Sara Dylan, born Shirley Marlin Noznisky, is the first wife of legendary singer and songwriter Bob Dylan. The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland, she was born and raised in Delaware, US. After a difficult childhood, she moved to New York when she was 20. She initially worked as a “bunny girl” for the ‘Playboy Club’ and modeled, too. She married Hans Lownds, a magazine photographer, and soon changed her name from “Shirley” to “Sara.” After the birth of their daughter, the marriage fell apart. Later, she met Bob Dylan through a friend. They began dating and got married secretly in 1965. The couple lived in Woodstock, New York, and they had four children throughout their married life of 12 years. In this period, Dylan penned and sang a number of songs as a tribute to Sara. She was the inspiration behind the songs ‘Sara’ and ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit.’ Sara Dylan essayed the role of ‘Clara’ in the film ‘Renaldo and Clara,’ which was directed by Dylan. Unfortunately, their marriage ended in a bitter divorce in 1977.
Childhood & Early Life
Sara Dylan was born on October 25, 1939, in Wilmington, Delaware, to Jewish parents Isaac and Bessie Noznisky. Her father, Isaac, was born in Poland, but he immigrated in 1912 and became a US citizen. He ran a scrap metal business in Wilmington.
When Sara was young, her mother, Bessie, suffered from a brain stroke, which made her incapacitated. Following this, her great-aunt, Esther, looked after the family.
On November 18, 1956, her father was shot dead by another immigrant. Her mother died after 5 years of this incident. Sara had a brother named Julius, who was 16 years older than her.
Sara shifted to New York City in 1959 and initially took up a job as a “bunny girl” at the ‘Playboy Club.’ She also worked as a model for ‘Ford Agency.’
Through this job, she met Hans Lownds, a magazine photographer. She married Hans in 1959, and on his suggestion, changed her name from “Shirley” to “Sara.” She was his third wife. Apparently, Hans’s first wife, too, was known as “Shirley.” Hans did not want to be reminded of his first wife, as she had left him, and thus made Sara change her name. The couple lived on 60th Street in Manhattan.
She worked as a model and appeared in ‘Harper’s Bazaar.’ She gave birth to her daughter, Maria, on October 21, 1961. Soon, the couple started drifting apart.
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Marriage to Bob Dylan
While living on her own, she often visited the ‘Greenwich Village,’ where she met Bob Dylan through a friend in 1964. At the time, he was involved with musician and activist Joan Baez. Sara’s friend (Sally Buchler) married Dylan’s manager (Albert Grossman), and both Sara and Dylan attended the wedding.
Sara separated from Hans and later joined the film production division of ‘Time Life’ as a secretary. She proved herself as an efficient and resourceful worker. She introduced Dylan to the film directors of the company. One of the directors, documentary filmmaker and “Direct Cinema” director DA Pennebaker, later made a film named ‘Don’t Look Back,’ which was about Dylan’s April 1965 UK tour.
Soon Sara and Dylan were romantically involved and moved into separate rooms of New York’s ‘Hotel Chelsea.’ A number of authors and biographers have written remarkable comments about Sara Dylan. Robert Shelton once wrote about how she had “a Romany spirit, seeming to be wise beyond her years, knowledgeable about magic, folklore and traditional wisdom.” David Hajdu believed she was “well read, a good conversationalist and better listener, resourceful, a quick study, and good hearted.”
Dylan began his first “electric” tour of the US (backed by ‘The Hawks’) in September 1965, and during a break in the tour, on November 22, 1965, he and Sara got married. At that time, she was pregnant with their first child, Jesse Dylan. His biographer, Howard Sounes, later reported that the wedding had taken place on Long Island, under an oak tree on the lawns of a judge’s office. The news was made public by journalist Nora Ephron who wrote about it in the ‘New York Post’ in February 1966.
The couple moved to Woodstock, New York. Their first son, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966. Over the next few years, Dylan and Sara had three more children, Anna, Samuel, and Jakob. Dylan also adopted Sara’s daughter from her first marriage, Maria. They both proved to be good parents and were happy in their domestic life.
Years later, in 1973, they moved to the Point Dume peninsula, north of Malibu, California. They purchased and re-modeled a property there. It is reported that the initial tensions in their marriage began after this. Dylan mentioned in one of his interviews that he had started taking art classes and that had started causing the initial problems in their marriage. Reportedly, Sara could not accept his extensive tours, erratic behavior, drinking issues, and infidelity during the tours.
In spite of this, Sara toured with Dylan during the first part of the ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ in 1975 and also played the role of ‘Clara’ in his movie ‘Renaldo and Clara.’
However, the differences grew. Their marriage ended in a bitter divorce in 1977. Sara received $36 million in settlement and agreed to the condition that she would remain silent about her life with Dylan. She remained true to her word. Later, once the bitterness of the divorce died down, the two continued to be friends.
Sara Dylan was immortalized through some of Dylan’s songs that he created only for her. Two of the most prominent of those were ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ from the 1966 album ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and ‘Sara’ from the 1976 album ‘Desire.’ In the latter, Dylan described her as a “radiant jewel, mystical wife.” The songs from Dylan’s 1975 album ‘Blood on the Tracks’ offered a detailed account of the marital tension in their lives.