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!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Texas Guinan: Uncuffed Curfew

TEXAS GUINAN had a long string of rocking, rowdy nightspots where, as she proclaimed in her ads, "Curfew shall not ring tonight."  One was The 300 Club at 151 West 54th Street (now the site of London NYC Hotel).
• • Burton W. Peretti wrote:  In 1926, on 54th Street in midtown Manhattan, the entertainer Mary "Texas" Guinan's 300 Club glowed with color and resonated with activity.  Stephen Graham, an Englishman, recalled his visit to the club with pleasure. "The walls are covered with pleated cloth and the roof tented with the same cloth softly toned in old rose, green, and sere yellow. There are hanging Chinese lanterns, and on the walls illuminated designs of parrots. There are twenty or thirty tables and a small space in the middle of them for intimate dancing. The lighting is wonderful."  
Texas Guinan on menu of 300 Club
• • cigarette girl: blue satin trousers with a crimson sash • •
• • Burton W. Peretti continued: "A charming girl in blue satin trousers and wearing a crimson sash" sold cigarettes while "a smart girl in black with silver flowers on her hips" dispensed gift dolls. A guitar quartet strolled amid well-heeled patrons such as Harry Thaw (the wealthy playboy famed for his murder of the architect Stanford White twenty years earlier) and the mayor of New York City himself, James J. Walker, "flitting in elegantly to touch the hands of several of a large party and yield his charming smile to the ladies." Texas Guinan, the mistress of ceremonies, appeared to introduce her "near-naked girls" and "a song about cherries." 
300 Club - business card
• • Burton W. Peretti added: "Cherries!" the crowd shouted. One "girl . . . put a cherry into each man's mouth. One took the cherry and kissed the girl's fingertips. Another girl following ruffled up men's hair as she passed." A young man was recruited to dance with the chorines, the audience sang "And She Knows Her Onions!" and Guinan tossed finger-clappers and snowballs made of felt to the customers. The show concluded with a merry projectile fight. The hostess pelted a pair of newlyweds with rice and the clock struck five. "One of the waiters borrowed a horn from the jazz band and blew dreadful reveilles into the ears of the sleepers." By sunrise, even Guinan herself had become sedate.
• • Burton W. Peretti continued:  Shortly after Stephen Graham's visit, the 300 Club became a victim of official suppression. According to the New York Times, four hundred patrons were present that night, including two U.S. senators (whom the Times discreetly did not name) and twenty visitors from Georgia welcoming home the new champion of the British Open golf tournament, Bobby Jones (who was not at the club). 
• • Burton W. Peretti stated:  Two New York City policewomen, "dressed and acting as if they were visiting flappers seeking a thrill," staked out the premises in advance. When vice officers and federal Prohibition agents announced the raid, some male customers tried to "fight it out" and were arrested.  
Texas Guinan enters the paddy wagon
• • Burton W. Peretti noted: Also taken into custody were Guinan's father, Michael, the club manager, and seventeen-year-old Julia Dunn, a chorus member charged with "having taken part in an objectionable dance . . . in flesh-colored tights almost covered with imitation pearl beads." The site of the 300 Club was shuttered for six months. In city court, however, Julia Dunn was freed by the magistrate, who ruled that the narrow distance between tables had forced her to dance amid the customers. Michael and Texas Guinan were acquitted after a trial, and none of their customers were punished as well. After the padlock came off of the front door, the old 300 Club venue housed similar liquor-dealing nightclubs, including the Club Argonaut owned by Larry Fay, the man who gave Texas Guinan her start in the nightclub business in 1922.
• • The short life of the 300 Club is part of the fascinating and important history of Manhattan nightclubs between World Wars I and II. . . .
• • Source:  "Nightclub City: Politics and Amusement in Manhattan" by Burton W. Peretti
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• • The legal battles fought by Mae West and Jim Timony are dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets," set during the Prohibition Era. Texas Guinan is in some scenes, too.
Watch a scene on YouTube.

• • Website for all things Mae West 

• • Exciting Texas Guinan news is on the horizon. More anon.
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• • Photo: Texas Guinan
• • in the kitchen • •

Texas Guinan.

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