the Wanderling


She confounded the 1950s machismo of US motorsport and the business world, went her own way and rose above it all..

Racing Driver Mary Davis is an overlooked feminist icon. Her appearances on the racetracks of Southern California in the 1950s were often reported at the time in the patronizing language of that male-dominated world, especially as she was petite and buxom with a flowing mane of blonde hair. She smilingly went along with being asked about driving in high heels (she always raced in thin-soled, grubby and well-worn Indian moccasins) but was capable and competitive in almost everything she drove. One of the less-descriptions of her was as one the nations leading lady leadfoots’.

Of mixed Indian, Scottish and English ancestry, she was just 15 in 1943 when she ducked out of high school in California to join the Women's Marine Corps. The fact she’d lied about her age was soon uncovered while she was busy repairing diesel engines in San Francisco, and she was sent home with at least an honorable discharge. She moved on to manage a soda fountain and two cigar stores, and bought herself a 1937 Ford Coupe. In 1950 she went to watch a sports car road race at Pebble Beach, offering the following, "I made the mistake of standing at a good corner where down-shifting and driving techniques were displayed at their best – and worst. I knew I was hooked."

The self-made woman bought herself a new MG TD and sought some competition driving coaching from her friend (and later husband) Bob Drake. On her first event, the Costa Mesa Time Trials, in 1951 her standard MG brought her first prize in the Ladies’ Division.

By 1959 she’d taken part in almost 40 sports car races in which she achieved 15 class wins, 12 second places and a clutch of thirds against male and female competitors, along with many victories in women-only races. Her most formidable rival in these was often Ruth Levy.

In the opening sports car race at Riverside in 1956, there was a thrilling battle between Ruth in her Porsche 550 Spyder and Mary driving an Aston Martin DB3S belonging to Joe Lubin, which saw them roar over the finish line neck- and-neck. It was the most exciting race of all’, said Mary, the loser that time. "One one-hundredth of a second behind after 15 laps."

She competed in all sorts of two-seaters, including a Porsche 356 Speedster, her own Triumph TR2 and a borrowed TR3. In 1957, Plymouth was said to have interviewed 100 women drivers before offering Mary the chance to drive its Belvedere on the Mobilgas Economy Run. She beat all ‘Low-Price V8’ comers on the 1568-mile contest between LA and Sun Valley, Idaho, achieving an amazing (considering the parameters) 21.3907mpg. In the following year’s run, she led for four-fifths of the way before using just a few drops of petrol too many, and losing to a male Plymouth driver.

‘They called me the world’s greatest woman driver at the time’, she said in a 2005 interview. "How about that? I liked the title. I was the first woman who ever won it, and I got more famous for doing that than for going fast."

In 1957 Mary opened a restaurant called The Grand Prix on Beverly Boulevard in LAs West Hollywood. The motor sport community of Southern California would meet there to break bread and talk cubic inches.


Proving herself an astute businesswoman as well as a much-loved host, Mary was able to afford a Mercedes-Benz 300SL W198 in which she competed with her typical assuredness. She also drove it as a racing driver extra in the 1959 movie On The Beach, in which Bob Drake was Fred Astaire's stunt double. However, it wasn’t long before her insurance company got wind of her love affair with the track, and told her it had to end.

This was because, in 1960, Mary took out a $1.8m loan to develop a hotel and marina on eight acres of Redondo Beach waterfront. She was 32. Again she confounded stereotypes and make a huge, single-handed success of the Portofino Inn. Opened in 1965 and inspired by an Italian coastal village, it had moorings for 225 small boats and included everything from a gourmet restaurant and beauty salon to on-site yacht brokerage and a fuel dock.





When I first met Mary Davis I was just a toddler. After that, with some time flowing by, I was 8 years old and she was 18 just out of the Marines. Between those two marked periods of time, from me being a mere toddler to 8 years old and Davis at the tender age of 15 in 1943, she dropped out of high school and after a tiny bit of fudging about her age combined with a convincing 5 foot 7 inch height, joined the United States Marine Corps under the banner of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. With completion of her basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, she began her active duty near San Francisco waiting to be shipped out to Hawaii. In those days Hawaii wasn't a state and was considered overseas duty, with Hawaii being the same place her sister was stationed. In a routine background security check it was discovered Mary Davis had a sister in the Marines and it was then her true age camw up. Just short of fulfilling her complete enlistment assignment and with the war yet to end, given an Honorable Discharge. It wasn't long after that however, the war did end and thousands and thousands were discharged anyway. For Mary, the time between her discharge and the vast number of others was like being in a state of limbo or standing in the stillness of the eye of a hurricane. Lifelong roots in Southern California with strong recent ties established in Northern California and people she met there was tugging her both ways.

Just around that same time and among those thousands discharged G.I.s was the ex-Marine now taxi driver that I crossed paths with when I ran away from home after my mother died.[1]. Although Davis was from San Diego, she ended up attending then dropping out of high school in Los Angeles to join the Marines. For whatever reason, even in those pre-teen years before the Marines she began putting her toe into the water regarding Redondo by riding the Pacific Electric Red Car from L.A. with her older sister starting in 1940 or 1941, but for sure, before the war. Her older sister fit in fairly well with the teenage boys and fledgling G.I.s that showed up and hung around the beach, pier and the front, but she at age 12 at the most, just missed out. So said, she found a lesser set of things to do.

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Redondo Beach was big to my family, especially in the early years as it was there my mother and father met, where my brothers and I were raised initially, and where I started school. Going to the beach was a big part of what we did. One day, as Davis told it and collaborated by my grandmother in separate instances, I had wandered off and Davis, doing one of her lesser things, found me. Thinking I was lost, she took me up to the pier, bought me an ice cream cone, then took me to the life guard shack. Right away the life guards knew who I was and right away we were all reunited, with Davis being asked to join us. After that every time she came to Redondo she sought us out. Then one day we stopped showing up.

With the start of World War II it was into the Marines then picking up where she left off with Redondo not long after her discharge. It was then she rediscovered me, bumping into me as a little boy selling corsages and boutonnieres to couples attending the dances thrown by Texas Jim Lewis and his Lone Star Cowboys late into the night.[2]

It wasn't long after that my grandmother came and took me away and I was gone from Redondo for several years, not returning until starting the ninth grade in high school. Davis had not established herself in Redondo yet in those years and when she did I didn't put the two together, that is, Mary Davis of the Portofino Inn and the young 12 year old on the beach to the just out of the Marines at the dances. When it finally came to pass that we knew each other, and since I knew her "early on" before she ever became anybody, even though I wasn't in her life nor was I around much on any sort of a regular basis I did live in Redondo Beach and regardless of who she was, who she was with, or what she was doing, the innocence of those "early on" circumstances always put an extra wide smile on her face and gave me a special "in."

My older brother, even though three years older than me and was there, he never has recalled the specifics surrounding me being "lost" at the beach that day, i.e., Mary Davis for example. He does however, at least the last time I saw him and we talked about it, with him being a grown man and 70 or 80 years removed from the event, clearly remembers me getting an ice cream cone and he didn't, and that the cone was a single dip strawberry.

The first time I saw Davis since the few years later early days of the Wagon Wheel Cafe, the ex-Marine taxi driver, and Redondo's waterfront, was 10 years or so after the war. It must have been not long out of high school because I was driving an MGTD I had only recently bought around that time. After figuring out in a roundabout way she was the same person who saved me from being lost and bought me an ice cream cone I had a man dressed in red shorts like a Redondo Beach lifeguard step right into the midst of some important thing she was involved in and hand her a single dip strawberry ice cream cone. She practically came unglued until the lifeguard pointed across the room and saw it was me after all those years. Except for the fact it would have been more like incest we could have rushed into bed together that night we were both so excited. I wish! My take on it, not hers.


RACE CAR DRIVER (1928-2014)

(photo courtesy Art Evans)




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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.


I was headed south on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach when I went by Cafe Frankenstein, a European coffee house I had grown sort of fond of since it's inception a year or so before. Not a regular, but having been there several times and knowing by name and vice versa several of the habitual denizens I turned around and went back. Soon several of us were talking old times and such when it came up that I was traveling alone because typically when I showed up, I was accompanied by a friend. I told them I had just been out cruisin' with no real intention of going by Cafe' Frankenstein let alone stopping. Some in the group's interest circulated more closely around my friend. Laguna Beach has always been a strong LGBTQ community and knowing my friend was gay and I was straight was he available, all stuff I told them they would have to determine on their own. As for me, since it was really the first time I showed up at the coffee house alone and joined in with a larger circle of people, they brought up a second thing, me. Most knew or knew of my Uncle who had been an artist within the larger artist community in Laguna Beach in the late 1940's after the WPA but before he returned to the Santa Fe and Taos area. So too, several knew I had crossed paths with a number of the Beat Movement folk including Allen Ginsburg, even having heard him read "HOWL." When I brought up the fact I had been study practicing under a man who had studied under a venerated Indian holy man known as a Maharshi, a man I call my Mentor, one of the men in the group jumped in saying he was a member of SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and he heard some Maharshi guy that had just arrived from Hawaii on a world tour was giving a series of lectures at the Masquers Club, a club located in Hollywood for actors, starting the next weekend and we should all go,

The next weekend came and much to my chagrin and total surprise several in the group actually put it together and pulled it off, meeting at a designated spot with all six or seven of us cramming into my immaculately restored 1940's wooden Ford station wagon after installing the very back third row seat then on to the Grand Prix restaurant in West Hollywood for brunch before heading over to the Masquers Club.

Mary Davis, the owner of the Grand Prix along with her then husband Bob Drake (divorced 1961), then on her own sans Drake, the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, and who I knew, after she found out what our gaggle of young-to-old, bearded and unbearded, long haired and short haired, gay and straight, people of color and under a rock pale-white incorrigibles were up to, comped all of our brunches and even joined us on our way out to the parking lot to see us on our merry way. Coming back after the lecture I talked everybody into stopping by the Insomniac on Pier Avenue or Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse across the street in Hermosa Beach or both. Everybody agreed and needless to say nobody got home until way late in the night of sometime the next day.

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Davis absolutely loved my restored 1940's wooden Ford station wagon from the first day she saw it. So much so she and I got into serious discussions about me fully restoring five of six of them to the same level as mine, paint them all in possibly mixed or matching color schemes with Portofino Inn logos prominently displayed on the front side doors, then use them as shuttles exclusively for guests between the Los Angeles International Airport and the Portofino Inn. When I was considering having a Chevy V-8 installed in the woody Davis was instrumental in lining up the person who I wanted to do the job, Max Balchowsky, a major West Coast/Southern California sports car enthusiast known for building the American big bore V-8 powered "Old Yeller" specials.

Mary Davis passed away on Monday, December 8, 2014 at age 86 from heart failure in her home in La Quinta, California after a years-long battle with dementia.

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It has been said a picture is worth a thousand words. Below are three pictures which should, when added together equal 3000 words. Comprehensively co-joined together in a narrative while recalling backwards in time as to what I pictured in my mind when I came in contact with the Maharishi at the Masquers Club with my friends and our discussions on our way back and at the Insomniac afterwards, should pretty much sum up or shed some light on my first and lasting till this day impression of him.



In regards to Cafe Frankenstein and Wikipedia's comments in several of their otherwise pretty good critiques on the Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon series of beach movies such as Beach Blanket Bingo. Wiki editors are of the opinion that the after beach establishments the gang usually hung out in such as Big Daddy's club in Beach Party and Cappy's Place in Muscle Beach Party are a reference to Southern California beach coffeehouses in general and Cafe Frankenstein in particular. Beach coffeehouses in general perhaps, but the three beach coffeehouses I mention, the Iconoclast, Insomniac, and Cafe Frankenstein being like Big Daddy's or Cappy's Place with other than a very broad brush is questionable.


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Sometime in or around the year 1959 or so I walked into Max Balchowsky's shop Hollywood Motors with a letter of introduction from his friend Eric Houser arranged for me by our friend Mary Davis, which read in part, "Give the kid what he wants, he's OK." What I wanted was to upgrade the power plant in my Ford woody after all these years by having a Chevy Corvette V-8 and automatic transmission installed, and had gone to Hollywood Motors to see if Balchowsky would do it. After reading the note and breaking his stare from a certain admiration aimed at the woody he turned to me. As if hit by a hammer or seen a ghost, uncharacteristically he suddenly and out of nowhere appeared woozy, semi-collapsing, his knees buckling under as fellow shop employees and others close by rushed to block a potential fall, sitting him down and giving him water.

At first I think they thought I stabbed or shot him or something. But that wasn't what happened. The what happened was Balchowsky needed no letter of introduction. He had seen me years before In Burma.

With the end of World War II Balchowsky moved to Southern California almost as quick as the military handed him his discharge. Just as quick, like thousands of others, he jumped feet first into on the growing automotive and hot rod culture that began dominating the California scene. The two things that set him aside from the rest of the pack was his knack for smoothly installing big bore powerful American V-8's into smaller underpowered cars and doing so successfully along with transferring his hot rod skills in the 1950's-1960's into the sports car field by building and racing his own cars. He was known for his bright yellow series of "Old Yeller Junkyard Dog Specials" and their ability to beat the best Europe had to offer. Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Porsche, at one time or the other they all coward under his skills, and if not, gave them a run for their money. In the hands of an extraordinarily skilled driver his V-8 Buick powered specials were a force to be reckoned with.

During World War II Balchowsky was a belly gunner in the turret of a B-24 Liberator. On a mission over Europe his bomber was .hit so hard by fighters and flack the crew had to abandon her. Making it as far back as France Balchowsky, wounded, was forced with the rest of the crew to bail out, France being friendly territory, thus avoiding possible capture by the enemy. Following a short recuperation period he was sent to the China-Burma-India theater, more specifically Burma, where he finished out the war

Hanging out waiting to get back over the 'hump' I spent a lot of time on R&R in Calcutta and in the process bumped into any number of G.I.'s, Calcutta being a fairly safe haven for Burmese and China based troops seeking a change of pace. During one of those times, besides meeting the Flying Tiger pilot Col. Robert L. Scott, along with artist Peter Hurd, B-29 Superfortress pilot John Noble Cumming, Beat poet Bob Kaufman, and others During that same time period I also met a 20 year old G.I. on R&R named Max Balchowsky that would eventually play a role in my life later on. In conversation Scott related that while with the Flying Tigers he had escorted both daylight and nighttime bombing runs over Hanoi. In turn, Balchowsky told the group he had participated in low-level B-24 bombing runs on Japanese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin right off the coast of Vietnam. Places like Hanoi and the Gulf of Tonkin and even Vietnam didn't mean much to most of the G.I.s, but for me they took on a whole separate meaning of their own.

While in his garage Hollywood Motors in 1959 Balchowsky asked if I had ever been to Burma. I told him about 15 years before, in 1944 as a young boy around six years old, I had been taken to India for several months by a foster couple, but was unable to remember a whole lot about it. If Burma had been on my travel agenda I wasn't able to remember it either. He told me in 1944 at age 20 he was in the Army in Burma counting down the days until the end of the war when he went on R&R in Calcutta India. There he met the person he thought was me, and for sure the me he met wasn't six years old, but more like 25, and, although in civilian clothes, claiming to be in the Army and hanging out with other G.I.s.

Of course Balchowsky was right. I wouldn't be age 25 for several more years, sometime around 1964 or so. When I went to to see about a possible engine swap for the woody it was approximately five years before 1964. Which is to say, neither 1964 nor me being 25 hadn't happened yet. And that's the crux of the matter. If it hadn't happened yet how could I have remembered it?

If any of you have read "The Code Maker, The Zen Maker," especially Part V Of Minds and Landscapes: Into Their Interior (see), you would have learned that in 1964 I ended up in a Zen Monastery high in the Himalayas and an ashram of a venerated Indian holy man in India. It was after the ashram, as found in Return to the Monastery, that I ended up in Burma and then Calcutta. Of course, again, in Calcutta, I was around 25 years old. When I was in Balchowsky's shop seeing about the woody it was 1959, four or five years earlier. I was only 21 and 1964 hadn't happened yet, so there was no way I could remember any meeting with Balchowsky in Burma or Calcutta because, as for me, it was yet to come.






Footnote [1]

My parents lived in Redondo Beach when I was born. My younger brother came along three years later and, for reasons unrelated to his birth, it wasn't much longer after that than my mother's health began to deteriorate. As she became more and more immobilized my father started to farm my two brothers and myself out to others on a more-or-less regular basis. She eventually reached a point that she had to be placed into an around-the-clock care facility. In turn we went from conventional short term babysitting during the day to being with our grandparents overnight or to others several days a week, as my father continued --- because of mounting medical expenses --- to put more and more working hours in to make ends meet. After a short stint with my grandmother on my father's side then some time with my grandmother on my mother's side, I ended up living with a foster couple that I had never seen or heard of in my life who owned a flower shop on Pacific Avenue in the old downtown portion of Redondo Beach, of which as I viewed it, didn't work out so hot, ending with the following results as found in the source so cited:

"The last time I ran away from the flower shop couple I ended up missing enough days of school that someone came to see why I was no longer attending. The couple told the school they had not seen me for several days and did not know where I was. The school in turn called my grandmother, the emergency contact listed on their paperwork. My grandmother came looking for me and eventually located me in my old hometown of Redondo Beach, California, staying with an only just recently discharged World War II ex-Marine taxi driver that had fought his way up through all the islands in all the major battles in the Pacific from Guadalcanal northward.

"Some people have asked just who was the marine? After all I was just a kid and he was a grown man. Was he a friend of the family, a relative, somebody I knew from the past? The answer is he was none of those things. I basically just met him out of nowhere --- fate as some might say."(source)

My grandmother, except possibly for the taxi driver and I having breakfast almost every morning at the Happy Hour Cafe owned by the South Bay's infamous, albeit alleged, brothel proprietor and madame Fifie Malouf, usually after having picked up non gratis one or two female stragglers wending their way back after a long night of plying their trade, and maybe him visiting a "friend" once in awhile in the afternoon in one of Fifie's apartments while I waited in the cafe, quickly assessed him as being an otherwise honorable man, thanked him for overseeing my well-being, then took me back with her. see Footnote [2].

Footnote [2]

In April of 1946 a fairly well established western bandleader by the name of Texas Jim Lewis approached the Redondo Beach City Council to run a newly renovated ballroom on the waterfront near the pier under a new name: Texas Jim's Redondo Barn --- which they approved. Lewis turned it into a western swing venue with himself and his Lone Star Cowboys playing at the top of the card, sometimes with as many as 10,000 people showing up on the weekends.

it wasn't long before the flower shop people discovered it could be quite lucrative to sell corsages and boutonnieres to couples attending the dances, so they put me to work circulating through the crowd selling flowers --- sometimes being on the floor as late as midnight. During that period of my life there was a female vocalist that sang with a couple of the headliners that, even though I was a kid, I had become deeply smitten with. I don't recall her name, however, as I remember her she looked a lot like a cowgirl version of a popular movie star of the time named Veronica Lake, with long platinum blonde hair, ruby-red lips, and dressed in the finest female western singer regalia --- white cowboy boots, above the knee white satin skirts, fringed all the way around with hundreds of little strings, topped with white satin western-style blouses with snap buttons, big embroidered red roses and arrow-ended pockets.

Whenever she came on stage to do one of her numbers and I was selling flowers I would go sit on the edge of the stage and just stare at her. Somehow, and I do not remember how, we began talking to each other and over time I told her my tale of woe. In any case, her friend was the marine. Between sets and after the show the three of us would go down to the Wagon Wheel Cafe, basically just below the dancehall, sit in one of the booths, get something to eat, drink coffee or cokes, and talk until they closed the place.

One day I decided to run away. I gathered up what few things I had and went down to the waterfront and got in the shotgun side of the marine's taxi and never left his side to speak of until my grandmother came and got me.

The singer always told me she would take me away with her someday and my dream was that she and the marine would get married and we would live happily ever after. Of course, such was not the case. I never saw or heard from either of them again after my grandmother took me back with her the day she found me. Not having gone away with the singer and the marine still tugs at my heart even to this day and is still one of the biggest disappointments of my life. How it would have turned out is a question that remains unanswered.


MARY DAVIS: Gone But Not Forgotten by Giles Chapman @