Texas Guinan

Texas Guinan
Born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan
(1884-01-12)January 12, 1884
Waco, Texas, U.S.
Died November 5, 1933(1933-11-05) (aged 49)
Vancouver, Canada
Occupation Actress, producer, entrepreneur
Years active 1906–1933
Spouse(s) John J. Moynahan (1904–1906; divorced)
Julian Johnson (1910–1920; divorced)
David Townsend (19??-19??)

Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan (January 12, 1884 – November 5, 1933) was an American actress, producer, and entrepreneur.

Early life

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.[1]

Career rise

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's 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 40 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.[2]

At this hangout of the wealthy, George Gershwin often played impromptu piano for wealthy guests such as Reggie Vanderbilt, Harry Payne Whitney, and Walter Chrysler, and celebrities such as Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Pola Negri, Mae West, Al Jolson, Jeanne Eagels, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Beatriz Michelena, Clara Bow, Hope Hampton, Irving Berlin, John Barrymore, Dolores Costello, Leatrice Joy, and Rudolph Valentino, as well as socialites such as Gloria Morgan (mother of Gloria Vanderbilt) 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.[3]

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!"

She was also close friends with legendary illustrator J. C. Leyendecker. They shared a building in the basement of which she had a speakeasy called Club Intime. The middle floor was Leyendecker's studio, and the top floor was where she hid the bar. Together, they held lavish parties which the elite of society would attend.

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 Thru 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.[4]


While on the road with Too Hot For Paris, she contracted amoebic dysentery in Chicago, Illinois, during the epidemic in the Congress Hotel; she fell ill 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 along with two of her former lawyers and writer Heywood Broun.[5]

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.

Guinan was portrayed by actress De Sacia Mooers in the now-lost 1927 silent film Broadway Nights.

Guinan was portrayed on film in Incendiary Blonde (1945) by Betty Hutton, and in Splendor in the Grass (1961) by Phyllis Diller in Diller's first screen role.

"Texie" Garcia, the gun moll of the Capone-inspired villain Big Boy in Dick Tracy, was partly inspired by 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 act.)

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.

In the 1984 film The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the part of "Vera" (played by Diane Lane) is loosely based on Guinan.

Madonna had a musical in the works in late 2004 with herself 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 that 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.

On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise-D's bartender Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) was named after Texas Guinan.

In 1960, Texas Guinan was portrayed under the name Sally Kansas in "The Larry Fay Story", an episode of The Untouchables. Sally Kansas was played by veteran actress June Havoc.

Guinan appears as a character in Patrick Culhane's novel Black Hats (April 2007). Culhane is a pseudonym of Max Allan Collins.

In the musical Chicago, the character Velma Kelly is inspired by Texas Guinan, and also uses the phrase "Hello, suckers!" during the play.

In the 1961 film production The George Raft Story, Texas Guinan is played by Barbara Nichols.


The She Wolf (1919)
Poster for The Boss of the Rancho (1919)
Poster for The Night Rider (1920)



  1. Sizer (2008), p 83.
  2. Sizer (2008), p 96.
  3. Sizer (2008), p 99.
  4. "Texas Guinan". Texasescapes.com. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  5. Sizer (2008), p 103.
  6. "Texas Guinan". Texasescapes.com. Retrieved 2008-12-06.


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