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Shirley's had fun, fun, fun with her 41 years of 'fame'

Shirley Johnson England is famous, but no one knows it.

Millions of people have heard a song written about her on the radio and didn't know it was her. They have sung about her while driving down the highway and didn't know it. Her 15 minutes of fame has stretched to 41 years, but no one knows it.

When the Beach Boys sing about that girl with the T-bird in "Fun, Fun, Fun," that's Shirley. And she'll have fun, fun, fun, till her daddy takes the T-bird away.

Shirley, a lifelong Salt Lake resident, is a grandmother who manages the office for Dr. Jed Bindrup. And she's still waiting to get that T-bird back.

"My grandkids get the biggest kick out of it," says Shirley. "They think I'm famous."

It was 1964, and Shirley was working part-time as a secretary at KNAK radio, which was owned by her father Howard. The general manager of the station was Bill "Daddy-O" Hesterman, who was friends with Murray Wilson, father of Beach Boys Dennis, Brian and Carl Wilson and manager of the band.

Hesterman played a major role in introducing the Beach Boys to Utah, booking concerts and giving them air time (he was eventually included on an album cover photo). The Beach Boys became attached to Utah and performed here frequently. They wrote a song about Salt Lake City. And Shirley.

When the Beach Boys came to town, they did live interviews on KNAK. The local teens gathered outside the station's picture window to watch; Shirley sat in the corner inside. She visited with the Beach Boys frequently at the station and had front-row seats at their concerts.

"We all flirted with each other," she says. "We talked all the time. They were very friendly, just fun and silly. They were kids."

She liked to drive her father's T-bird to the U. because it had a faculty parking sticker (her father was on faculty there). "I would come to the station in the T-bird, so they knew me by that car," she says.

One night she borrowed her father's car to go to the library to study, or at least that was what she told her father. Instead, she drove her friends to a drive-in to hang out. Her father found out, and when she arrived at the station he threatened to take away the T-bird.

The Beach Boys heard about all this through Hesterman and teased her about it. As Hesterman later told it, when he drove the Beach Boys to the airport in his Cadillac that afternoon, they wrote a song in the back seat, which became "Fun, Fun, Fun."

Shirley knew none of this, but a couple of months later she heard the song on the radio. "That could be my song," she told Hesterman. The Beach Boys never told her it was her song, and she was too shy to ask, but Hesterman confirmed it (he died in 1996). The lyrics ended the guesswork anyway.

Well she got her daddy's car / And she's cruisin' through the hamburger stand now / Seems she forgot all about the library / Like she told her old man now / And with the radio blasting / Goes cruising just as fast as she can now / and she'll have fun, fun, fun /till her daddy takes the T-bird away.

These days Shirley drives a Jeep, but she adds, "My ultimate goal is to have a T-bird." She keeps Beach Boys CDs in the Jeep. Which is her favorite Beach Boys song? "Do you have to ask?" she replies.

Last weekend, she told her husband what she wants on her tombstone: "I think you should just put, 'She had fun, fun, fun."


Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesday. Please send e-mail to drob@desnews.com.