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: Richard Bennett

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles stage actor Richard Bennett.
 

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SOME day someone will write another Royal Family. It will be a tale of the mad, mad Bennetts. For that author, here’s some data about the head of the clan: RICHARD BENNETT.
Caricature of Richard BennettHe is always positive.
Has two favorite dishes. One is plain lamb chops. The other is a bowl of wilted lettuce.
Has three daughters. Joan, Constance and Barbara. All began their careers by performing in the movies.
When he rehearsed in Jarnegan he wore only a pink nightgown.
Drinks a quart of Apollinaris water every day on rising. Gets the water free by mentioning it in the play he happens to be in.
He calls the box office from his dressing room before every performance to ask how the house is. Doesn’t give instructions to raise the curtain until satisfied.
Likes to encourage extras. Tells them that he rose from the ranks himself. He never was an extra in his life.
Claims a man’s best friend is his press agent and his worst enemy an ex-wife. He has two of each.
Always does rewriting in which he appears. What Every Woman Knows he believes to be the best play he ever appeared in. Because he didn’t have to do any rewriting with that, he considers Sir James Barrie the greatest writer in the world.
He can talk a great fight. His right hook, however, is a think to duck.
After What Every Woman Knows closed and he parted with Maude Adams, he took advantage of the fact that she was opening in Chanticleer to send her this wire: “I congratulate you on the realization of your fondest ambition—at last you are your own leading man.”
He retires at four every morning. Rises promptly at twelve. Eats only one meal a day. That at six o’clock. However, he loves to act in plays that give him a chance to eat on stage.
Hates interviewers who don’t come armed with complete information about his career. Tells them to consult Who’s Who—which contains only a fragmentary account.
Makes a curtain speech every time he has something to get off his chest. The stage is his soap box.
His luck charm is a white elephant.
If an actor stands in the wings talking while he is acting he invents some excuse to leave the stage. Then tells the actor to stop talking or have his head knocked off.
If the front door of the theater is opened by some peerer-in he stops acting until the glare from the outside has passed. If particularly annoyed he steps to the front of the stage and yells at the person.
His favorite literature is “The Songs of Solomon.”
Wants to be cremated when he dies so he’ll be used to it when he gets there.
Holds a kind of soirée in his dressing room every night after the second act. Has hundreds of visitors. Mostly broken down actors, rich acquaintances and young feminine admirers.
He likes to frighten Boy Scouts.
He counts that day lost when he doesn’t add a new line to the play he happens to be in.
Spends so much time in adjusting the makeup that he never leaves the theater after a matinée. Thus avoids removing and replacing the grease-paint. Passes the time between performances by either sleeping or entertaining.
He plays the piano, banjo and guitar. Believes that he could make a living as a tap dancer.
His wife is his attention caller. She plays solitaire in his dressing room every evening.
He never wore a wig. Dyes his hair to suit the rô. His hair has been blond, black, brown, red and gray.
He insists upon owning the road rights of any show he is in. Quarreled with the Theatre Guild over Playing at Love, later titled Caprice, because of this and quit the show.
No woman with a double chin is beautiful to him.
When traveling he carries with him a necktie board that irons them while you sleep.
He is a man of much talent. Shaves himself. Manicures his own nails. Cuts his own hair.
Once at Texas Guinan‘s night club he drew a Bible from his hip pocket and read it to the assemblage. Everybody kept quiet and listened. He panicked them.
He wears only a green smock when sleeping.
Considers himself one of the ten greatest actors in the world. Has a difficult time naming the other nine. Generally being unable to get past Forbes-Robertson.
No matter what play he is appearing in he never promises to go on for more than one act.
He has one hair growing on each shoulder.