Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan (January 12, 1884 – November 5, 1933) was an American actress, producer and entrepreneur. Born in Texas to immigrant parents, she decided at an early age to become an entertainer. After becoming a star on the New York stage, the repercussions of her involvement in a weight loss scam motivated her to switch careers to the film business. Spending several years in California appearing in numerous productions, she eventually formed her own company.
What she is most remembered for are the speakeasy clubs she managed during Prohibition. Her clubs catered to the rich and famous, as well as to aspiring talent. After being arrested and indicted during a law enforcement sweep of speakeasy clubs, she was acquitted during her trial.
Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan|
January 12, 1884
Waco, Texas, U.S.
November 5, 1933 (aged 49)|
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
|Occupation||Actress, producer, entrepreneur|
|Spouse(s)||John J. Moynahan (1904–1906; divorced)|
Guinan was one of four siblings born in Waco, Texas, to immigrants Michael and Bessie (née Duffy) Guinan, who had immigrated separately as adults, meeting and marrying in Colorado[FN 1]. Both parents were of Irish ancestry. They initially operated a wholesale grocery business. Relocating to Texas, they ran a horse and cattle ranch. As a child, she was nicknamed "Mamie", and attended parochial school at the Loretta Convent in Waco. Growing up on a ranch provided her with basic cowboy skills, and she honed her marksmanship at a local shooting gallery. In 1898, her parents were successful in securing her a two-year scholarship to the American Conservatory of Music offered by Chicago businessman Marshall Field. After developing her soprano vocal talents, and finishing her studies, she joined a touring acting troupe that featured American "Wild West" entertainment.
By 1904 using the name Marie Guinan, she married newspaper cartoonist John Moynahan on December 2. Two years later, Moynahan took a job in Boston. The couple eventually divorced, and Guinan moved to New York to pursue a career as a singer in the entertainment business. For years, she claimed she had been born with the name Texas, and never let facts stand in the way of her narrative. In a full-page 1910 interview in The San Francisco Call, she stated her father "was the first white child seen in Waco", although he had been a married adult when he arrived, and white settlers had been there since the early to mid-19th century.
Theatre critic and Photoplay editor Julian Johnson was her companion for a decade, and was influential in the creation of her public persona. Many erroneously believed them to be married. Her 1933 obituaries mention Johnson as her second husband, and millionaire George E. Townley as a third husband. Lacking any verification that the latter two marriages took place, Moynahan is now believed to have been her only husband.
Johnson's connection is thought to have led to a poem carrying her byline being printed in Photoplay. An alleged connection to the U.S. Senator from Texas, Joseph Weldon Bailey, evolved over time from a nonspecific tie to her family, to Guinan's being the senator's niece. The niece relationship seems implausible, since her parents were born and raised in a different country than either Senator Bailey or his wife. Mentions of him coincide with the timeline of her association with Julian Johnson. While he was editor at Photoplay, an article written by then-staff journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns remarked that Guinan, " ... bore a distinct resemblance to her uncle, Senator Joe Bailey of Texas."
Initially finding work as a chorus girl, she adopted the stage name Texas Guinan to give herself an edge in the competitive marketplaces of vaudeville and New York theatre productions. Within a year, she had the female lead in a stage production of Simple Simon Simple, during which she accidentally shot herself on stage with a loaded gun. In 1908, she received favorable notices for her performance in The Gibson Girl Review. That same year, she placed an advertisement in newspapers offering $1,000 to any songwriter who provided her with a song of equal popularity to the Gus Edwards–penned "That's What the Rose Said to Me" She appeared as a soprano vocalist in many productions, including The Gay Musician, The Hoyden and The Lone Star.
She had achieved a degree of national stardom by 1910. John P. Slocum managed her when she appeared in his multiyear touring production of The Kissing Girl. When Ned Wayburn rolled out his production of The Passing Show on a national tour in 1913, Guinan was one of the headliners. Coinciding with the publicity for the tour, Guinan licensed her name and image to be used by W. C. Cunningham for a weight-loss plan. The advertisements that appeared in media across the country claimed Guinan had lost 70 pounds on the plan. Investigative journalism by the Chicago Tribune alleged that Guinan knowingly acted as a shill in perpetuating a fraud upon the public. A subsequent investigation by the postal service revealed it to be a swindle. United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson quickly acted to prohibit Guinan from receiving mail through the postal service. Although she continued on the stage, the incident damaged her career, and was a motivating factor in expanding her repertoire by trying her hand in the California film business.
Guinan appeared as Zaza in the variety show Hop-o'-My-Thumb, based on a French fairytale of the same name. The show opened at the Manhattan Opera House November 26, 1913, and closed January 1, 1914. She toured the United States with the Whirl of the World musical comedy in 1915. The tour coincided with her unverified account of being casually approached in Berlin by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who engaged her in conversation as she sat alone reading a book.
She appeared in the musical Gay Paree that opened at the Shubert Theatre on August 18, 1925 and closed on January 30, 1926. Guinan was part of the cast of the musical Padlocks of 1927, also at the Shubert.
In a film career that began in 1917 and continued through 1933, she was part of the vanguard of women filmmakers in the United States. Her later claim of being in France in 1917 entertaining the troops, and being decorated with a bronze medal by France field marshall Joseph Joffre, has been proven false by the timeline and California location of her prolific film making. Triangle Film Corporation, founded in 1915 by Harry and Roy Aitken, featured Guinan in four two-reel shorts between 1917 and 1918, The Fuel of Life, The Stainless Barrier, The Gun Woman and The Love Brokers. Unlike the musical genre she was known for on stage, she was now moving towards the Western movie genre, and on her dressing room door appeared a map of the state of Texas, rather than her name. Triangle began billing her as "the female Bill Hart" in reference to the industry's first Western star who at that time topped fandom popularity polls.
Frohman Brothers were Broadway producers. In 1918, brother Daniel Frohman and partner William L. Sherrill formed the Frohman Amusement Corporation for the express purpose of engaging in the motion picture business. They made more than a dozen films with Guinan in 1918, including The Boss of the Rancho and The Heart of Texas.
During her years with Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft, she began to expand towards the production end of film making, as a unit department head on the films Outwitted, The Lady of the Law, The Girl of the Rancho, The Desert Vulture, and at least five other productions. She created Texas Guinan Productions in 1921 to produce Code of the West, Spitfire and Texas of the Mounted. After I Am the Woman and The Stampede for Victor Kremer Film Features, she returned to New York.
Guinan was again seen on 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 Walter Winchell) shortly before her death.
The 1920 Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution put Prohibition into effect, making sales or transport of alcoholic beverages illegal. While it ruined legitimate businesses, people continued drinking alcohol. Those who transported and sold it were known as "bootleggers". Thus began the establishment of the speakeasy private clubs, a cultural phenomenon in which Guinan excelled. Her introduction into the business was when speakeasy partners Emil Gervasini and John Levi of the Beaux Arts club hired Guinan in 1923 as a singer, for which she was paid $50,000.
Texas Guinan, December 1927
Guinan's give-and-take dialogue with the customers inspired producer Nils Granlund to put together a full floor show with Guinan presiding as emcee for Ziegfeld Follies chorus girls. Bootleg huckster Larry Fay struck a deal with them to feature the show at his El Fey Club on West 47th Street in Manhattan. There, she became known for her catchphrase, "Hello, Sucker! Come on in and leave your wallet on the bar." In return for being the draw to attract wealthy and powerful clientele, Guinan received 50% of the profits. Ruby Keeler, Barbara Stanwyck and George Raft were discovered by talent scouts while working as dancers at the club. After being shut down by the police, she opened the Texas Guinan Club at 117 West 48th Street, also closed by the police. She and Fay later opened the Del-Fey Club in Miami the same year. By her own account, they once took in $700,000 in less than a year.
When Guinan returned to New York in January 1926, as hostess of the 300 Club at 151 W. 54th Street, the opening night's event was the marriage ceremony for actress Wilda Bennett and Argentine dancer Abraham "Peppy" de Albrew. Other celebrities who visited her club were Al Jolson, Scottish operatic soprano Mary Garden, Jack Dempsey, American operatic soprano Geraldine Farrar, and the Prince of Waes.
In July 1926, the 300 Club was raided by the police, who seized bottles of liquor and arrested two people for "violation of the section of the penal code forbidding suggestive dances". The last week of June 1928, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt ordered a raid of speakeasy clubs in New York. Guinan, Helen Morgan (hostess of Chez Helen Morgan), Nils Granlund, and 104 others were arrested, and indicted by a federal grand jury. Guinan, Morgan and Granlund faced two years in prison, with a $10,000 maximum fine, if convicted. The others indicted were employees and patrons, who faced lesser penalties. At her April 1929 trial, Guinan was acquitted.
During the Great Depression, she took her show on the road. She attempted to move to Europe, but Scotland Yard threatened to board her ship if she tried to land in England, where she was on their list of "barred aliens". The show was banned from France under labor technicalities. Guinan had a contract with a Paris club, but French employment laws dissuaded non-citizens from working in France. She turned this to her advantage by launching the satirical revue Too Hot for Paris upon her return to the states.
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, age 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.
Guinan is interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. 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. She was survived by both of her parents. Her mother died at age 101 in 1959. Her father was 81 years old at his death on May 14, 1935. The newspaper obituary listed his place of birth as Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, and his profession as a wholesale grocer. Her brothers Tommy and William P., as well as her sister Mrs. George C. Smith, also survived her.
|1917||The Fuel of Life||Triangle Film Corporation|||
|1917||The Stainless Barrier||Triangle Film Corporation|||
|1918||The Gun Woman||Triangle Film Corporation|||
|1918||The Love Brokers||Triangle Film Corporation|||
|1918||Getaway Kate||Astra Films|||
|1918||The Hell Cat||Goldwyn Pictures|||
|1919||The Boss of the Rancho||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Call of Bob White||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Dangerous Little Devil||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Dead Man's Hand||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Girl of Hell's Agony||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Heart of Texas||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||Just Bill||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||Little Miss Deputy||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||Malamute Meg||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Sacrifice||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The She Wolf||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||Some Gal||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||South of Santa Fe||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||The Spirit of Cabin Mine||Frohman Amusement Corp.|||
|1919||Letters of Fire||Melody Productions|||
|1919||The Love Defender||World Film Company|||
|1919||Texas Guinan and Jack Hane|||
|1919||My Lady Robin Hood||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft|||
|1919||Outwitted||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1919||The Lady of the Law||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1919||The Girl of the Rancho||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1919||The Desert Vulture||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1919||Fighting the Vigilantes||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1920||The Moonshine Feud||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1920||The Night Rider||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1920||Not Guilty||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1920||The White Squaw||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft||also unit department head|||
|1920||The Wildcat||Bull's Eye Productions/Reelcraft|||
|1921||Code of the West||Texas Guinan Productions|||
|1921||Spitfire||Texas Guinan Productions|||
|1921||Texas of the Mounted||Texas Guinan Productions|||
|1921||I Am the Woman||Victor Kremer Film Features|||
|1921||The Stampede||Victor Kremer Film Features|||
|1924||Night Life of New York||Famous Players-Lasky|||
|1929||Queen of the Night Clubs||Warner Bros.|||
|1929||Glorifying the American Girl||Paramount Famous Lansky Corp.||Uncredited as herself|||
|1933||Broadway Through a Keyhole||Twentieth Century Pictures||Written by Walter Winchell|||