| Texas People
may have been Waco's Answer to Mae West -
but no one remembers the question.
"I would rather have a square inch of New York
than all the rest of
the world." - Texas Guinan
was born Mary Louise Cecilia "on a ranch near Waco,"
and her birth year was supposedly 1884 although she adjusted it frequently. He
parents were both Irish immigrants who had met in Colorado. Educated at a convent
in Loretta, Texas she claimed that she once climbed the church steeple to remove
the bell clapper. Which, for those who haven't tried it, is a pretty neat trick.|
claimed a lot of things. She said she had ridden in "round-ups" (which was what
they were calling rodeos back then) and that claim and her obvious skill with
a gun were probably true. One biographer says that she practiced her marksmanship
at the shooting gallery next to the Katy depot at Waco.
She would later say that she received a medal for entertaining the troops in WWI
- when in truth she never left the U.S. during those years.
a short time as Mamie, she closely studied Lillian Russell and Mae West. And while
all three women could sing and act, only Texas could ride a horse (named "Pieface")
and shoot. Her self-assurance was legendary which made her a natural for the embryonic
movie industry. She was called by some "the female William S. Hart" and for those
that can conjure up an image of "Bill" Hart, they know it wasn't much of a complement.
went to New York City but didn't stay at first. Instead she took a ten-year trip
on the Vaudeville circuit, honing her one-liners and wisecracks before returning
to NYC. Her first marriage with a newspaper cartoonist lasted just five years.
Later husbands included another newsman and an actor. She explained her marriage
philosophy with the line: "It's having the same man around the house all the time
that ruins matrimony."
There was a brief "scandal" involving a weight
loss advertisement that used her figure as a successful "after" photo. The ad
referred to her as "God's Masterpiece" and although she never weighed more than
136 lbs.(she was 5'6") the ad had her saying she had been 204 pounds before using
With the arrival of Prohibition in 1920, she saw a chance
at getting out of "kissing horses in horse operas" and went to work as Mistress
of Ceremonies at the Beaux Arts, a popular nightclub. Soon the Knickerbocker Hotel
hired her to MC the show at the hotel's King Cole Room. Frequent guests there
were Rudolph Valentino and John Barrymore.
became a blonde and started wearing diamonds and sequined gowns (with Stetson
hats). Before long she opened a nightclub in partnership with an ex-cabbie and
part-time hood named Larry Fay. Their club became a hangout for people wanting
to see and be seen and those wanting to rub elbows with or grease the palms of
influential people. Even with the rather unimaginative name of El Fay, the place
Mayor Jimmy Walker, Ring Larder, Damon Runyon and Heywood Broun
(who later served as one of her pallbearers) were seen frequently. Tom Mix and
George Raft showed up and columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan took notes
at the club almost every night.
Texas, with her police whistle and her
oversized hats didn't greet patrons as much as she insulted them. Since it was
part of the act they all took it with smiles on their faces. "Hello sucker!" was
her trademark greeting, but she's also credited with inventing the phrase "Give
the little girl a great big hand" and the term "Big Butter and Egg Man" which
George S. Kaufman used as the title of one of his plays.
Busted for the
sake of propriety, Texas was never convicted of violations although she was present
during at least one shooting. She claimed she was on stage and never heard a thing.
Her longest stint in jail was nine hours, which was actually little more than
an autograph signing party for the precinct cops. "I like your cute little jail"
was a memorable line for years until 1960s stripper Candy Barr (sent to Huntsville)
upstaged her with "I've always wanted to live in a brick house."
splitting with partner Fay (and promptly buying an armor-plated car) Texas shared
an apartment with her parents in Washington Square. She was a good girl from Waco
- what did you expect?
Aimee Semple McPherson, the famous Evangelist (with Marcelled hair) from Los Angeles
visited New York, she insisted on visiting Texas' club.
McPherson and the two formed a sort of mutual admiration society. It was a promotional
dream - just two Irish girls in different types of show business. Aimee thanked
Texas and invited her to her Glad Tidings Tabernacle the next day. Texas and her
chorus girls showed up (before going to work) surprising everyone.
police padlocked her club for a whole six months in 1927 and she turned it into
a stage production called Padlocks of 1927 with her chorus line wearing padlock
belts (and little else). It was a flop.
But the Great Depression hit and
the crowds disappeared overnight.
took her troupe to England and France but England wouldn't let them disembark
since she was on their list of "barred aliens." France didn't want American acts
competing with the Follies Bergère since times were hard in Europe too.
laughed it off saying, "It all goes to show that 50 million Frenchman could be
wrong." The steamship line allowed them to return to the U.S. at a reduced rate.
She attempted to use this French incident to her advantage to launch a show called
Too Hot for Paris, but it too flopped.
returned to touring but in Vancouver in 1933, she was hit with an attack of amoebic
dysentery and a perforated bowel after emergency surgery. She died on November
5, 1933 at the age of 49, but not before saying "I would rather have a square
inch of New York than all the rest of the world."
was repealed one month to the day after her death. Twelve thousand people filed
by her coffin at the same funeral
chapel that had held Rudolph Valentino's
services. She wore her sequined gown and large diamonds (which her family removed
before closing the casket) and was buried in White Plains, New York. Bandleader
Paul Whiteman was a pallbearer as well as two of her former lawyers and writer
After her death her possessions were auctioned off for
pennies on the dollar. Jeweled cigarette cases went for seventy-five cents to
a few dollars and her bullet-proof car was purchased by a Pennsylvania coal mine
owner for his daughter for only $800.
Although her name doesn't carry the
weight that it did, in recent years the bartender character on Star Trek TNG (Whoopie
Goldberg) was named "Guinan" after Texas.
Guinan: Queen of the Nightclubs by Louise Berliner
Hello, Sucker: The Story
of Texas Guinan by Glenn Shirley, Eakin Press, 1989
The Handbook of Texas
Damon Runyon: A Life by Jimmy Breslin, Dell Publishing, 1991
shoe horses, don't they?"
March 25, 2004 Column
Also Hello, Sucker by
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