By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"The divorce settlement was the first time Priscilla had a lot of money she controlled herself," says a friend who speaks under condition of anonymity. "She's extremely unselfish. She paid for everything; she'd take trips to Los Angeles with friends and pay for everyone's airline tickets. [Back in the early '80s] she was going 90 miles an hour and feeling no pain."
A few years of hiring 'round-the-clock off-duty police surveillance ended with the Fort Worth fire. Priscilla moved to Bent Tree in Dallas in 1981 to live closer to a boyfriend who worked at Cutter Bill's. "That was when everyone had money," she remembers, her eyes agog. There was a revolving menagerie of folks, some genuine friends and others temporary hangers-on, who floated around Priscilla as she predictably took care of the restaurant bill, dropped $75,000 for a second car, gave cash loans without bother if they were to be repaid, and financed a pal's cosmetic surgery after breast cancer, among other expenditures. There was, Dee Davis says, always someone who needed help with their alimony payments or a court fine, or someone who wanted her to invest in a piece of art or a startup business that was rotten from the get-go. "She was naïve to people's motivations," she says.
Jack Strickland acknowledges she had received bad legal advice during her divorce and civil suits, but says, "She is even more a victim of her own generosity. I watched her bestow gifts and assist people all the time when she had the financial wherewithal to do it."
Meanwhile, she and a couple of female friends were what her daughter Dee called "unstoppable" clubgoers, habitués at the Rio Room and Mistral, and to a lesser extent, the Starck Club, an institution Priscilla quickly grew to hate. "Everybody was doing drugs in the bathroom right out in the open," she snorts, her nose wrinkled, "and I was like, 'Get outta here so I can use the bathroom!'"
Here's a point that Priscilla feels is one of the biggest misconceptions about her--that her partying days included major drug use. Her dependency on Percodan, which began innocently after a skiing mishap but turned nasty during treatment for the shooting, was part of court record, but as the unnamed friend notes wryly, "That was the '70s. Doctors were prescribing speed to lose weight and Valium for headaches." She readily admits she has tried illegal substances, but never ventured beyond experimentation: "I'd rather have a cocktail," she says of her preferred poison. Intimates with whom I spoke for this story bolster her assertion. Now that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer, a friend who has AIDS encouraged her to smoke marijuana to alleviate pain, but she refused. "I don't like the way it smells and I don't like the way it tastes," she says. "People can do whatever they enjoy, but I ask them not to smoke it in my place."
Dee Davis knows why Priscilla reacts rather strongly against illicit substances--her approximately nine years in and out of state and federal prison for related crimes have "put a bad taste in my mother's mouth where street drugs are concerned." After Priscilla's draining bank accounts had forced her into smaller and more temporary dwellings--she sold the Bent Tree house, then moved to a rented home nearby, then relocated with her mother to the high-rise Warrington apartments in the Turtle Creek area, and later a duplex--Dee wound up pregnant. Since her daughter's life was being ravaged by addiction at the time, Priscilla felt she had no other choice. "Bottom line," she says. "I became a mother again."
"When I saw [my granddaughter in Gatesville], she looked like a little drowned rat," Priscilla remembers. "And I thought, 'Nobody's going to adopt her.' She's the sweetest little thing. I think God gave her to me because he took Andrea away."
Dee Davis was arrested for the first time for writing hot checks while living with her mother and grandmother in the Bent Tree house. She was released on probation and moved back there shortly after her daughter's birth. When little Priscilla was 14 months old, compulsory blood tests revealed Dee had been involved with heroin again. She'd already signed over legal custody of the baby to Priscilla Davis, and so back she went.
"I got a federal conviction for two years in 1986," Dee remembers. "I'm an addict, and everything took a back seat to the dope. I was incarcerated except for short intervals until Priscilla was 8 years old."
Priscilla insists she dropped out of the nightlife (except for the occasional dinner party, or a jaunt to the Hideaway Club) for the remainder of the '80s to raise little Priscilla, with the help of her mother and, for a few years, a boyfriend whom the child came to call "Daddy Ralph." By 1990, when the girl attained school age and her grandmother fretted that she couldn't afford a private education, they moved to the one-bedroom Oak Lawn apartment where Priscilla now resides. The size of the place reflected her meager funds, but the location--within the Highland Park public school system--spoke of her familiarity with privilege, something she hoped little Priscilla would now benefit from, if only indirectly. The girl attended Bradfield Elementary and McCulloch Intermediate. If she encountered problems among her almost all-Anglo and affluent peers--her father was black, her mother was an incarcerated addict, her grandmother was Priscilla Davis--then Davis seems oblivious to them, except for a couple of instances.