This Day In History: March 27

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In early decades of the 20th century, the Viennese beauty Alma Mahler inspired groundbreaking works by a quartet of husbands and lovers drawn from nearly every creative discipline: music (Gustav Mahler); literature (Franz Werfel); art (Oskar Kokoschka); and architecture (Walter Gropius). It is possible that no pop-cultural muse will ever equal such a record, but if anyone came close in the modern era, it was the English beauty Pattie Boyd, whose participation in various affairs and marriages among the British rock royalty of the '60s and '70s inspired three famous popular songs, including “Layla,” by second husband Eric Clapton, whom Pattie Boyd married on March 27, 1979.

A colorful account of the dramatic arc that led Boyd and Clapton to the altar in 1979 (and to divorce court in 1989) can be found in Pattie Boyd’s 2007 memoir Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me, the subtitle of which names the other key player in the story’s central love triangle. In summary form, it goes something like this: Boyd met Harrison and the two married soon after, with Harrison writing “Something” for Boyd. Later, Boyd met Clapton, Harrison’s good friend, who fell in love with Boyd. Clapton ended up moving in with Boyd’s teenage sister, but is said to have written “Layla” for Boyd, causing the sister to move out. Boyd then had a brief affair with Clapton, but later returned to Harrison just as the Beatles were breaking up and Clapton was in the early stages of an addiction to heroin. After finally breaking up with Harrison, Boyd returned to a now-clean Clapton, and the couple was married on March 27, 1979. Clapton’s timeless classic, “Wonderful Tonight”, is said to also have been written for Boyd.

If it weren’t for all the alcohol and infidelities that followed, it might well qualify as a perfect rock-and-roll fairy tale. Unfortunately, Pattie Boyd paints a picture of her years with Eric Clapton that makes one question whether such fairy tales ever existed. Even the happy event that took place on this day in 1979 gets low marks for romance in Boyd’s account. It was more of a prank than a wedding, Boyd now says—an attempt by Clapton to win a drunken bet that he couldn’t get his manager’s picture in the paper. Clapton arranged the wedding the very next day, made that manager his best man, and won the bet.