Happy 133rd Birthday, Texas Guinan!

Actress and Queen of the Nightclubs Texas Guinan was born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan 133 years ago today in Waco, Texas. Here are 10 TG Did-You-Knows:

  • Guinan was one of seven children. Her parents were Irish-Canadian immigrants. She attended parochial school at a Waco convent.
  • When Guinan was 16, her parents moved the family to Denver, Colorado. There she began to appear in amateur stage productions before marrying newspaper cartoonist John Moynahan at age 20. The pair moved to Chicago, where she studied music. She eventually divorced Moynahan and began to perform in vaudeville as a singer.
  • Guinan’s singing was reportedly no great shakes, but she had lots of pep and she soon found that she improved her prospects as a performer by regaling the audience with (perhaps exaggerated) tales of her “Old West” upbringing.
  • In 1906, Guinan moved to New York City, where she worked as a chorus girl before finding additional work in vaudeville and on the New York stage.
  • In 1917, Guinan made her movie debut and soon was a regular in western pictures. She is said to have been the first movie cowgirl (her nickname was The Queen of the West). Guinan would go on to appear in more than 50 features and shorts before she died in 1933.
  • With the passage of the 18th Amendment, Guinan became active in the speakeasy industry, serving as hostess and emcee for a long string of illicit (but very popular) nightspots. Her outsized, sassy personality and her skill at evading justice, despite her many arrests for operating a speakeasy, made her a legendary figure in Prohibition-era NYC.
  • Guinan’s speakeasies featured an abundance of scantily clad fan dancers and showgirls, but her penchant for pulling the legs of the rich and famous served her just as well. “Hello, suckers!” became her standard exclamation for greeting customers. Her well-to-do patrons she referred to as her “butter-and-egg men” and she coined the familiar phrase “Give the little ladies a big hand” while serving as emcee.
  • Texas Guinan’s nightclubs were often backed by gangster Larry Fay and such legendary bad guys as Arnold Rothstein, Owney Madden and Dutch Schultz frequented her establishments—alongside relatively “good guys” such as George Gershwin, Walter Chrysler, Pola Negri, Mae West, Al Jolson, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Clara Bow, Irving Berlin, John Barrymore and Rudolph Valentino.
  • Ruby Keeler and George Raft both got their starts in show business as dancers as Guinan’s clubs, and Walter Winchell acknowledged that the inside access Guinan gave him to Broadway’s cornucopia of colorful characters helped launch his career as a gossip columnist.
  • Guinan died of amoebic dysentery in 1933, one month before Prohibition was repealed. She was just 49. Bandleader Paul Whiteman and writer Heywood Broun were among her pallbearers.

Happy birthday, Texas Guinan, wherever you may be!

Texas Guinan

Times Square Tintypes: The Marx Brothers

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles the Marx Brothers.


THE MARX BROTHERS. They are known as Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. Their real names are Julius, Arthur (formerly Adolph), Milton (editor’s note: Skolsky got this wrong: Chico’s real name was Leonard; it was Gummo who was named Milton) and Herbert. They were given their nicknames by a kibitzer at a poker game in Galesburg, Ill.
Caricature of the Marx BrothersThey always sign their contracts in green ink.
Three of them are married. Harpo, the unmarried one, has been on the verge of eight times. With eight different girls.
Have been known as “The Three Nightingales,” “The Four Nightingales,” “The Six Mascots” (in this act they were assisted by their mother and their other brother, Gummo, now in the cloak and suit business), and “The Four Marx Brothers.” The name of the act depended on how many of the family were in it.
Are nephews of Al Shean of Gallagher and Shean fame.
Groucho’s theatrical career started at the age of thirteen in a Gus Edwards “School Days” act. He was fired in the middle of the tour because his voice changed.
Harpo’s debut was made twenty-two years ago on a Coney Island stage. He was pushed on when “The Three Mascots” were playing there. He wore a white duck suit with a flower in his buttonhole. Frightened, he stood with his back to the audience an didn’t say a word until the curtain fell. Has yet to speak a word on the stage. After his début “The Three Mascots” was changed to “The Four Nightingales.”
After finishing a sandwich at a party, Groucho throws the plate out the window.
Chico is the business member of the quartet. It was he who arranged for their first appearance in a Broadway show.
Harpo was once a bellboy at the Hotel Seville. He earned an extra twenty-five cents a week from Cissie Loftus for taking her dog for a daily stroll. Chico played the piano in nickelodeons. Groucho drove a grocery wagon in Cripple Creek, Col. He had a burning desire to become a prize fighter.
Whenever they want to get out of an engagement Harpo fakes an appendicitis.
Their dressing room is always filled with visitors. Herbert Swope, Neysa McMein, Harold Ross, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun and Alice Duer Miller are nightly visitors when they have a show in town.
Chico will bet on anything. Merely say it is a nice day and he will say: “I’ll bet you.”
Harpo’s and Zeppo’s favorite dish is crab flakes and spaghetti. Groucho and Chico, on the other plate, are especially fond of dill pickles and red caviar.
The four of them play the stock market. That’s why they’re still in the show business.
Whenever Groucho wants to visit his broker he tells his wife he is going to play golf. He visits his broker attired in a golf outfit, carrying a bag of clubs.
Are always playing practical jokes. Annoy interviewers by pretending they are slightly deaf. Another gag is Groucho telling their life story. He stops at a certain point saying: “This is all I remember of my life. Chico knows the rest.” Chico continues with an entirely different story. He also stops in the middle, offers the same excuse, referring the interviewer to Zeppo, who continues the process until all four have told a different story of their lives.
Offstage Groucho, Chico and Zeppo occasionally wear glasses.
Zeppo is in the real estate business. He tries to sell property backstage.
Harpo is the best poker player of The Thanatopsis Club. Has won enough money from Heywood Broun to pay for young Heywood’s tuition fee through any college in the country. Is also a great croquet player. Often plays in Central Park for a thousand dollars a game.
Their grandfather was a noted strolling German magician. Their grandmother was also in the act. She played the “accompanying music” on a harp.
They failed to click only once. In a London Music Hall. The Englishmen booed and threw pennies on the stage. Groucho stepped to the footlights and told them they were cheap. He dared them to throw shillings. They made more money at the performance than they were paid for the week.
To Harpo every woman, regardless of her name, is Mrs. Benson.
Harpo can play any musical instrument. Chico plays the piano and harp. Groucho plays the guitar. Zeppo likes to listen to the radio.

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Times Square Tintypes: Helen Westley

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles American character actress, Helen Westley.


THERE‘s always a woman in the case. And the Theatre Guild has HELEN WESTLEY.
Her full name is Henrietta Remsen Meserole Westley. She comes from a clan of prim old Huguenots. Two streets in Brooklyn, Remsen and Meserole, are named after her ancestors.
Is downhearted because men look upon her in a motherly fashion.
For years her stage was the back room of Greenwich Village cafés and bookstores. She wandered in, strutted her stuff and wandered out—a will-o’-the-wisp. One evening a group of intellectuals planned to start a theater. This little elf entered and this time she didn’t leave. Today she’s a trade-mark.
Her passion is reading subtitles aloud. Talking pictures annoy her.
She believes in God and is a member of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Claims she is a good luck piece of the Guild. Must have a hand in everything they do. She played in both Strange Interlude and Faust the same evening. Merely left one play about the third act, hurried down the street with makeup on and went on in the other.
Her purse is large enough to pass as baggage at any hotel. It always contains a mess of bills, cosmetics, letters, keys, bric-a-brac and ashes.
Flowers, she thinks, are horrid. Her summer home, a shack at Croton, is surrounded by weeds.
Haunts second-hand stores. She detests breaking in new garments. Her shoes are one size too large. At present she is wearing a cane.
Likes to use big words in conversation. The listener generally doesn’t know what they mean.
She never gets peeved. Is always quaint.
Adores babies and makes special visits just to pinch their cheeks. She has a gentle pinch.
Went to Paris once. Drank milk of magnesia all the way over so she wouldn’t get seasick. Stayed eleven days and never went outside of Montmartre.
Envies Heywood Brown for his ability to dress better.
The only restaurant she ever liked was in Chicago. Raved about it for five months. Then arranged a supper party there. Paying the railroad fare of four guests. Arriving, she learned the restaurant had been closed by the Health Department.
Studies Yoga philosophy.
Belongs to over twenty freak societies. With the hope that some day one of them might amount to something.
Calls upon her friends without notice. And whenever the desire seizes her. Regardless of the time. Thinks nothing of returning a book at three in the morning.
She buys costumes from old Theatre Guild plays and uses them for street clothes.
Her most precious possession is a jade necklace. Whenever she gets another piece she adds it up to the necklace. It now hangs about her knees.
Before her daughter, Ethel Westley, was born she attended the Metropolitan Opera House and visited the art museums weekly so the child would be artistic.
She claims she was the first modern woman.
Traffic doesn’t bother her. When wishing to cross a congested avenue in a hurry she merely lets out a terrific shriek. People as well as autos stop.
She feels she should know more policemen.
Goes for long walks with a bottle of milk under her arm and feeds stray cats. While on these journeys she also buys liver for dogs. The delicatessen store near the Guild Theatre has a standing order to feed all stray cats and charge it to her milk fund.
Thinks the North was right in the civil war.
When her daughter was to be married the entire Theatre Guild acting asked her what Ethel would like for a wedding gift. She replied: “Ethel is very fond of coffee pots.” Ethel received thirty-eight coffee pots.
She groans when she walks up a flight of stairs.
She washes herself with oil.