Born on 12 January 1884 in Waco, Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan played a gun-slinger and rode bareback in silent films, took New York by storm in 1906, and earned a salary of $700,000 as a speakeasy hostess. Here are highlights from a life led at full speed until 5 November 1933. Meet TEXAS GUINAN!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Texas: Wild about Harry

TEXAS GUINAN knew some shady characters - - and Harry "Champ" Segal had a special blaze in his heart for the two-gun woman.

• • Harry "Champ" Segal, a former boxer and bookie, ran a little joint in midtown that was disguised as a barbershop but was really an underground bookmaking and loan-sharking operation. Champ's bosom buddies included Legs Diamond, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, and other gangsters who were on familiar terms with New York's fearless "girl of the rancho."
• • Although Champ Segal never won a title in the ring, the dapper hoodlum managed many prizefighters - - Bantamweight Champion Charley "Phil" Rosenberg [1902-1976], Ace Hudson, Phil Kaplan, Heavyweight Champion Freddy Beshore [1922-1981], Sal Belloise - - and had 118 fights himself, 78 of which he won by knock-outs.
• • Texas Guinan enjoyed his patronage and she got a kick out of the always impeccably dressed wheel-dealer. Champ Segal admired Texas, a fellow independent operator, and included anecdotes about their friendship in his book.
• • Born in Harlem in 1899, by 1917 he had an arrest record for possessing narcotics. In 1927 he was locked up in connection with a homicide at his restaurant on St. Nicholas Avenue and West 112th Street. Throughout his hair-raising past he must have been taking notes for this biography that his brother published in November 1959, which was called "a daring and exciting book about the world of sports, gambling, gangsters, and politicians from the 1920s to the present day." Though Champ was as solitary a figure as Charlie Chaplin, astonishingly he did have a brother; Hyman's name appeared on the dustjacket: They Called Him Champ: the Story of Champ Segal and His Fabulous Era by Hyman R. Segal [NY: Citadel Press, 1959; 480 pages with b/w photographs].
• • Texas Guinan, Mae West, Al Capone, Larry Fay, Legs Diamond, Bugsy Siegel, Primo Carnera, Mayor Jimmy Walker - - they've all made book, so to speak.
• • November 1959 there was a book launch at Lindy's Restaurant with his buddies from Stillman's Gym.
• • That was a better November than nine years earlier for Champ Segal. On 1 November 1950 the 51-year-old bookie was arrested outside of the Park-Sheraton Hotel, where he'd been living. This was part of a Times Square round-up of gangsters by the police. Champ Segal slipped through the grasp of the city's legal eagles, however. The colorful con man was still being indicted in 1974 when he was age 77.
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• • Illustration: Hyman R. Segal • • 1959 dustjacket • •

Texas Guinan.