At 85 years old, Lucille Mars is strikingly beautiful with a twinkle in her eye that speaks volumes about the mischief she's been in and remains capable of.
Sitting in the rickety East Side home she shares with her boyfriend, 82-year old Bill Bains, Mars chats about her days as a lady wrestler, a stint in Israel as a starving artist, and her recent accomplishment at quitting smoking cold turkey after 72 years.
So it comes as no surprise when Mars shows this reporter a mushroom she found recently with the image of a face on it. And not just any face, but the ghostly white mug of Michael Jackson, she says.
“People know I paint and draw faces so some of them think I did it myself,” she says, showing off the fungi, which when held up to the right light does somewhat resemble the gloved one. “But I'd swear on any lie detector test that I never touched it. I think they're just jealous.”
The mushroom fits perfectly with the curios, collectables, antiques and stuff that fills every corner of the home. The walls are covered with photographs, many of Bains as a dashing private pilot in his 50s standing near a plane, but almost just as many of Mars, who could have given Marilyn Monroe a run for her money back in the day. Back then Mars' platinum blonde hair and long legs garnered her the attention of many men. It also led to the loss of several jobs.
“I was working in a vegetable cannery years ago, and this woman said to me, 'I saw you looking at my husband,’” says Mars. "I said to her, 'Maybe he's looking at me.' Then I put down my stuff and walked out.”
Her looks also contributed to a life of tribulation with men, including a marriage to the maintenance man of the circus for which she wrestled. That marriage only lasted a few weeks. She then took up with a wealthy Seagram's executive and travelled the world. During a visit to Israel she took up with a not-so-wealthy waiter, dumped the executive and found herself stranded with no money. To get back to Canada, Mars raised money by drawing images of Jesus Christ out of dirt and cigarette ashes for tourists.
As Mars chats, the couple's portly 12-year old Scottish terrier Clyde sits at this reporter's feet, nonchalantly passing gas to the background music of 1920s jazz pianist Fats Waller.
Even though Mars and Bains have known each other for almost 80 years, the pair only became a couple six years ago. Mars was born in Gastown where her mother ran a boarding home.
“It was a bootlegging joint,” she says. "”I knew every safecracker in town, not to mention all the old bums and hookers.”
Bains is obviously proud of Mars' effect on men, her love of life, painting, photography and music. He doesn't blink an eye as she shows off the mushroom version of Michael Jackson. She's even taken it to their local Legion.
“There was woman on Johnny Carson years ago who collected potato chips that looked like people,” he says. “I'd like to see something like that happen to Lucille.”
With Mars, anything is possible.