles' films, the band's visit to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBE medals from the Queen, and the presentations of his books, In His Own Right and A Spaniard in the Works. During her time with John, Cynthia was also the source of inspiration for many of his love songs including, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” "I Call Your Name," “When I Get Home,” “It’s Only Love,” and “I Feel Fine.”

Nonetheless, John and Cynthia inevitably began drifting apart as time went on. In 1965, Cynthia and John attended a party along with George and Pattie Harrison. At this event, their drinks were spiked with LSD. Cynthia was terrified by the experience and decided that she would never try the drug again, "John and I weren't capable of getting back to Kenwood from there, so the four of us sat up for the rest of the night as the walls moved, the plants talked, other people looked like ghouls and time stood still. It was horrific: I hated the lack of control and not knowing what was going on or what would happen next." By contrast, John was fascinated and became instantly hooked. Cynthia did not like the direction John was taking and, as Paul McCartney would later say, “wanted to settle him down.” For his part, John had no intention of doing this. In spite of her discomfort, Cynthia was determined to save her marriage.

When I Get Home (Remastered 2009)

Cynthia accompanying John on his first U.S. tour with the Beatles in 1964.

Cynthia accompanying John on his first U.S. tour with the Beatles in 1964.

It's Only Love (Remastered 2009)

Tumultuous Divorce

In early 1968, Cynthia accompanied John and the other Beatles and their partners to India to meditate under the direction of the Maharishi Yogi. Cynthia enjoyed meditation and hoped that John would find the peace of mind that he was looking for and stay away from drugs. Not only did this not happen, but John distanced himself even more from Cynthia. In 1966, John had met a Japanese avant-garde artist named Yoko Ono. At first, John only saw Yoko as an intellectual, but as time went on, he became interested in her as a woman too. Shortly after his return to London from India, John met with Yoko and realized he had fallen in love with her. Around this time, Cynthia got home after a short trip with friends in Greece to find John and Yoko in bed together. Cynthia later said, “As far as Yoko is concerned, I knew there was not a thing I could do about it, any more than there was anything I could do about John taking drugs at the time. There was no way I could've stopped him.” As a result, Cynthia filed for divorce and sued Lennon for adultery. Lennon did not contest. The divorce was granted on November 8, 1968. Cynthia’s and John’s divorce was the prelude of the new direction The Beatles would take and the inspiration for one of the band's most revered songs, “Hey Jude” which was written by Paul McCartney as a gesture of solidarity for Julian Lennon.

Upon divorcing John, Cynthia was granted custody of Julian and an allowance for him in the amount of £2,400 annually (equivalent to £41,900 in 2021). Cynthia married three more times after Lennon, first in 1970 to the Italian hotelier, Roberto Bassanini, then to the engineer John Twist in 1978, and finally to the nightclub owner Noel Charles in 2002.

The Beatles - Hey Jude

Cynthia with her son, Julian, in the 1980s.

Cynthia with her son, Julian, in the 1980s.

BBC Interview with Cynthia Lennon

Is Cynthia Lennon the Fifth Beatle?

Cynthia worked for most of her life. She opened a restaurant in Ruthin, Wales, called Oliver's Bistro, which also had a bed and breakfast above the premises. In 1999, she had an exhibition of her drawings and paintings alongside Phyllis McKenzie, a longtime friend. She wrote two memoirs based on her experiences with John and the Beatles, A Twist of John, which was published in 1978, and John, which was published in 2005. The latter has been the inspiration for the play, This Girl: The Cynthia Lennon Story by Mike Howl which was performed during International Beatle Week in Liverpool in 2019. This book was also the inspiration for the independent film, Cyn: A True Story, which was directed by Ben Desmond and will come out later this year.

Unfortunately, Cynthia passed away on April 1, 2015, after a brief battle with cancer. Many people see Cynthia’s story as a cautionary tale about why second-wave feminism was needed. She gave up her career and put her needs second to John’s only to be discarded from his life in a humiliating and heartbreaking way. Of her time with John, Cynthia said, “I never stopped loving John, but the cost of that love has been enormous. Someone asked me recently whether, if I’d known at the beginning what lay ahead, I would have gone through with it. I had to say no. Of course, I could never regret having my wonderful son. But the truth is that if I’d known as a teenager what falling for John Lennon would lead to, I would have turned around right then and walked away.” Nonetheless, Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, a projected nine-volume biography, called Cynthia “The Fifth Beatle,” because of her early bond with the band, and the strong support and inspiration she provided for John. In Kessler's own words, “Supplying inspiration, stability, understanding, and support, Cynthia earned her place in the group. Attending most of the major events of the Beatles’ career, she was the silent partner in their history. Creating an environment in which the group’s founder, John, could continue to push his band to ‘the toppermost of the poppermost,’ Cynthia Lennon was the catalyst for the band’s success.” While some people may disagree with Kessler’s designation, it is undeniable that Cynthia Lennon was an important woman in Lennon’s life and in the Beatles' history.

DRAMA : ‘Cyn’ Trailer [2021]

© 2021 Silvia Munguia

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