When Nashville’s golden girl Lynn Anderson cut her lachrymose 1971 hit I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, she never imagined her life story would become a tearjerker too. “I was called the Grace Kelly of country music,” she observes. “I figured I could own the world.” But now, at 35, and about to revive her showbiz career by appearing this week in the CBS-TV movie Country Gold, Lynn has lived the experiences she once only sang about.
Just a year ago Lynn filed a counter-suit for separation from Harold “Spook” Stream, the estate manager for and scion of a prominent Louisiana family. According to news reports at the time, Anderson charged that Spook had abused her physically and once attempted to run over her with a car. “When angry, people say and do things they wouldn’t normally do at other times,” she says. “We were both hurt and striking out at each other.” They had met four years earlier, when she was performing at a rodeo. “We hit it off immediately,” Lynn says. Already once divorced, Lynn soon moved in with Spook, sanctifying their love with formal vows on Valentine’s Day, 1978. They also shared a passion for horses and traveled extensively.
For Lynn the promise of wedded bliss was such that she walked away from her performing and recording career to devote herself to her husband and family. She has a child (Lisa, now 10) from her 10-year marriage to songwriter-producer Glenn Sutton, and she and Spook would have two of their own (William Gray, 3, and Bunny, 1). “I had been in the music business all my adult life,” she says. “I had won the awards and had a million-selling record, so I thought it was a natural progression for me at that point to change my priorities.”
But domesticity within the rigidly structured Stream clan (whose wealth is based mainly on oil and ranching) presented problems. “To them,” Lynn says with obvious disappointment, “showbiz was a little less than respectable.” And, she allows, “It bothered me some to be known only as Mrs. Stream.” Furthermore, her husband became increasingly involved in the breeding and showing of cutting horses. “He was on the road all the time, and I couldn’t keep up,” Lynn says. Their quarreling intensified until Lynn picked up and left their Lake Charles estate to return to Nashville. Her one-line farewell note to Spook read: “The end of a fairy tale.”
In retrospect, Lynn claims she really didn’t want the divorce. “We loved each other and still do,” says Lynn who, in fact, has begun to date her ex-husband again. But Spook filed court papers barely two weeks after her departure, presumably to insure that their case would be adjudicated in Louisiana. “I heard about it sitting at home with my 6-month-old baby watching the 10 o’clock news. I couldn’t believe it,” she says. To avoid a potentially devastating public custody fight, she and Spook came to an agreement (she retains custody of their children).
Anderson’s singing success contrasts sharply with her failed marriages. Born in Grand Forks, N.Dak., she grew up in Sacramento, Calif., where her dad worked as a used car salesman. Hers was a music-loving family, particularly her mom, Liz, a songwriter on the side (she penned Merle Haggard’s big hit All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers). Lynn, singing professionally by her late teens, appeared regularly with Lawrence Welk and guested on the Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin shows. Her peak came in 1971, the Rose Garden year, when she was named top female artist by the Country Music Association.
Now she must pick up the pieces and start anew. In addition to her TV movie role, she expects to have a new LP out (Permian label) next year. Because she once abandoned the music scene, Lynn admits, she has met with skepticism on her comeback attempt. “People think I don’t really care, but that’s not the case,” she says. “I’m at the point now where I have to make it.”