The Woman Who Inspired ‘Dear Prudence’ Opens Up About World Peace, the Influence of the ’60s and Why Kids Today Love the Beatles
Prudence Bruns, daughter of Maureen O’Sullivan and John Farrow (Bettmann / Getty Images)
The Beatles’ muse still believes in world peace.
Prudence Bruns, 71, has several claims to fame. First, she’s the daughter of film director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, as well as the younger sister of actress Mia Farrow. Second, she’s a teacher and passionate advocate of Transcendental Meditation who studied with the TM guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, back in the late 1960s. It’s at Maharishi’s retreat in 1968 where Prudence’s fellow students included all four members of the Beatles. Third, her behavior during the retreat led John Lennon to write the song “Dear Prudence,” which appeared on the Beatles’ White Album. So, who is the flesh and blood woman behind the song that Rolling Stone named as No. 63 on its list of “100 Greatest Beatles Songs”? And what’s the story behind the famous song? Parade caught up with Bruns to find out.
You met the Beatles at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat in Rishikesh, India, in 1968, where you’d traveled with your sister, Mia, to learn Transcendental Meditation. Were you starstruck?
No, I’d been around famous people before. It wasn’t a big deal to me but I liked them a lot, especially John and George. They came into my room one night to play a song and I could hear them outside on the patio at night playing. But really, I was so focused on getting the most out of my time there. It was my dream to go to India and study with a person who really knew about this meditation. I was pretty extreme.
That’s why John wrote the song, which starts out, “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play/Dear Prudence, greet the brand-new day.”
Right. People over the years would have these reasons why I was Dear Prudence that were completely off the wall and almost disturbing, like I was a heroin addict or I lost my mind or all these crazy reasons why John wrote the song. It bothered me in a sense but it seemed over my head, like what can I do about it. I’d tell people, well I had to stay in my room. Nobody believed that I didn’t have an affair with him. I couldn’t tell people. But it all came about because I stayed in my room by myself for five days straight. I hadn’t gone to the bathroom or slept. I didn’t eat. I was trying to see where [meditation] would take me.
And you’ve stayed with meditation all these years?
Yes, I’m back teaching now. At Sofitco Studios, a fitness studio in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
What do you love so much about TM?
TM is a yogic meditation but what’s different about it is that it has been streamlined and simplified for those of us who are busy and can’t give our whole lifestyle over to changing how we are and what we’re doing. It makes it so that in just a short period of time you can go extremely deep inside and tap into a part of the mind that is foundational. It’s just silent. It’s like, the ocean has a surface and as you get deeper it becomes less active. And if you can get incredibly deep, it’s still. So the same with the mind. You can get to this part of the mind that is still, but it’s not inert. It’s actually very creative. And so, it’s wonderful. You can actually experience that. Anybody can.
American author Prudence Farrow, the sister of actress Mia Farrow, receives yoga training from the Swami Satchidananda (1914 – 2002), 24th November 1967. Farrow was the inspiration for the Beatles song ‘Dear Prudence’. (Photo by Harry Benson/Daily Express/Getty Images)
Your memoir, Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song, came out in 2015. Why did you decide to write the book so many years (nearly 50!) after John Lennon wrote that song about you?
It was because of my grandson. We’d moved down to Florida and my daughter lived next door. At a certain point when my grandson was in high school, he came over and said, “OK, Grandma, you have to come to my school and speak to my friends.” It surprised me because at that point, I was getting used to accepting myself as being old and kind of irrelevant. I forgot I was Dear Prudence, because my older daughter and son—they were the generation after the Baby Boomers—and their interest in The Beatles was zip.
But there’s been a revived interest in the Beatles among kids and twentysomethings, don’t you think?
Yes, absolutely. Especially with [the game] Guitar Hero. Then you even have little kindergartners knowing all the Beatles songs. Anyway, being Dear Prudence really never mattered. Then when I went to my grandson’s school, it was like one of the Beatles came to see his friends. There were about 30 kids and they all came rushing up and gathered around me with all this respect. I was completely stunned.
Was it your link to the Beatles they were excited about?
Besides the kids noticing the Beatles and actually knowing every song they did and the words to every song, one of the kids asked a question that stood out. “Why did John and the Beatles think there could be such a thing as world peace?” I mean, they really believed there could not possibly be such a thing! This shocked me. It was sad, but it meant that they were actually listening to us. For us, we didn’t listen to anybody over 30! But grandparents? Forget about it. So that they were actually listening and hearing The Beatles and that message was a real wake-up call.
What was the message?
That there can be world peace. I told them, you’re wrong. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean we can’t achieve it. I explained to them that if enough of us live more consciously rather than every man for himself, really caring about our culture and our humanity then we can have peace. It was very powerful and that’s when I decided I had to tell my story. I’m Dear Prudence, one of the many that went through the ‘60s. We brought yoga in and the whole perspective of green and organic and all that came in to our culture.