A Malibu woman has written a coming-of-age story like no other. Wendy Baker is revealing in her memoir, “My Name was Mushroom: My Life as a Teenage Runaway,” about her unusual life in the early ’70s.
At the age of 12, Wendy “had a relationship with Bart Baker, who’s my husband now.” The two currently run Bart’s eponymous longtime insurance agency in Malibu.
“More than 50 years ago he had introduced me to his father, Jim Baker, who had just opened up the Source restaurant,” the 40-year Malibu resident said.
Celebrities flocked to the restaurant in the heart of Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. Woody Allen famously included The Source in a final memorable scene of his multi-Academy Award-winning film “Annie Hall,” where he mocks the health food trend and orders a plate of mashed yeast.
The young couple often hung out with Bart’s dad and his girlfriend. Jim Baker eventually changed his name to Father, then Father Yod, and eventually Yahowah. By the time Wendy was 14, after a “difficult childhood” she ran away from home and joined Yahowah’s commune.
“I was very drawn to the commune,” Baker said. “I believed in vegetarian food, yoga, meditation. It was a spiritual path for me. One that I was eager to be a part of.”
The Source restaurant was the hub of the commune that if practiced today would be considered trend-setting. But 50 years ago, these practices were thought of as not only avant garde, but counter culture.
The 140 people who joined the commune were often called “hippies.” Sometimes the group was referred to as a “cult” due to the devotion members had to their leader. But Baker says no one was forced to stay and could leave any time they chose to.
At the time there were other well-known cults with nefarious endings. However, in the Source commune’s brief five years members did not live a “dirty hippie” lifestyle. The restaurant was extremely popular with Hollywood tastemakers of the time. It racked up thousands of dollars daily in profits allowing members to live in a Los Feliz mansion. Eventually, the group decamped to Hawaii, perhaps when its leader was possibly investigated for polygamy, tax evasion, or numerous other crimes that may or may not have involved the guru of the group.
“My story is not negative,” Baker claims. “It was actually a beautiful experience. But unfortunately, things did happen that were out of the norm. We didn’t stay in one place for very long. I was a young child, so in my eyes, I didn’t really know why we were moving. I just took it as an adventure and something fun.”
Baker says she now speculates the moves from West Hollywood, to Hawaii, San Francisco, and back to Hawaii may have been because police or social services were investigating its leader after “underaged children joined the commune, leaving their homes, no longer going to school.”
While in Hawaii on Aug. 25, 1975, Baker, then known as “Mushroom”, was present when Yahowah passed away. The group disbanded after its leader died. “It was hard for me to leave,” Baker described. “That story is in the book. A lot happened. A lot of drama. A lot of stuff happened to me personally.”
Baker originally wrote her story for her children and family “to leave them a legacy because I never talked about it for 50 years. Nobody knew what I had been through except for my husband, Bart.”
Bart Baker never was involved in the Source. Wendy eventually married Bart and the couple raised three children in Malibu. Wendy’s oldest child was born in the Source Family. Bart adopted her when she was seven. The three children all attended Malibu public schools.
“I joined a spiritual commune at the age of 14, and devoted myself to this commune for five years. Ultimately my experience was a positive one, even though I went through a lot of stuff. I learned a lot. I am forever grateful to have experienced it. In essence Jim Baker is my father-in-law too and the grandfather to my children. I have nothing but respect for him, but it was definitely challenging.”
The book is available on Amazon, Audible, Kindle, and in West Hollywood at Book Soup.
Baker will be reading and signing her book at Malibu Fitness on Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. To RSVP, call (310) 457-5220.