Betty and Lord Tod

Marion Barbara Carstairs, usually called Betty, was a wealthy British power boat racer known for her speed and her eccentric lifestyle. She was born in 1900 in London.

image found here

Her mother, Frances, an alcoholic American heiress, later divorced Betty’s father and married Captain Francis Francis, with whom she had two more children, Evelyn Francis and Francis Francis Jr. Her last husband was the French surgeon Serge Voronoff. Here at the Gimcrack we love Voronoff so much he merits not one but two posts of his own.

image found here

During World War I, Carstairs served in France with the Red Cross, driving ambulances. After the war, she served with the Royal Army Service Corps in France and later, in 1920, she and a group of friends started the ‘X Garage’, a chauffeuring service that featured a women-only staff of drivers.

image (guess who?) found here

Carstairs lived a colorful life. She usually dressed as a man, had tattooed arms, and loved machines, adventure and speed. Openly lesbian, she had numerous affairs with women, including Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece, and a string of actresses, most notably Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich. Carstairs married once, to a French Count in 1918 so as to gain access to her trust fund, independent of her mother. After her mother’s death the marriage was immediately annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.

Dolly Wilde found here

In 1925, she purchased a motorboat after inheriting a fortune through her mother and grandmother from Standard Oil. She was also given a Steiff doll by a girlfriend and christened him Lord Tod Wadley. She was extremely attached to this, keeping it with her until her death, although—unlike Donald Campbell’s mascot ‘Mr Whoppit’—she didn’t take it into her speedboats for fear of losing it. Between 1925 and 1930, Carstairs spent considerable time in powerboats, becoming a very successful racer, although the Harmsworth Trophy she longed for always eluded her. She did take the Duke of York’s trophy and establish herself as the fastest woman on water.

Betty and Lord Tod found here

Carstairs was also known for her generosity to her friends. She was close to several male racing drivers and land speed record competitors, using her considerable wealth to assist them. She invested $40,000 purchasing the island of Whale Cay in the Bahamas, where she lavishly entertained such guests as Marlene Dietrich, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She not only constructed a great house for herself and her friends, but also a lighthouse, school, church, and cannery.

Marlene found here

Published in: on November 11, 2011 at 7:33 am  Comments (47)  
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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I usually dress as a man too.

    • Seems to suit you

  2. A cannery? How very odd.

    • Perhaps to create jobs for the locals?

  3. When Betty’s mom married Francis Francis, did she become Frances Francis? Did people introduce the couple as “Frances and Francis Francis”? I’m kind of sorry that marriage didn’t last.

    Betty seems to have been a free spirit who lived a full life.

    • You beat me to it and said it funnier than I would have anyway.

  4. she is cute :p
    i do like women dressed as men.

    • Marlene Dietrich usually carried that look off pretty well

  5. I would think that being an ambulance driver in WW1 was great training for becoming a VERY fast driver………..

    • I’ll say!

      • I’ll second that

  6. Do you know where she served in WWI – Hemingway drove ambulances too, but I think on the Italian front. (Writing this I come to think how the heck he came there: I always thought American troops were serving in Flanders and Champagne?) She must have known Mercedes de Acosta. At least they shared some lovers.

    • “During World War I, Carstairs served in France with the Red Cross, driving ambulances, before going to Dublin with the Women’s Legion Mechanical Transport Section”

      from wikipedia

  7. I’ve always had a penchant for fast women

    • and fast cars?

  8. It’s nice to see that look she pioneered (?) in the first photo is still so popular today…

    I also hadn’t realised that the famous magazine “Popular Mechanics” was an early Lesbian periodical (guess that’s why it came out roughly every 28 days) of which she was clearly a pin up girl. I learn something every time I come here, even if it’s gleaned from between the lines…

    The King

    • you’re such a card

  9. OMG. Her mother (at one point in her marriage marathon) was Frances Francis married to Francis Francis with a son named Francis Francis. Confusion must have reigned in that household unless they all had nicknames.

    • Fran, Frank and Frankie?

  10. Another one of those lives you love to tell us about. I would hate to have been named Francis Francis. If were a woman named Frances I wouldn’t have married him!

    • If I hadn’t been adopted my surname could have been Francis. At least, that’s the surname of my birth father.

  11. Has anyone else noticed that she looks like Alice from The Brady Bunch in that top pic? That thought kept distracting me while I was reading it but damn, what an interesting life.

    BTW is that limo driver Chaz Bono? (previously known as Chastity)

    • Oh how dumb of me … just clicked on it and found out who it was. But I’m telling you, from a distance it could be Chaz.

    • Hover-mouse over the link!

  12. That IS Alice from the Brady Bunch. I’d stake my Chris Craft on it.

    • Don’t make me google Chris Craft

  13. I love a lady who knows her way around machinery. Nothing sexier than a smear of grease on a lady’s cheek.
    (Her FACE, ya perverts! 😉 )

    • Well how would she get a smear of grease on any other cheek? Unless she worked naked

      • Oh wow! That image was so hot, I melted part of my keyboard! YOWZA! 😀

  14. Sounds like Betty got around… Wonder if she sported the Goatee on her speed boatee?
    Bless You

    • Bless you too Paul

  15. Come to think of it, that Duchess of Windsor hung around with lots of lesbatarians, didn’t she??

    • I thought she was into S & M with the Duke of Windsor being the submissive

  16. Ah, Betty! A woman after my own heart – i adore machines, adventure and speed…

    and without going to the chauffer’s link, i’d have never guessed it!

    • Good disguise huh?

  17. British readers who despair of the clown that will be King when his mum dies should click on the “one” link to read a sentence that is shoulder-shakingly funny when illustrated with his picture.

    My youngest daughter’s third name (they all have four) is Frances. I, obviously, love the name, She doesn’t and has vowed to change it as soon as she’s old enough.

    Thanks Nursey, another good way to start the day X

    • What are your other daughters’ third names?

      • Fabienne and and Marianna.

  18. Machines are awesomely cool, and X garage a lovely name.

    • It’s also the name of an online dating site

  19. So she just whipped out $40,000 and bought an island in the Bahamas? How the other half lives….

    • Isn’t it the other 1%?

  20. Frances married Captain Francis Francis, and had a kid named Francis Francis? That’s way too many Francises (Francies?)!

    • Ridiculous isn’t it?

  21. Lord Tod Wadley couldn’t swim? (Me neither.)
    Maybe a tiny life jacket might have helped?

  22. Pretty sure one of my friends is the fastest woman on land.

  23. […] here at the Gimcrack is Dr Serge Voronoff who has been mentioned in not one, not two, but three posts before. Serge was responsible for transplanting bits of monkey testes into aging men. John […]

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