The concept of Apartness is a seeming, a division of one from the Self. This feeling of being alone and separated from the Whole is what drives wars and killing. It stirs the desire to subjugate another, bearing the seeds of greed and intolerance. It is the great lie, the cruel hoax. Look to the star-riddled heaven, and realize you exist within it, and are One with it.
North Beach Bohemians discover the Wizard of Carmel
In 1957, an energetic nineteen-year-old Michael Bowen arrived in San Francisco, from L.A., via Virginia City, Nevada, where his now actor son, also named Michael, had just been born in the house of film writer Walter Van Tilburg Clarks. Now, fifty years later in 2007, we reflect back on some pivotal events which led to the Human Be-In in San Francisco.
Michael was with his first wife, actress Sonia Sorel, recently divorced from actor John Carradine. The small family, consisting of Michael, Sonia, and little Michael, who was wrapped in a Mexican reboso to keep him warm and close to his mother’s breast on the journey, arrived in San Francisco. Michael had not seen San Francisco, since he had traveled there as child with his mother and her lover, Benjamin Segal, the founder of Las Vegas. Those warm memories made him feel immediately at home.
Through a friend, the little family met the astrologer Gavin Arthur, grandson of Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. The chemistry between Gavin and Michael’s family was immediate, and the first requirement was shelter. Gavin had a large house in what would become known as the Haight Ashbury district, but was then a middle-class, family oriented area of the city. Gavin had established within his home an organization which he called Global House. The people living at Global House came from diverse cultures, from as many places in the world as Gavin Arthur could find.
Soon, the little family was warm and comfortable in Gavin’s large, roomy, and familial San Francisco Global House. Others there included a Sikh family, a Chinese calligrapher, some people from Latin America, and a general coming and going of people who were all intelligent and creative. Bowen’s luck had found the perfect first security for what would become fifty years of involvement with San Francisco. Gavin’s quarters were large, and incredibly fascinating to the young artist. Some evenings, Michael would sit with Gavin and talk about a large variety of subjects, surrounded by Gavin’s huge, colorful pictures of astrological charts, drawings, and photographs of the Solar System and the Universe. Since Gavin was raised in the White House as a child, he had always wanted to work as just a regular man in San Francisco. The oddity of this, and a chance meeting, caught the attention of a San Francisco gossip columnist named Herb Caen. Herb and Gavin had their own chemistry, and that relationship would play out into very curious historical/journalistic events in the years to come.
Gavin’s bookshelf was a gift straight from heaven for the intellectually starved Bowen, for it contained rare manuscripts from India, Sumerian translations and pictures, and every sort of esoteric, interesting book about art or science. The shelf was peppered throughout by volumes dealing with the metaphysical, as well as numerous books on physics – books that Bowen had only heard about, now there for the reading – and generous Gavin allowed Michael full reign for his mind to absorb everything and anything that his brain could see to read. Gavin himself was a source to Michael for deep understanding of human psychology, as this was his chosen work through the ancient science of astrology. However, Michael realized in Gavin Arthur something else much more rare and profound; Gavin was a psychic who used astrology as a support mechanism.
David Carradine, also known as Jack, was the son of John Carradine by a former wife, but had been raised by John and Sonia in New York’s Greenwich Village. He would soon arrive at the little Bowen family’s next house, which they moved into within eight months of arriving San Francisco, just as baby Michael was beginning to walk. The house was located in North Beach, which in its turn was to become known as the home and haven of the Beat-generation of San Francisco. This house was on Greenwich Street, owned by a famous Chinese family headed by attorney and philanthropist, Zeppelin Wong. Although it was a San Francisco Victorian apartment house, the entire building was occupied by friends. There was Victor Wong, his black wife Olive, and their children.
Victor would become famous in the latter years of his life as an actor, in the epic motion picture, The Last Emperor, which was filmed in China. There was a black sculptor and his family living downstairs, with the third and last apartment being occupied by Michael, Sonia, baby Michael, and the recently arrived Jack Carradine, who would later become better known as David Carradine. David eventually went on in his career to make the famous Kung Fu television series that contributed, for the first time in American film, non-violent action coupled with authentic Oriental wisdom. Michael had already begun painting large works of art in Los Angeles, before the traveling had started, and so he now went in search of a studio. Through friends
Michael McCracken and Arthur Monroe, he found that studio on the waterfront on Commercial Street, near the Ferry Building. There, McCracken, Monroe, and Bowen shared an incredible creative explosion. However, just before this studio was found, Bowen had located another studio of his own, near the Greenwich Street house in which he was living at the time, and where he would soon meet Dr. Reidar Wennesland, who would become his great patron for the next 25 years. That studio was located in the basement below a place called the Bread and Wine Mission, run by Pierre Delattre, and allowed Michael to pursue his creative talents, mingling with poets and writers and other artists who have since become famous.
During the mid-to-late 50’s there existed a vibrant, bohemian, dropped-out Catholic priest named Pierre Delattre, who managed to hustle a small amount of just-sufficient money from the San Francisco Diocese’s funding, and established what he called a “Bread and Wine Mission”, a place where anyone could come to the top of North Beach and hang out, exchange ideas, think, talk, and interact with anyone who showed up. Delatrre, who was interested in Beat poetry and ideology, rented an old, unused grocery store on the top of Greenwich and Grant Avenue. He brought in couches and comfortable chairs so that the poets, writers, painters, and actors could all easily intermingle in a relaxed environment. Pierre, who never dressed like a Catholic priest but looked more like any other Beatnik, was interested in doing his ministry, but in a most unconventional manner.
He eventually became co-editor, along with Bob Kaufman, for Beatitude, the well-known poetry magazine that was the preeminent group effort of bohemian photographers, artists, and poets. Today Beatitude is a difficult to find classic, much sought after by collectors. Pierre had met Michael Bowen at the Café Trieste, another favorite hang out for North Beach bohemians, and invited him over. Michael was immediately impressed by how The Bread and Wine Mission was a self-managing Beatnik hangout, overseen by Pierre. Michael noticed a rather large basement that was not being used and asked Pierre if it was all right to set up a studio and paint. The basement was large, but windowless, just small airs vents and double doors leading outside. Pierre, in his usual helpful and cooperative way, assisted Michael in moving some old junk out, and put up some make shift lighting. The basement became Michael’s first large art studio of his own since living and painting in Ed Keiholz’s studio, amongst the Ferus group of artists in Los Angeles. The basement, with its concrete floor and poor ventilation, was often damp, cold, and stuffy, but to Michael it was a fantastic studio. The upstairs bohemian atmosphere attracted David Carradine to also come over, paint with Michael, and intermingle with the various bohemian actors and playwrights. Michael would walk over from his living quarters in Zeppelin’s apartment building everyday, to paint and involve himself with the upstairs intellectual action and ferment as the Beat-generation gained momentum in North Beach. David also enjoyed the studio and bohemian hangout scene.
(Author’s note: Portions of chapter three are numerically connoted, and indicate additional information to be found in the form of end-notes at the rear of the chapter)