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Mary Guggenheim was born to Dr. Louis Guggenheim and Maude Hellman in 1917, Saint Louis, Missouri.
Mary received her early education in Saint Louis convents and in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she was a classmate of Indira Gandhi. Mary was offered early admission to the University of Chicago, where she graduated at the age of 18. She continued her education at different times throughout her life at Washington University and UCLA. She was later awarded a full tuition scholarship to one of the oldest medical schools in Italy. She ultimately declined the scholarship, choosing instead to devote her energy to pursuing her art and raising her family.
During her twenties, Mary emphatically devoured multiple artistic disciplines including dance, painting, sculpture and writing. Over the course of her life, she would become consumed by one of these art forms or another, spending several years painting ceaselessly, then the next several years writing.
In the late ’30s she studied ballet in Chicago with Bernice Holmes, who also taught the famous dancer Sono Osoto, of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Mary was then recruited by the Ballet Russe to be in their corps de Ballet. She danced professionally with them for three years, working with Bronislava Najinska, sister to Vaslav Nijinsky, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship.
In 1940, she began to work as a French/ English translator for the Office of War Information, NYC; and in 1945 the OWI sent her to San Francisco as an interpreter for the first official charter of the United Nations. During the war effort, she worked alongside Jean Malaquais, Jean-Paul Sartre, Andre Breton and Edward Roditi. Influenced and inspired by these individuals, her desire to write came into focus and by the late ’40s she was writing prolifically. During these war years she met and had a love affair with the writer Nelson Algren, whom she would later introduce to Simone deBeauvoir.
After the war, during the creative heyday of Hollywood, Mary moved to LA. In 1948 she met and married Max Leon Ewalt, with whom she had two daughters: Maximilienne and Montserrat. It was during this time that she met Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, both of whom greatly encouraged her writing.
In the late ’50s, she went to Salzburg, Austria to study painting with Oskar Kokoschka. She also studied painting with Sam Amato at UCLA, and she studied sculpture with Richard Boyce and Elio Benvenuto also located in Los Angeles.
By 1961 she had separated from her husband and had begun a career as a social worker for the Child Welfare Department of the County of Los Angeles.
She moved to Paris, France in 1967, with her two young daughters, where for a time she worked as a medical and technical translator. She remained in Paris for the next 25 years where she painted, sculpted and wrote professionally.
The last ten years of her life were spent in San Francisco in the care of her daughters. Though she was afflicted with multi-infarct dementia, she continued to paint with abandon until her death, May 26, 2001.