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|Born||Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan
January 12, 1884
Waco, Texas, U.S.
|Died||November 5, 1933
|Occupation||Actress, saloon keeper, entrepreneur|
|Spouse(s)||John J. Moynahan (1904–1906; divorced)
Julian Johnson (1910–1920; divorced)
David Townsend (19??-19??)
Guinan was one of seven siblings born in Waco, Texas to Irish-Canadian immigrants Michael and Bessie (née Duffy) Guinan. She attended parochial school at the Loretta Convent in Waco. When she was 16 years old, her family moved to Denver, Colorado where she was in amateur stage productions and played the organ in church. Guinan married John Moynahan, a cartoonist for the Rocky Mountain News, on December 2, 1904. The union was childless. Moynahan's career took them to Chicago, where Guinan studied music before divorcing him and starting her career as a professional singer. She toured regional vaudeville with some success, but became known less for her singing than for her entertaining "Wild West"-related patter.
In 1906 she moved to New York City, where she found work as a chorus girl before making a career for herself in national Vaudeville and in New York theater productions. In 1917, "Texas" Guinan made her film debut in a silent film called The Wildcat. She became the United States' first movie cowgirl, nicknamed "The Queen of the West." She claimed she had a sojourn in France, entertaining the troops during World War I.
Prohibition years, "300 Club"
She was one of the first female emcees. Upon the introduction of Prohibition, she opened a speakeasy called the 300 Club at 151 W. 54th Street in New York City (1920). The club became famous for its troupe of forty scantily-clad fan dancers and for Guinan's distinctive aplomb, which made her a celebrity. Arrested several times for serving alcohol and providing entertainment, she always claimed that the patrons had brought the liquor in with them, and the club was so small that the girls had to dance close to the customers. Guinan maintained that she had never sold an alcoholic drink in her life.
At this hangout of the wealthy elite, George Gershwin often played impromptu piano for wealthy guests such as Reggie Vanderbilt, Harry Payne Whitney, or Walter Chrysler, and celebrities such as Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Pola Negri, Al Jolson, Jeanne Eagels, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Clara Bow, Hope Hampton, Irving Berlin, John Barrymore, Dolores Costello, Leatrice Joy and Rudolph Valentino, as well as socialites such as Gloria Morgan and her sister Thelma, Viscountess Furness.
Ruby Keeler and George Raft were discovered as dancers at the club by Broadway and Hollywood talent scouts. Walter Winchell credited Guinan with opening the insider Broadway scene and cafe society to him when he was starting as a gossip columnist. Guinan capitalized on her notoriety, earning $700,000 in ten months in 1926, while her clubs were routinely being raided by the police.
Guinan has been credited with coining a number of phrases: she referred to her well-off patrons as "butter and egg men," she often demanded that the audience "give the little ladies a great big hand," and she traditionally greeted her patrons with, "Hello, suckers!"
Return to film
Guinan returned to the screen with two sound pictures, playing slightly fictionalized versions of herself as a speakeasy proprietress in Queen of the Night Clubs (1929) and then Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933, written by Winchell) shortly before her death.
During the Great Depression (in which she reportedly lost a sizable amount of her personal wealth) she took her show on the road. She made a sally towards Europe, but her reputation preceded her, and she was denied entry at every European sea port. She turned this to her advantage by launching a satirical revue, Too Hot For Paris.
While on the road with Too Hot For Paris, she contracted amoebic dysentery in Vancouver, British Columbia and died there on November 5, 1933 at the age of 49, exactly one month before Prohibition was repealed; 7,500 people attended her funeral. Bandleader Paul Whiteman was a pallbearer as well as two of her former lawyers and writer Heywood Broun.
She was survived by both of her parents. Her mother died at age 101 in 1959 and her father was 79 years old at his death in 1935. Her family donated a tabernacle in her name to St. Patrick's Church in Vancouver in recognition of Father Louis Forget's attentions during her last hours. When the original church was demolished in 2004, the tabernacle was preserved for the new church built on the site. Guinan is interred in the Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.
Fictional portrayals and homages
In Damon Runyon's short stories about Broadway of the 1920s, the recurring character of nightclub operator "Miss Missouri Martin" is based on Texas Guinan.
Mae West's first screen appearance was as a wisecracking character based on Guinan in Night After Night (1932), featuring George Raft. Raft campaigned to cast Guinan herself but the studio opted for West since she was nine years younger. Raft believed that the part would have launched a major film career for Guinan, which proved to be the case for West instead. (West was reportedly a fan of Guinan and incorporated some of Guinan's ideas into her own acts).
In the 1939 film The Roaring Twenties, directed by Raoul Walsh and Anatole Litvak and starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, the character "Panama Smith" (played by Gladys George) is based on Guinan.
Madonna had a musical in the works in late 2004 with her in the lead role. The film was to be called Hello Suckers!, a catchphrase Guinan said often. The movie was canned but Madonna kept some of the songs and released them on her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor.
In 1969, Martha Raye toured in a musical called Hello Sucker, which played at the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island, Casa Manãna in Fort Worth, Texas and the Oakdale Musical Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut. The show was directed and choreographed by Larry Fuller and closed after its run in Wallingford.
- The Stainless Barrier (1917) short
- The Fuel of Life (1917) short
- Two-Gun Girl (1918) short
- The Gun Girl (1918) short
- The Gun Woman (1918)
- The Love Brokers (1918)
- Getaway Kate (1918) short
- The Hell Cat (1918)
- The Spirit of Cabin Mine (1919) short
- The Lady of the Law (1919) short
- The Girl of the Rancho (1919) short
- The Desert Vulture (1919) short
- The Boss of the Rancho (1919) short
- Outwitted (1919) short
- Not Guilty (1919) short
- My Lady Robin Hood (1919) short
- Letters of Fire (1919) short
- Just Bill (1919) short
- Fighting the Vigilantes (1919) short
- The Love Defender (1919)
- The She Wolf (1919) short
- South of Santa Fe (1919) short
- Malamute Meg (1919) short
- Some Gal (1919) short
- The Girl of Hell's Agony (1919) short
- Little Miss Deputy (1919) short
- The Dangerous Little Devil (1919) short
- The Dead Man's Hand (1919) short
- The Sacrifice (1919) short
- The Call of Bob White (1919) short
- The Heart of Texas (1919) short
- The Wildcat (1920) short
- The White Squaw (1920) short
- The Night Rider (1920) short
- The Night Raider (1920) short
- The Moonshine Feud (1920) short
- Spitfire (1921) short
- Code of the West (1921) short
- Code of Texas Storm (1921) short
- The Stampede (1921)
- I Am the Woman (1921)
- Night Life of New York (1925)
- Queen of the Night Clubs (1929)
- Glorifying the American Girl (1929) (uncredited; herself)
- Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933)
- "I would rather have a square inch of New York than all the rest of the world." - Texas Guinan
- Sizer (2008), p 83.
- Sizer (2008), p 96.
- Sizer (2008), p 99.
- Popik, Barry. "Texas, The Lone Star State: "Hello, sucker!" & "Give this little girl a big hand!" (Texas Guinan)". Barrypopik.com. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
- "Texas Guinan". Texasescapes.com. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
- Sizer (2008), p 103.
- "Texas Guinan". Texasescapes.com. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
- Louise Berliner, Texas Guinan: Queen of the Nightclubs.
- Sizer, Mona D. (2008), Outrageous Texans: Tales of the Rich and Infamous, Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58979-338-5
- Obituary in Rocky Mountain News, 5 November 1933.
- Texas Guinan at Find a Grave
- Texas Guinan at the Internet Movie Database
- Texas Guinan (Handbook of Texas Online)
- Texas Biography at Jazzbabies
- Texas Guinan photo gallery NY Public Library