John Lennon, Through the Eyes of His First Wife

ByABC News via logo
October 4, 2005, 1:17 PM

Oct. 5, 2005 -- -- Many have viewed Cynthia Lennon as the clueless girl who met a pre-Beatles John Lennon when she was 18, and snared him into marriage when she became pregnant with their son, Julian.

In her new book, "John," Cynthia Lennon tells a much different story, painting the picture of a young couple madly in love until drugs, fame and the spell of a formerly unknown artist named Yoko Ono tore them apart.

"I have read so many books and seen so many films, and it's like we don't really exist. We are like walk-on parts in his life," Cynthia Lennon told "Good Morning America." "We did spend 10 years together."

Cynthia and John met in an art class in Liverpool in the 1950s. At first, Cynthia dismissed the would-be Beatle as not her type. That soon changed.

"You couldn't resist being around him," Cynthia Lennon said. "You couldn't resist watching what he was up to. I mean, he was a total rebel. Everybody was amazed by him."

Cynthia and John were married in 1962, but their relationship was sometimes rocky. On one occasion, she claims her husband struck her.

"He was a very jealous young man at the time, and he had a lot of pain inside," Cynthia Lennon said. "He wanted to trust me and he thought by seeing me dancing with a friend of his that I was being disloyal or messing around. So he smacked me, but that was the only time."

This is Cynthia Lennon's second book. In the late 1970s, she published "A Twist of Lennon," which told much of the story of their marriage from 1962 to 1969. In "John," Cynthia fleshes out the details of John's relationship with Julian after the Lennons' divorce, as well as Julian's story after John was slain on Dec. 8, 1980, in New York. John Lennon would have been 65 on Sunday.

"Near the end, before his tragic death, of course, they (John and Julian) were getting close on the phone; they were connecting," Cynthia Lennon said. "It was just coming back and it was wonderful. Then, of course, his life was cut very short."

You can read about Cynthia and John's first meeting at an art school in Liverpool in the excerpt from "John" below.

The late fifties was a wonderful time to be young and setting out in the world. The grim days of the war and postwar deprivation were over; national service had been lifted and teenagers were allowed to be youthful and unafraid. It was as though the gray austerity of the forties had been replaced by a brilliant spectrum of opportunities and possibilities. Britain was celebrating survival and freedom, and the time was ripe for dreams, hopes and creativity.

I started at Liverpool College of Art in September 1957. I had just turned eighteen and could hardly believe my luck. A year earlier my father had died, after a painful battle with lung cancer. My two older brothers had left home, and my mother and I had little money. Before he died Dad, who was desperately worried about providing for us, told me that I wouldn't be able to go to college: I'd have to get a job and help Mum. I promised I would, but it was hard to accept that my college hopes were at an end.Mum said nothing at the time, but she knew how much college meant to me, and after Dad's death she said, "You go to college, love. We'll manage somehow." She took in lodgers to make ends meet: she crammed four beds into the master bedroom for four working lads, young apprentice electricians who were happy to share. From then on home was more like a boarding-house there were always queues for the bathroom and I had to get up at dawn if I wanted to be first in, but I was hugely grateful to Mum and determined not to let her down.

When I got into art college, I set out to be a model student. I turned up promptly every day, neat in my best twin sets and tweed skirts with my pencils sharpened, ready to be the hardest-working girl in the place. My dream was to be an art teacher. Art was the only subject I'd ever liked at school and I was thrilled when, at the age of twelve, I got into the junior art school, which was down the street from the art college. It was there that I became best friends with a girl called Phyllis McKenzie. We planned to go on to college together, but Phyl's father refused to let her go and insisted she get a job. She had to settle for evening classes in life drawing, after spending the day working as a commercial artist for a local corn merchant.

A couple of other girls from the junior art school, Ann Mason and Helen Anderson, started college with me. We were thrilled to be there, and in awe of the older students, many of whom wore the kind of bohemian, beatnik clothes we considered incredibly daring and could only stare at with a mixture of envy and admiration.

Most of us starting college then had been born just before or during the war in my case a week after war was declared. My mother, with a group of other pregnant women, had been sent to the relative safety of Blackpool, where she gave birth in a tiny cell of a room in a bed-and-breakfast on the seafront on September 10, 1939. It was a nightmare birth: she was left alone, in labor, for a day and a night, and when the midwife finally got to her it was clear that, without immediate help, neither my mother nor I was going to make it. The midwife locked the door, swore my mother to secrecy and dragged me into the world by my hair, ears and any other part of me she could get hold of. My father, who had arrived hours earlier and burst into tears at the sight of my exhausted, terrified mother, had been sent for a walk. He returned to find that his wife had survived and he had a daughter.

My parents both came from Liverpool, but at the outbreak of war they decided to leave the city for the relative safety of the Wirral, across the Mersey in Cheshire. They moved with me and my brothers Charles, then eleven, and Tony, eight to a two-bedroom semi-detached house in a small seaside village called Hoylake. My father worked for GEC, selling electrical appliances to shops, and had to travel into the city each day to make his rounds, but at home we were away from the worst of the relentless bombing that ravaged so much of Liverpool. When the bombers flew overhead my mother would scoop us into the cupboard under the stairs, where the force of the explosions jolted us off our seats.

I grew up with rationing as a way of life. Like all the other families around us, we dug for Britain, with an allotment where we grew our vegetables and a little hen coop in the back garden. As in so many households in those days, the boys generally took precedence over the girls. When my brothers got bacon, I got the rind, and when they got scraps of meat from a bone, I got the bone to chew. It was my job to clean their shoes and help my mother look after them and Dad. I was a quiet, timid child and I accepted my role in the house, as the youngest and the only girl, without question.

Rationing went on for some years after the war, so for most of my childhood scarcity was normal. I used to shop for two old ladies in our street and in return one gave me her sweets coupons and the other gave me old clothes that had belonged to her children. Both the clothes and the sweets were rare treats. My brother Charles left when he was sixteen and I was five, so I have few memories of him living at home. He went to work for GEC, first in Birmingham, then London. He was a wonderful pianist the whole street used to listen to him.