Vintage Video: Jerry Lee Lewis Faces Controversy For Marrying His 13-Year-Old Cousin

by VVN Music

58 years ago today, on June 9, 1958, Jerry Lee Lewis took out a full page ad in Billboard Magazine to try and tell his side of the story on marrying his 13-year-old cousin. Lewis was 22 at the time.

Lewis had been married twice prior to wedding Mya Gale Brown. He was married to Dorothy Barton from February 1952 to October 1953 and to Jane Mitchum from September 1953 to October 1957. Yes, those dates are correct. He married Mitchum 23 days before his divorce was final from Barton.

Lewis started recording for Sun Records in 1956, starting with his regional hit Crazy Arms and following with the rock classics Who Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (1957 / #3 Pop / #1 Country / #1 R&B), Great Balls of Fire (1957 / #2 Pop / #1 Country / #1 R&B) and Breathless (1958 / #7 Pop / #4 Country / #3 R&B) but, in May 1958 during a tour of Great Britain, news broke that the singer had married for a third time and that it was to his 13-year-old cousin.

The media ran with the story and Lewis' British tour was cancelled after three performances. When he returned to the U.S., he found that many radio stations had blacklisted his directors and many of his friends and associates, like Dick Clark, had turned their backs on him.

On June 9, 1958, the new issue of Billboard was released with a full page ad, taken out by Jerry Lee, trying to explain his actions:
Dear Friends:

I have in recent weeks been the apparent center of a fantastic amount of publicity, none of which has been good.

But there must be good even in the worst people and according to the press release originating in London, I am the worst and not even deserving of one decent press release.

Now this whole thing started because I tried and did tell the truth. I told the story of my past life, as I thought it had been straightened out and that I would not hurt anybody in being man enough to tell the truth.

I confess that my life has been stormy. I confess further that since I have become a public figure, I sincerely wanted to be worthy of the decent admiration of all the people, young or old, that admired or liked what talent (if any) I have. That is, after all, all that I have in a professional way to offer.

If you don't believe that the accuracy of things can get mixed up when you are in the public eye, then I hope you never have to travel this road I'm on.

There were some legal misunderstandings in that matter that inadvertently made me look as though I invented the word indecency. I feel I, if nothing else, should be given credit for the fact that I have at least a little common sense and that if I had not thought that the legal aspects of this matter were not completely straight, I certainly would not have made a move until they were.

I did not want to hurt Jane Mitcham, nor did I want to hurt my family and children. I went to court and did not contest Jane's divorce actions, and she was awarded seven hundred and fifty dollars a month for child support and alimony. Jane and I parted from the courtroom as friends and, as a matter of fact, chatted before, during, and after the trial with no animosity whatsoever.

In the belief that for once my life was straightened out, I invited my mother and daddy and little sister to make the trip to England. Unfortunately, Mother and Daddy felt that the trip would be too long and hard for them and didn't go, but Sister did go, along with Myra's little brother and mother.

I hope that if I am washed up as an entertainer, it won't be because of this bad publicity, because I can cry and wish all I want to, but I can't control the press or the sensationalism that these people will go to to get a scandal started to sell papers. If you don't believe me, please ask any of the other people that have been victims of the same.

Sincerely,

Jerry Lee Lewis
For over two years, Lewis' records tanked on the charts until, in early 1961, he finally made it back to number 25 on the Hot 100 with a cover of Ray Charles' What'd I Say. It would be another seven years before he would truly come back with 1968's Another Place, Another Time, the first of 22 top tens on the Country Singles that would last through 1981.

Here he is, with his young wife, being interviewed about his trip to England.



The Top 10 Singles on the Billboard Honor Roll of Hits for June 9, 1958
  1. All I Have to Do is Dream - Everly Brothers
  2. The Purple People Eater - Sheb Wooley
  3. Witch Doctor - David Seville
  4. Twilight Time - Platters
  5. Chanson D'Amour - Art & Dotty Todd
  6. Return to Me - Dean Martin
  7. Big Man - Four Preps
  8. Secretly - Jimmie Rodgers
  9. He's Got the Whole World In His Hands - Laurie London
  10. Sugar Moon - Pat Boone

The Top 10 Pop Albums on June 9, 1958
  1. Johnny's Greatest Hits - Johnny Mathis
  2. South Pacific - Soundtrack
  3. The Music Man - Original Cast
  4. South Pacific - Original Cast
  5. Elvis' Golden Records - Elvis Presley
  6. Nearer the Cross - Tennessee Ernie Ford
  7. My Fair Lady - Original Cast
  8. Sail Along Silvery Moon - Billy Vaughn
  9. Warm - Johnny Mathis
  10. The Seven Hills of Rome - Mario Lanza

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