Sara Dylan

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Sara Dylan
Born (1939-10-28) October 28, 1939 (age 81)
Wilmington, Delaware, United States
Occupation Actress, fashion model
Spouse(s) Hans Lownds
Bob Dylan (m. November 1965 – June 1977)
Children Maria Dylan Himmelman
Jesse Dylan
Anna Dylan
Samuel Dylan
Jakob Dylan

Sara Dylan (born October 28, 1939 as Shirley Marlin Noznisky), was the first wife of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and mother of singer Jakob Dylan. She was married to Bob Dylan from November 1965 until June 1977.[1][2]

Early life

Little is known about Sara Dylan's early life or family.[3] She was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 28, 1939, to Jewish parents Bessie and Isaac Noznisky.[4] Her maiden name was Shirley Noznisky (or, according to Beatty Zimmerman, Novoletsky).[3] Her father Isaac, was a Belorussian Jewish immigrant who settled in Wilmington shortly before the First World War and ran a scrap metal business on Claymont street. He never learned to read or write English. Shirley's mother Bessie, ran a dry goods store at the junction of 8th and Lombard streets, the latter the street on which Shirley was born. She had one brother Julius, sixteen years her senior.

When Shirley was nine, Bessie had a stroke, and her great aunt Esther came to help watch over the family.[5] In November 1956, when Shirley was completing high school, her father was shot dead by a man with a grudge. The shooter being a drunken Eastern European immigrant with whom he had been friends with and who wrongly believed that Isaac was responsible for the loss if his job. Isaac was shot in the face with a 38 bullet in a neighbourhood sweetshop on the morning of Sunday, soon after the men quarrelled in the street; the bullet severed a main artery to the brain and he died in the Delaware hospital two days later. He was buried in the workers circle section of the Wilmington Jewish Community centre that Thursday, November 22. Shirley's widowed mother died five years later leaving her alone in the world.

She attended the University of Delaware briefly before moving to New York City, around 1960, where she worked as a bunny girl at the Playboy club. She became a fashion model, represented by the Ford agency, and she met her first husband, photographer Hans Lownds. Hans was a German Jew, born in 1914 as Heinz Ludwig Lowenstein; he fled to America in the 1930s and changed his name to Henry Louis Lownds ("Hans" was his nickname). He became a successful photographer of men's fashion, known for using beautiful young women in his pictures. Despite the fact Hans was twenty-five years older than Shirley, she became his third wife in late 1960 or early 1961. "My father was the one who changed Sara's name," says Peter Lownds, who discovered he had a stepmom—only five years his senior—when he came home from Yale and Sara answered the door. "My father said, 'I can't be married to a woman named Shirley.' (So) he changed her name to Sara."[no citations needed here]

Sara and Hans lived in a large five-story house on 60th Street in Manhattan, between Second and Third Avenues. Sara continued with her modeling career—appearing in Harper's Bazaar as the 'lovely luscious Sara Lownds'—and then became pregnant. Her daughter Maria was born October 21, 1961. Within a year of the birth, the marriage began to fail. Sara started going out on her own, driving around town in an MG sports car Hans had given her, and gravitated to the youthful scene in Greenwich Village. According to Peter Lownds, this is where she met Bob. "Bob was the reason (she left Hans)," says Lownds. "He was famous and she was very beautiful."[6] She was not familiar with his music, and only vaguely knew who he was.[7]

Hans and Sara separated and Sara went to work as a secretary for the film production division of Time-Life, where filmmakers such as Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker were impressed with her resourcefulness. "She was supposed to be a secretary," marveled Pennebaker, "but she ran the place." Sara introduced Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman to D.A. Pennebaker, the director who would later film Don't Look Back.[8] Sara was in the neighborhood coffee shop when she struck up a friendship with waitress Sally Anne Buehler, who happened to be dating Albert Grossman. Sally invited Sara up to Bearsville and this became another link with Bob. When Sally and Albert Grossman married, on November 12, 1964, Bob and Sara were among the guests at their wedding.

Marriage to Bob Dylan

Lownds and Dylan became romantically involved sometime in late 1964;[8] soon afterwards, Lownds and Dylan both moved into separate rooms in New York's Hotel Chelsea to be near one another. Apart from her great natural beauty, what probably attracted Bob to Sara was her Zen-like equanimity: Unlike most of the women he met, she wasn't out to impress him or interrogate him about his lyrics. An adherent of Eastern mysticism, she possessed a certain ego-less quality that dovetailed neatly with Dylan's more pronounced sense of ambition. Indeed, so self-effacing was she that for a long time their relationship remained a secret even to Dylan's friends, most of whom learned about their marriage several months after it had occurred. Ironically, a few days after the wedding, Bob was asked by Joseph Haas of the Chicago Daily News whether he ever hoped to settle down with a wife and children. He replied, "I don't hope to be like anybody. Getting married, having a bunch of kids, I have no hopes for it."[7]

Sara wasn't really a music fan; indeed, the first time Sally Grossman invited her over to catch one of Bob's television appearances, she apparently expected to be watching Bobby Darin. Bob, though, was immediately struck by Sara, telling Al Aronowitz shortly after meeting her that he was going to marry her, enthusing, "She's strong!"

"He obviously fell for her," Sally Grossman told David Hajdu, author of the memoir Positively 4th Street, "and he didn't like people prying into his family and the things that were really closest to him. If he was really serious about her, she had to be unknown. That was one of our [the Grossmans'] jobs, to help give him that privacy. Look-he just had a taste of a very public relationship [with Joan Baez], and that wasn't working out very well, was it?"

Sara was, claims Aronowitz, "always one of the most queenly women. She ruled with regal radiance and with the power to calm troubled waters. She'd never pull a scene, but when she was really pushed to it, she knew how to do an icy slow burn." David Hajdu describes her as "well read, a good conversationalist and better listener, resourceful, a fast study, and good hearted. She impressed some people as shy and quiet, others as supremely confident; either way, she appeared to do only what she felt needed to be done."."[7]

In July 1965 Bob purchased a mansion in the Arts and Crafts movement colony of Bearsville for himself and Sara, who was expecting his first child. Bob and Sara decided on a sprawling eleven-room Arts and Cratfs mansion named Hi Ho La on Camelot Road. The property was purchased in July—a bargain at under $12,000—in the name of a 'blind' company so that Bob's name would not appear on the transaction. Yet he would be unable to spend much time at the house in the foreseeable future, due to being out on the road for most 1965 and 1966. He would only see Sara only when he returned home to Byrdcliffe for breaks and when she occasionally joined him on the road.

The pair wed in a secret ceremony on November 22, 1965, during a break in his tour. The marriage took place under an oak tree outside a judge's office on Mineola, Long Island. The only other participants were Albert Grossman and a maid of honor for Sara.[9] Their marriage remained a secret even to some of Dylan's closest friends until months afterwards, when the press caught wind of their union.[10]

Bob and Sara had four children: Jesse, Anna, Samuel and Jakob. Dylan also adopted Maria, Sara's daughter from her first marriage.

Journalist Al Aronowitz was a frequent visitor to Byrdcliffe, "Sara always went out of her way to be kind to me," he recalls fondly. "She treated me as if I was a close relative. Whatever predicament we happened to be in, she always knew what to say to turn it into a joke. I worshiped Sara as a goddess who not only could calm the storm but who also could turn Bob into a human being. Bob was never a nicer guy than when he was with Sara.... In the years following his motorcycle accident, Bob acted like a romantic cornball when he was with her. Bob, he freely acknowledges, was hardly a model citizen, with a terrible temper and more than his fair share of bad habits, but Sara knew just how to tame his rages when they were directed at Aronowitz.

"For me, they were the ideal loving couple. They flirted with each other constantly. Their kitchen-talk, table-talk, parlor-talk, and general dialogue impressed me as certainly hipper than any I've ever heard in any soap opera or sitcom. She was always just as hip as he was. Bob and Sara put on an impressive show for me, a drama full of romance and wisecracks and everyday common sense. I felt proud to be the audience."

Dylan reportedly "depended on her advice as if she were his astrologer, his oracle, his seer, his psychic guide. He would rely on her to tell him the best hour and the best day to travel."[11]

Woodstock had been a secure refuge for several years, and Bob had worked fruitfully at his music during their seclusion in the country. In many ways the years he and Sara had spent in Woodstock were the happiest and the most stable they would know. They had dealt successfully with the pressures of Bob's fame, and they were content as a couple. But the crazy events of the ;ate 60's had changed the town for the worst and impinged on their lives to the extent that they no longer felt comfortable or safe in Woodstock. In many ways the so called decade of peace and love had yielded a disappointing dividend with the terror of the cold war, the death of Brian Jones and the maniacal Charles Manson arrested for ordering the killing of actress Sharon Tate and others. In the fall of 1969 prior to the birth of Jakob Dylan, Bob and Sara decided to relocate to New York City and bought a town house in Greenwich Village. This was a handsome and spacious doubled town house in the heart of the village at 94 MacDougal Street. The front door opened directly onto MacDougal Street and Bob would soon rue the day he bought such a place.

Bob received trouble whilst living at MacDougal Street from both excessive fans who picked through his garbage and his fellow neighbours who with sledgehammers knocked down a wall Bob had built to section of his back garden for privacy. In 1973 Bob and Sara sold their Woodstock house, they still owned the town house in New York, a ranch house in Arizona, and a beach house in the Hamptons, but from now on their main residence would be California. Bob and Sara bought a modest property on the Point Dume peninsula, ten miles north of Malibu Beach and a short walk from the secluded Zuma Beach. Whilst architect David C. Towbin remodeled the house, Bob and Sara rented a nearby property. Over the next three years Bob and Sara worked with Towbin to create the most extraordinary and extravagant fantasy mansion. 'The house was kind of Sara's folly. Bob went along with it, but it just got out of control in terms of the cost of building it,' says Jonathan Taplin. Towbin agrees that the house was a source of friction. Bob and Sara had been blissfully happy until they came to California (friend Bernard Paturel says he never heard them argue in Woodstock). Now they were bickering. To help Towbin gave Bob and Sara different parts of the project to oversee. At times he felt like a diplomat as much as a architect.

Another threat to Bob and Sara's relationship came about April 1974 when Dylan began taking art classes from Norman Raeben, a 73-year-old Russian immigrant and former boxer who, according to Dylan, had been close friends with Soutine, Picasso, and Modigliani.[12] Raeban's teaching methods radically changed the musician's way of thinking, and he would later tell an interviewer, "I went home after that first day and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That's when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, and I couldn't possibly explain it."[13]

Bob was actually drinking quite heavily. He was also smoking cigarettes again after having quit for a while- another small sign something was amiss. His life with Sara had been stable and harmonious for years. It seemed that he had also managed to remain faithful, which had not previously been in his nature. There was a change following his return to the road with The Band for Tour '74. Bob was experimenting again with his old ways and temptations. It did not help that Sara had no time for the rock and roll lifestyle. 'She despised it,' says Jonathan Taplin. 'People who just wanted to talk about music, it was just boring to her.'

Bob also had easy access to women on the road, and Sara was not there to stop him. In July 1974 there were press reports that Bob's marriage was breaking up. He would be linked with a number of women, including twenty-four-year-old Ellen Bernstein, a Columbia Records executive. Actress Ruth Tyrangiel claims she began an affair with Bob in February, during Tour '74 where he allegedly told her he would divorce Sara and make her his wife. There was some evidence that she knew Bob and members of Bob's entourage at the time have little doubt that he was beginning to pursue relationships outside his marriage. This behavior was becoming an intolerable strain on Sara Dylan, and so they separated. In the summer of 1974 Bob purchased an eighty-acre farm northeast of Minneapolis to share with his brother David. The farm became a happy place that all members of the Dylan family visited. Sara rarely visited, however, and it became increasingly obvious that there was a serious rift between her and Bob.

In early 1975 Sara Dylan unexpectedly accompanied Bob to a show in San Francisco to raise money for schools although they had been separated for a while. They had decided to try for a reconciliation, although it was clear to musicians at the event that there was still tensions between the couple, and one can only presume that Sara was not happy with some of the songs on Blood on the tracks as they seemed to be so specifically about her marriage. However this is difficult to know for sure. The reconciliation did not last long however and a couple of months later Bob went alone to France with Painter David Oppenheim, to celebrate Bob's thirty-fourth birthday, and although Sara was supposed to join him for a time, and he called her frequently, she did not come to France. Bob attended a gypsy festival, which inspired the song, 'One More Cup of Coffee'. Bob also began to think of another song that showed how much he missed his wife. It was to be called 'Sara'.

Sara Dylan unexpectedly arrived to one of Bob's recording sessions for his upcoming album. 'She came to New York, I guess, to see if there would be some kind of a getting back together. I guess that was in her mind. I know it was in his mind,' says Levy a friend of Bob's who had not seen Sara the whole summer of '75 (she had been in vacation in Mexico). Bob sang 'Sara' to his wife as she watched from the other side of the glass. The song began by recalling holidays on the beach when the children were small, and mentioned the long-ago holiday in Portugal when they were first together. He asked for her forgiveness for his recent transgressions, and sang at the end: 'Don't ever leave me, don't ever go.' 'It was extraordinary. You could have heard a pin drop,' says Levy. 'She was absolutely stunned by it. And I think it was a turning did work. The two of them really did get back together.'

Sara Dylan had agreed to join Bob on The Rolling Thunder tour partly because she was going to be one of the principle actors in the movie, playing roles such as a prostitute and a woman named Clara. Despite the fact she was obliged to play a whore, it seems that Bob had intended the film to be part tribute to his wife. In scenes he shared with Sara, they held and caressed each other in a surprisingly intimate way considering how much they valued their privacy. At one point in the film Joan Baez asked Bob: 'What would've happened if we ever got married, Bob?' 'I married the woman I love,' said Bob, looking slightly uncomfortable. It was one of the most direct comments he ever made about his relationship with Sara.

Towards the end of the tour, however, it was clear that Sara's marriage with Bob was in its terminal stages. Although their marriage had seemed strained and maybe unorthodox during the first leg of the tour, there had been an undeniable aura of romance around the couple. On the second leg of the tour Bob had flagrant affairs with exotic women. When Sara descended upon the tour for a brief visit she sent groupies scampering for cover. One day Joan Baez walked past Bob's dressing room and saw Sara sitting upright in a chair, with Bob kneeling before her in what looked like a distraught state. The marriage was unraveling fast and Sara and Bob had several bitter public spats. One of the worst scenes was in New Orleans on May 3. Sara left the tour shortly afterwards and Bob challenged his frustration into nightly performances of 'Idiot Wind.' On May 23 Sara, the children and Bob's mother unexpectedly turned up to celebrate Bob's birthday. Bob played 'Idiot Wind' with a howl of anger, twisting into regret as his family stood just of stage. The performance was grimly fascinating for those who saw it live as well as those who saw it later on film; it was like watching a house burn down. At the end of the tour Bob returned to Point Dume, California, where his fantasy mansion was nearly complete and he and Sara had to decide whether they had any future together as a couple. [no citations needed here]

Divorce from Bob Dylan

Following the tour, the Dylan's marriage took a turn for the worse, Bob became continuously quarrelsome,' according to Sara.[14] He sometimes looked at her in a menacing way and ordered from the house. 'I was in such fear of him that I locked the doors to protect myself from his violent outbursts and temper tantrums.' She also claimed the children were disturbed by Bob's 'bizarre lifestyle.' Part of this lifestyle was womanizing.[15] Sara claimed that she came down to breakfast on February 13. 1977 to find Bob at the table with the children and a woman named Malka whom Bob had apparently moved into a house on the estate. Sara believed that he wanted Malka in the mansion. There was an argument and Bob allegedly hit Sara, injuring her jaw. She claims he then told her to leave.[16]

Sara moved into a hotel and set about finding a lawyer. At the time the most famous divorce lawyer in California was Marvin M. Mitchelson. As Mitchelson recalls, Sara was recommended to him by mogul David Geffen. 'I want to send someone over to you. I'd like you to take good care of her.' Geffen apparently told Mitchelson. 'Here name is Sara Dylan.' Mitchelson did not immediately realize to whom Geffen was referring. He quips: 'About $60 million later I knew every song he ever wrote.'

Mitchelson says Sara came to him in a 'feisty' mood. 'She loved Bob Dylan- no question about it- but he chose to spend his time elsewhere and took up new relationships, and that all became part of the case.' The fact that Sara had endured years of martial problems before deciding to take this step, was in Mitchelson's experience, sadly typical. Sara dragged up grievances from the past, including the allegation that Bob had not been present for the birth of their first three children. She then filed for divorce at Los Angeles Superior Court on March 1, claiming permanent custody of their five children, exclusive use of the Point Dume mansion; child support; alimony; and a division of Bob's fortune. Her counsel also applied for a restraining order against Bob because Sara claimed to be frightened of him. Superior Court Commissioner John R. Alexander granted Sara temporary custody of the children.

Under California Law, Sara was entitled to half the 'community property' acquired during marriage. This included houses and land in five states, cash and music rights. Mitchelson compiled a list of the songs Bob wrote and recorded between 1965 and 1977. 'It went on for pages and pages,' he says. 'They keep coming in year after year...we're talking about millions.

Sara needed help with the children and was introduced to Fandi McFee, a pixielike woman with a passion for new age ideas. Sara had a penchant for new age ideas herself and hired McFee to help mind the children, and to do Art healing with them. McFee would spend half the week on Sara's rented property and the two naturally talked about Bob. 'She just said Bob was too much of a womanizer and she couldn't take it anymore,' says McFee. The relationship soon soured between McFee and Sara, partly because McFee felt Sara treated her like a maid. Before they parted company, Sara asked McFee to look after the house while she took the children on vacation to Hawaii. She found Bob's phone number, drove to his house at Point Dume and spent the night with him. That night McFee says Bob fell in love with her and then asked her to move in. But she still had to face Sara when she went back to pick up her things from Malibu Colony. 'She hardly looked at me,' says McFee. 'She thought I had betrayed her, just like so many other women.'

The couple's bitter divorce was finalized on June 29, 1977 but the custody battle dragged on. Bob had the children at Point Dume and was reluctant to share custody with Sara. Bob and his lawyer met with Mitchelson in a parking lot in Malibu to try to solve the problem. The meeting turned into a brawl when McFee became enraged and attacked Mitchelson. 'He was talking to Bob and was just such a belligerent, arrogant human being that I lost control,' says McFee. 'I grabbed him by the throat. A court order was sent demanding Bob to return the children to Sara, and sent process servers to Point Dume to give Bob the papers. The security guards would not them in, however. So Mitchelson gave Sara what turned out to be ill-judged advice. 'I had to tell Sara...Go to the school...and pick up the kids from the school.' When Sara was confronted by teachers demanding to know what authority she had to take the children, an ugly scene ensued. Police were called and Sara was fined $125 for disrupting the school. Despite this incident, Sara was eventually awarded custody. She moved from Malibu Colony into Beverly Hills, and they enrolled the children at Beverly Hills High.[no citations needed here]

Later life

Sara Dylan continued to live in Beverly Hills, supported by her multimillion-dollar settlement and share in Bob's royalties. She dated a number of men after her divorce, including Bob's friend David Blue (who died in 1982 of a heart attack whilst jogging in New York City), but chose not to marry again. Despite press reports that Bob and Sara were reconciled, and even considered remarrying, they were never really close after the divorce. Sara lived alone after the children grew up, suffering from ill health and becoming something of a recluse. She had little contact with the show business community and cut a forlorn figure when she did go out. Although Sara and Bob were not close, they had made sure to provide amply for the children, the rich trust funds meant that the children would never have to work unless they wanted to.

A photo taken by Sara of Bob in Jerusalem on the occasion of their son's bar mitzvah around 1982 would later become the record cover for his album Infidels.[17]

Of course, Dylan fans still picture Sara as she was in Renaldo and Clara, because they haven't see her since. But she'll be 75 this year.

As subject of songs

Sara Dylan has inspired several of Dylan's songs, at least two directly. The first was "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (from Blonde on Blonde), and the second "Sara" (from 1976's Desire), in which he called her "radiant jewel, mystical wife". This song was an attempt to reconcile with Sara after their estrangement around 1975:

I can still hear the sound of the Methodist bells
I had taken the cure and had just gotten through
staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
writing "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" for you

Dylan's 1975 album Blood on the Tracks is widely viewed as the most potent of Sara's inspirations, as many fans assume the songs refer to her. The album was recorded soon after the couple's initial separation. Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin has argued that Sara's influence on the lyrical content of the album is often exaggerated. Dylan himself denied at the time of the album's release that Blood on the Tracks was autobiographical. However, the couple's son Jakob says: "The songs are my parents talking".[18] Heylin also reported that about 1977 Dylan wrote an entire album worth of songs at least partially inspired by their final separation, but only played the tracks privately for select friends, and to date has neither recorded nor performed them live.[no citations needed here]

In addition to Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire, some critics also believe Sara inspired songs on Bringing It All Back Home, Nashville Skyline, New Morning, Planet Waves, and Street-Legal. Songs believed to be inspired by Sara Dylan include "Isis", "We Better Talk This Over", "If You See Her, Say Hello", "Idiot Wind", "You're a Big Girl Now", "Abandoned Love", "Down Along the Cove", "Wedding Song", "On a Night Like This", "Something There Is About You", "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", "To Be Alone With You", "If Not for You", "Desolation Row", "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit".[19]

In pop culture

A fictionalized account of their marriage is featured in the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, with Heath Ledger based on Dylan and Charlotte Gainsbourg based on a combination of Sara Dylan and Suze Rotolo.


  1. Howard Sounes. Down The Highway, The Life Of Bob Dylan. Doubleday 2001. ISBN 0-552-99929-6
  2. Clinton Heylin. Bob Dylan Behind The Shades- A Biography. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-14-028146-0
  3. 3.0 3.1 Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin, pp. 167
  4. Sounes, p. 162; p. 467
  5. Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan fan page - "Sara"
  6. Sounes, p. 200
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 5
  8. 8.0 8.1 A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 3
  9. Sounes, p232
  10. Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 193.
  11. A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 8
  12. A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 37
  13. A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 39
  14. Citation needed
  15. Citation and evidence needed
  16. Citation needed
  17. Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin, pp. 710
  18. Sounes, Howard. Down the Highway: the Life of Bob Dylan (Doubleday 2001; ISBN 0-552-99929-6) p333.
  19. Gill, Andy. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. Thunder's Mouth Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56025-185-9

External links

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