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She’s Only 13 But She’s All Woman—Jerry Lee Lewis & Myra Brown

Rock ’n’ roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis was mighty happy to accept the invitation that night. And mighty happy, too, that the fellow who’d invited him was a cousin, a second cousin he’d never seen before, nice fellow named J. Brown who’d been sitting there playing rhythm guitar through the recording session Jerry Lee had just finished, who’d come over to him as he was about to leave, introduced himself, explained their relationship and then said, “The wife and kids would sure like to meet you and would sure be honored if you came and sat down to supper with us.”

Jerry Lee turned to one of his managers to see if it would be all right. Couple of months earlier, Jerry Lee didn’t have any managers. But now, all of a sudden, here it was December 1957 and Jerry Lee had two big hit records to his name and he had managers and he knew how they got if you.didn’t ask, so he asked.

“Guess it’s all right tonight; you worked hard all day,” the manager said. And Jerry Lee was off for a quiet evening with some kin.

On the way to the house, Jerry Lee and J. Brown talked. J. Brown was talking about some of the things he’d done during his lifetime and Jerry Lee interrupted him at one point to ask, “How old you be, Cousin J.?”

“I’m thirty-one,” J. said.

“Man, you look younger than that,” Jerry Lee said.

J. Brown laughed. Then he asked, “How old you be, Cousin Jer’?”

“Twenty-two,” said Jerry Lee.

“Almost time you were married, I’d say,” J. Brown said.

Now it was Jerry Lee’s turn to laugh. “Man,” he said, “I’ve already been married twice.”

“Son of a gun,” J. Brown said, joining in the laughter as they pulled up to the house.

J. Brown’s wife, Lois, a pretty young woman in her late twenties, met them at the door. Her husband had telephoned her from the recording studio about who was coming and she was obviously excited. “It’s an honor to meet a member of the family who’s becoming such a great success,” she said, as she shook his hand.

She led him into the simply-furnished house.

“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling up a chair for Jerry Lee, “that we don’t drink and that we have nothing to offer you in the way of hard beverage.”

“That’s all right, Cousin Lois, I don’t drink either, and I don’t smoke,” Jerry Lee said, and winking, he added, “and I never kiss a girl who wears lipstick or face-rouge or any of that stuff.”

“Are you Assembly of God, Pentecostal, too?” Lois Brown asked, seriously.

“That’s my church,” Jerry Lee said.

“Well!” Lois Brown said, looking over at her husband, approvingly. “That sure makes it seem like real family.”

At that moment, in another room, a baby began to cry. It was the Browns’ second and youngest child, a boy, a little more than two years old. Lois Brown excused herself to go see what was wrong with him.

Enter Myra

At that moment, too, the Browns’ first and oldest child, a girl, walked into the living room. She was a pretty little thing, in her earliest teens, small, frail, extremely serene-looking, with a pale face and big brown eyes.

The girl’s mother had surely told her a little while back about who was coming to supper that night because the girl had surely just washed her face and combed her tawny pony-tail to perfection and put on her best dress, a white dress with little red rosebuds scattered here and there on its starched collar.

“And who’s this cute little ole thing?” Jerry Lee asked when he saw her.

“That’s my daughter, Myra,” J. Brown said, proud at how nice she looked tonight.

“Hello,” Jerry Lee said, standing up and shaking her hand.

“Hello,” Myra said, taking in his face with her big eyes and then nodding and saying, “It’s just like what Grandma told me.”

“What is?” asked Jerry Lee.

“Your beautiful hair,” Myra said, pointing up to the wavy blond mat atop Jerry Lee’s head. “My grandma used to talk about you as a little boy and she said you had the most beautiful hair and that it was just like hers when she was a young girl and single and out a-stepping with young men friends.”

“Maybe I should take that as an insult,” Jerry Lee said, smiling.

“Oh no,” Myra Lee assured him.

All through supper a little while later, Myra kept looking at Jerry Lee and talking to him, wanting to know all about him, barely touching her food so she could concentrate on him and his answers—until, at one point, her surprised mother turned to Jerry Lee and said, “Myra must certainly like you, Cousin Jer’, because normally she’s so shy with people, males especially, that I was beginning to think there was something wrong with her.”

“Well,” Jerry Lee said, gallantly, “the feeling is mutual, Cousin Lois, because I like Myra, too. In fact, if she wasn’t my cousin I might even end up marrying her someday.”

Everybody at the table laughed heartily at that one—except Myra. Myra was blushing now, suddenly and hard.

“How old you be, anyway, little gal?” Jerry Lee asked.

“I’m thirteen,” Myra said, her voice suddenly trembling.

“Mmmm,” Jerry Lee said.

And then someone said something about something else.

And that was that.

At least, lots of people think that should have been that.

First date

But, a couple of nights later, Jerry Lee phoned the Brown house and asked to speak to Cousin Myra.

“How about a date?” he asked.

“I never been out on one before,” the girl said.

“Wanna see what it’s like?” Jerry Lee asked.

“Yes,” the girl said, quickly, adding, “I mean, I would with you. . . .”

They were in the ice cream parlor about half an hour later, Jerry Lee drinking soda, Myra eating a sundae, when Myra said, “I know something about you I bet you don’t think I know.”

“You do?” Jerry Lee asked.

Myra nodded. “I heard my daddy tell my ma that you been married—twice,”’ the girl said.

“Yep,” Jerry Lee said.

Myra waited for him to go on and tell her a little about his wives or something. But all Jerry Lee seemed to be doing tonight was staring at her, in a kind of funny way, a funny way that made her uncomfortable but that made her feel good, too, at the same time.

“Were they pretty?” Myra asked, breaking the silence.

“Yep,” Jerry said again.

“Did you love them?” Myra asked.

“At first I did,” Jerry said. “But Dorothy—she was the first—I was only fourteen when I married her and she was seventeen, and she turned out to be too old for me. So I divorced her after a year. And the next year I married this gal Jane. She was okay, too, but after three years we didn’t love each other no more so we said we’d get divorced and share the baby, six months for one and—”

“You got a little baby?” Myra asked, dropping her spoon in delight.

“Sure,” Jerry Lee said. “He’s named after me, his daddy, and he’s cuter’n a passel of monkeys.”

“He must be adorable if he looks like his daddy,” Myra said, suddenly dropping her eyes and retrieving her spoon and digging into the sundae again. She shook her head. “You, a Daddy—and married two times,” she said. “This must be right boring for a man like you, sitting here with me instead of being in a more interesting place.”

“I don’t like night clubs, if that’s what you mean,” Jerry Lee said. “Only when I was a kid, then I liked them. I used to sneak out of the house at night when I was small and go into town and stand near the night club doors and listen to them piano playing their boogie-woogie. That’s how I got started in music. I got near a piano once and began imitating what I heard and I was pretty good. Then, after a while, I started to sing and I found out I was pretty good at that, too.”

“You’re wonderful at singing, I think,” Myra said.

A real woman

Jerry Lee was staring at her again, hard and deep, and he was in the middle of saying, “Thank you for that nice compliment,” when he noticed Myra turn and wave to a girl at another table.

“She’s a friend from school,” Myra explained.

“You still going to school?” Jerry Lee asked.

“Of course,” Myra said, “I’m in eighth grade.” Then, as if to make herself older-seeming and more sophisticated, she added, “That’s nearly high school.”

Jerry Lee smiled and sighed.

“I know,” Myra said, “you must be thinking, ‘She’s a terrible young one, terrible young.’ ”

“No,” Jerry Lee said, still smiling, “I’m just thinking how much a woman you really are.”

Myra didn’t know what to say now. So she said nothing and just sat there, eating her sundae, letting Jerry Lee continue staring at her in that nice, uncomfortable way. . . .

Two weeks later, to the night, Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Brown were married. The wedding took place in a little town nearby. It was a simple wedding. Jerry Lee had asked Myra suddenly if she’d hitch up with him, Myra had said yes, and now they were here, in the office of a Justice of the Peace, the Justice not blinking an eyelash when he heard Myra’s age, not wondering why no friends or relatives of the couple were there. All he knew was that this young man wanted to marry this little girl, that the young man had the two dollars to marry her with and that, in this particular State, it was all as legal as if the nine old men of the United States Supreme Court had flown down from Washington, D.C., to stand by as smiling, approving witnesses.

And so, alone in this quiet, gray-walled room, he married them. And the only thing that surprised him was the fact that the groom had neglected to buy his child-bride a wedding ring; that the groom, instead of saying, “With this ring, I thee wed,” said instead, “Don’t worry, in a few days I’m gonna buy this little doll a white Cadillac convertible car and that’s more than a lot of gals can say they got from their husbands. . . .”

Man and wife—almost

Jerry Lee got Myra back to her family’s house just a little before midnight that night. Myra had said she’d marry Jerry Lee, and she had. But she didn’t think it was right, she said, that they live together as man and wife till her folks knew about what had happened.

“Can’t you go in and tell them now?” Jerry Lee asked.

Myra noticed how impatient Jerry Lee looked now, how he stood there at the front door, perspiring a little, his legs wiggling a little inside his trousers, looking a lot like he looked that time she’d heard him sing that wild song on television.

Myra still said no, she’d rather do it in her own way. “But by tomorrow night—” she promised. “By tomorrow night.”

The first thing Myra did the next morning was to tell her mother that she wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t going to school. Then, after her mother had left the room, saying she’d go to the kitchen to fetch her a cup of cocoa, Myra jumped out of bed, grabbed her purse, reached for the marriage license she and Jerry had gotten the night before and placed it in full-view on the nighttable alongside her bed.

Her mother, back with the cocoa a few minutes later, didn’t see it.

At lunchtime, the same thing happened.

Then again at about two o’clock.

At about four, Myra—too nervous to tell her ma, yet nervous too lest her ma wouldn’t ever see the papers—got up out of bed again, placed them square in the middle of the bureau, went into the living room, turned on a children’s TV show—one of her favorites, watched for a few minutes, then called for her mother.

“Ma,” she said, “if you go near my room, would you please get me a box of cough drops I left on the bureau?”

Mrs. Brown came rushing out of the bedroom a few seconds later. “Myra!” her mother called. She was holding up the marriage certificate. “What in the world is this all about?”

“It means what it says, Ma,” the girl told her. “It means I’m married, just like you.”

“But Myra darling—” her mother started to say.

“But Cousin Jer’—” her mother said a little while later, after Myra had phoned for her husband to come pick her up and take her away, “Cousin Jer,’ this little girl is still in school, only eighth grade—”

“I can’t go to school anymore, Ma,” Myra corrected her. “Tennessee don’t allow married ladies in school, not even if they’re thirteen years old.”

Her mother brought her hands up to her face. “And your pa,” she said, worried. She turned to Jerry Lee. “She’s her pa’s little girl,’ she said. “He’ll be so angry.”

Jerry Lee shrugged. “He shouldn’t be,” he said. “Myra here is young in years, maybe, but she’s a grown-up in her heart. Besides, she told me she’s been driving a ear since she was ten years old and that makes her pretty grown up, don’t it? And she told me she can cook real good, and that ain’t what kids do, is it?”

He looked at Myra as he said that, and she looked at him, noticing that look in his face and his body again, that look like he had last night, like he was ready to break out and start singing some wild song.

“l’m gonna make you spaghetti first thing,” the little girl said to her husband.

“See?” Jerry Lee said. “And besides you don’t have to worry about her future none, Cousin Lois, because I’m already starting to make over a thousand dollars a week sometimes and soon I’ll be making more and that ain’t the kind of money you worry about, is it?”

“But—” Lois Brown tried again.

“Besides,” Jerry Lee said, “we’re in love.”

For awhile, it seemed as if their life together might be happy. Myra’s Pa reportedly became reconciled to the fact, once he realized it was a fact. Jerry Lee’s parents didn’t seem to mind. Nor did his managers—though they didn’t exactly publicize the news. Nor did Jerry Lee and Myra’s small group of friends seem to think there was anything very unusual or wrong about it at all.

But then, suddenly, the world found out. And all hell broke out for the newlyweds.

The reservations mix-up

The news came to light five months after the wedding, in May 1958. Jerry Lee had just signed a contract to sing throughout England and Scotland on a long and money-making personal appearance tour. Just before he left the States, he cabled the London booking agents that he was bringing his wife, his mother-in-law and his sister along and to please make hotel reservations accordingly.

They all arrived in London late at night a few nights later and the comedy of errors began. The manager of the plush Westbury Hotel greeted Myra’s mother as Mrs. Lewis and assumed that Jerry Lee had left his mother-in-law at home and brought along two sisters instead. But he was more than a little surprised, once the formalities were over, to see young ‘sister’ Myra walk into Jerry Lee’s room and remain there the night.

Someone at the hotel tipped off reporters about this mix-up the next morning, just before a mass interview.

It has been said in journalistic circles that there are no more hard-working or hard-asking reporters than the ladies and gentlemen of the London press.

They outdid themselves this time.

“Just who are you, young lady?” one of the reporters asked Myra.

“Why, I’m Jerry Lee’s wife,” Myra said honestly, nervously.

“And how old are you?”

Myra thought that if she told the truth these people facing her might not be quite so understanding as some of the folks back home. So she lied. “I’m fifteen,” she said.

The reporters looked at one another and shook their heads.

And that night, at Jerry Lee’s opening, an audience who’d read the news in the late afternoon papers applauded the singing of the newest rock ’n’ roll sensation from the States as mildly as if he’d been lecturing on the planting and care of nasturtiums.

The next morning, while Jerry Lee was having breakfast with his frankly-worried booking agents, a couple of reporters who had a hunch about something decided to have another talk with Myra.

They found her in the lobby of the Westbury, looking happily through some comic books she’d just found stacked on the lobby’s newsstand.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, one of the reporters asked, “How old are you really, my dear?”

“Thirteen,” Myra said, figuring they somehow knew.

The reporters raced for the phones.

Baby snatcher

And at that night’s performance, an even quieter audience greeted Jerry Lee, so quiet that at one point Jerry Lee stopped in the middle of a number and said, “You all seem mighty silent out there. I’m alive and I sure hope you all ain’t half as dead as you sound.”

This was all the audience needed—an insult from Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis.

“Go home, baby snatcher,” someone yelled from the gallery.

“Kiddy thief,’ someone else yelled.

“Go home,” everybody joined in, finally, breaking up the performance, “baby snatcher . . . kiddy thief . . . go home . . . go home!”

It was during this second and last performance Jerry Lee was to play in Britain that those never-say-die British reporters were busy uncovering some more interesting news. A phone call by one of them to the police chief of Jerry Lee’s home town revealed that “this makes twice Lewis has remarried before he’s been divorced.”

Now it was up to Jerry Lee to do some explaining.

“It’s true,” he said, wearily, in his hotel room late that night. “I married Myra before my divorce went through, and we haven’t been remarried since. But I consider that Myra is morally my wife and |she will stay with me, here in this room.”

A sleepy-eyed Myra— “up way past her bedtime,” as one of the reporters noted—added, “I know my own mind, even though I am only thirteen. I don’t regret marrying Jerry Lee and I’d marry him a million times if necessary. Jerry Lee’s a wonderful husband and I love married life.” As if to prove her devotion, she further added, “I’m going to have my first baby—”

A woman present gasped.

“—when I’m seventeen or eighteen,” Myra finished. . . .

The next day, several things happened.

The management of the Westbury asked the Lewis party to please leave the premises.

The English booking agents cancelled the rest of the tour.

The next plane out

Jerry Lee’s own agents—despite the fact that they said they now had proof ‘from six lawyers’ that the marriage was legal—bought a batch of airplane tickets for the States on the next plane out.

At the airport, there was a delay due to mechanical difficulty and Jerry Lee, Myra and the others spent an uncomfortable eight hours waiting.

To a cordon of reporters who wouldn’t be moved, Jerry Lee said at one point, “People think I’m a ladies’ man, a bad boy. I’m not. I’m religious and I love my wife.”

Back in the States the next day, the Lewis party transferred planes at Idlewild Airport, New York, and flew straight home for Tennessee.

Then, a few days later, learning that all their marital troubles would be straightened out if they got married again, Jerry Lee and Myra went to the home of Jerry Lee’s folks, summoned a minister and went through the wedding ceremony again.

After the wedding, a few people had gathered, among them a very old lady who’d very nicely thought of bringing a box of rice along.

“Good luck, Jerry Lee,” she said, wobbly-voiced, as she flung a handful of rice at him.

“Thankee, Ma’am,” Jerry Lee said.

“And good luck to you, little girl,” the old lady said, doing the same for Myra.

“It’s not little girl,” she said, almost beseechingly; “it’s Mrs. Lewis.”

The old woman didn’t seem to understand. “Yes, yes,” she cackled, “good luck to both of you.”

Myra watched her for a moment. And then, as the tears began to rush to her eyes, she got into the car alongside Jerry Lee and he began to drive away.

“Bye, little girl,” the old lady started up again, smiling and waving and emptying her box of rice, as the car moved faster and faster and faster away. . . .





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