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Carstairs, Marion Barbara "Joe" (1900-1993)  
 
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In 1925 Carstairs commissioned the building of her first speedboat, christened "Gwen" after a lover, actress, comedienne, and horsewoman Gwen Farrar, and raced it to her first trophy at Southampton Water. It was the first of several boats customized for Carstairs.

In them she sped to more than a dozen victories between 1925 and 1930--winning the Duke of York's Trophy, the Bestise Cup, and the Lucina Cup among others--though after three tries the prestigious Detroit-based Harmsworth Trophy remained beyond reach.

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Carstairs surfaced from race capsizes with a grin and cut a handsome figure in the press coverage. "I did look like a boy . . . but I was not a stomper," she reflected later.

But by the end of the 1920s homosexual chic had run its course and the press grew meaner.

After a decade and a half as a bon vivant, Carstairs shifted into a different mode. Intrigued by a real estate ad, she sailed over to the British West Indies (now the Bahamas) to investigate.

In 1934, for $40,000 she became the owner of an eight-by-sixteen-mile island named Whale Cay. She spent the next four decades turning it into a private paradise complete with walled Spanish-style residential compound, dock, fish cannery, wireless station, church, and restored lighthouse.

She launched an agricultural enterprise that eventually employed 500 Bahamians, for whom she built workers' quarters, clinic, school, and general store. Backed up by her own security force, she ran the operation paternalistically. But she also promoted education and self-sufficiency for the local population. "I had a country going," she reminisced later.

Whale Cay became the refuge from which she could escape the spotlight and entertain chosen guests on her own terms. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor paid her a visit in 1941 that was recorded by Life magazine. (Life called her "Betty Carstairs," a name she detested according to a Saturday Evening Post story published the following week.)

A regular visitor was singer Mabel Mercer, whom Carstairs had met during the 1930s in Paris. Summerscale depicts the friendship as platonic, quoting Carstairs describing Mercer as having "become my sister almost. . . . She was very proper, you know, just the opposite to me."

Carstairs urged Mercer, who was biracial, to leave Europe before the Nazis invaded France, and paid her passage to Whale Cay in 1938, where she resided until 1941, when she gained entry to the United States.

Carstairs never lacked for girlfriends during the Whale Cay years--a glass-topped table in the main house held photos of some 120.

After Ruth Baldwin died Carstairs tried her hand at poetry for a while, which she published privately under the pseudonym Hans Bernstein. Some of it, like "Perversities of Mankind," was whimsical: "There's / The man / Who / Wants / A Skirt / And / The girl / Who / Wears / A shirt / Even/ Fish / That / Want / To fly -- / I / Wonder why?"

In other poems, she made a short-lived attempt at introspection: "Lovely vital statue / Pure as a dream / That has / No touch / Of the human / Horrors of tomorrow / No time / No place / No afterwards--."

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