After years of neglect in pop history, John's first wife, Cynthia Lennon, is finally getting the recognition she deserves thanks to a new play.
There's a new upcoming play on the horizon, and it's already making waves weeks ahead of its premier later this summer. This Girl, written by playwright Mike Howl, will feature a subject that remains highly controversial among fans of the Beatles: the coveted "fifth Beatle" spot.
An endless debate
The debate has been going on for decades now. Traditionally, Beatles fans and scholars alike have gone back and forth on the issue, suggesting a number of different candidates that should be considered the true fifth member of the legendary group. Is it Pete Best, the ousted drummer? Is it John Lennon's best friend, Stuart Sutcliffe? Or maybe, it's manager Brian Epstein. Perhaps it's none: there is no fifth Beatle at all, some say. Yet, for all the controversy and endless discussion, there's one name that few, if any, ever even mention: Cynthia Lennon. And that's really unfortunate.
The strong case for Cynthia Lennon
As John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia played a crucial role in keeping the Beatles together from the beginning; and many would agree that, without her, the history of the beloved Liverpool quartet would be very different indeed. But for all her influence in the group, she has remained a hidden figure, always in the background, never given the credit she deserved.
“I want to get across how important she was in John’s life,” Mike Howl told The Observer. “John used to write to her every single day while he was out in Hamburg … I do think that without Cynthia’s love, John would have gone completely off the rails.”
Cynthia Lennon wasn't just any girl. She was a talented artist herself, and stood by John for over a decade as the Beatles came into fame and fortune. But let's start from the beginning.
An obscured life
Born Cynthia Lillian Powell in 1939, she grew up in Hoylake, North West England. When she was 12, she got into the Junior Art School, and was later accepted at the Liverpool College of Art. That's where John Lennon studied, and that's where, during the 1957 period, the two artists met—in an unassuming calligraphy class that would serve as the setting for their early romance.
The couple became inseparable right from the start. Cynthia's love for John was so strong that she even forgave his one-night stands after the band became a global phenomenon—unfair as that might seem. By 1962, the two were married and just a few months later, their son, Julian Lennon, was born.
Photo via Medium
Cynthia's artistic gift was more visual than John's. As a skillful illustrator, she made many iconic drawings of the Beatles' early years, several of which are on display at the Beatles Story museum, in Albert Dock, Liverpool, after being exhibited in London during 1999.
According to Howl, John and Cynthia's relationship “helped to keep the Beatles together for as long as they were.” But her husband's fame was difficult for Cynthia, even if we ignore the pain from John's infidelities. She would spend a lot of time taking care of their newborn alone, while Lennon was playing all over Europe. When fans found out where she and John lived, they would harass her, camping in her building's hallways for weeks on end.
When the Beatles first toured the U.S., Cynthia came along with John for the experience. It wasn't easy. She was left behind in New York when the hurried Beatles rushed out of the city, and she once had to ask fans for help to convince security that she was John's wife to get into the concert in Miami. "Don't be so slow next time" was all that John told her afterwards. Still, she was there, by her husband's side, supporting him as best she could.
Sadly, it was not enough for John, and he went on to leave Cynthia for Yoko Ono by the end of the decade. She was to marry three times afterwards, but would always remember her years in Liverpool with John as the best of her life. In 1978, she published an illustrated memoir about her life with him, A Twist of Lennon, featuring her own drawings and poetry. She would later write a more serious and intimate biography, John, published in 2005. She died ten years later in Majorca, Spain, after a short battle with cancer. She was 75.
Mike Howl's play about Cynthia's important role in the history of the Beatles finally put her in the spotlight—an overdue recognition for such a key character in John's life. “The first half of the play is snapshot moments from their lives together, with some original songs," said Howl about what the audience would expect. "There is a scene in which John is working on the song 'You’re Gonna Lose that Girl' in their home and Cynthia joins him to sing it."
(Cover photo via Medium)
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