Image Of Candy Barr: Celebrating America'S Iconic '50S' Porn Princess
Candy Barr: The Pioneering Icon - Exploring America's First Porn Princess of the 1950s

Candy Barr: America’s First Porn Princess of the 1950’s

Candy Barr (Juanita Dale Slusher) pranced into Dallas in 1949 as a wide-eyed 13-year-old runaway with a baby-doll face, but with a body that would make Bettie Page blush.
14 mins read

Candy Barr Was A Runaway Texas Hayseed

Juanita was born in 1935 during the Depression era when a boll weevil infestation was devastating the region’s cotton crop, forcing people to leave their farms. She was molested by her older neighbor. At the age of nine, her mother died from falling out of a moving car. Her father, a bricklayer nicknamed “Doc,” married a new wife who enjoyed whipping the stepchildren.

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess

Juanita had a knack as a singer and dancer — the sort of talents that might draw a schoolgirl toward cheerleading for the Edna High School Cowboys. But she quit ninth grade and ran away to Dallas, where the brief marriage to Billy Joe Debbs preceded her CommerceStreet career and the featured role in the silent, black-and-white smoker film.

Juanita Dale Slusher arrived in Dallas in 1949 as a youthful and innocent 13-year-old runaway, captivating everyone with her doll-like features. However, it was her stunning physique that would leave even Bettie Page envious.

She was a Texas hayseed from a dusty town 300 miles south of Dallas, and the Big D saw her coming. The junior-high dropout worked as a hotel chambermaid just long enough to learn that there were other ways to make money with mattresses.

At the age of 14, she entered into marriage, but Juanita’s relationship with her teenage husband was hindered by his primary talent for stealing. In order to survive, like numerous struggling divorcees, she navigated towards the risqué nightclubs located on Commerce Street in downtown Dallas.

Juanita sold cigarettes and served cocktails to the men who visited the clubs for adult merriment — businessmen in town from Houston or Oklahoma City, ranchers up from Waco, college frat boys on weekend wing dings. The pert teen, an athletic five-foot three-inches, became a favorite of the butt-pinching set. She coloured her brown hair platinum and used giggles and wiggles to induce pickled fellows to tuck astonishing tips in her smock pockets.

The young and lively teenager, who stood at an athletic height of five feet three inches, captivated the attention of a group known for their pervy behaviour. She transformed her brown hair into a platinum shade and employed laughter and playful movements to entice intoxicated individuals into generously placing surprising tips in her lingerie.

Each customer had a come on, and she would reciprocate their flirtation. By the end of the evening, the majority of them received a gentle kiss on the cheek and a friendly pat on the head. However, there were a select few exceptionally generous customers who experienced more intimate encounters – an expression of Texas hospitality rather than engaging in prostitution.

Movie Star Potential…Porn Princess In The Making

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess

One individual exerted significant effort to manipulate the situation. He claimed to be a film director and successfully persuaded Juanita that she had the potential to become a movie star. However, it would have been wise for Juanita to approach this situation with skepticism. The supposed screen test did not take place in Hollywood as expected, but rather in San Antonio.

Slusher achieved film stardom with her role as the female lead in the silent stag film, “Smart Alec.”

There wasn’t much of a plot to Smart Alec, even by porn-film standards.

A traveling salesman (the actor’s identity has never been determined) meets Juanita’s character at a motel pool. He entices her back to his room, where vigorous fornication ensues. When the man seeks oral sex, she demurs and calls upon a female friend to help out.

Happy Endings All Around. Fade To Black.

During that time period, adult films were acquired in a discreet manner through the purchase of 8mm or 16mm reels. These reels would then be shown at exclusive gatherings like poker nights, boxing events, stag parties, and fraternity houses.

Smart Alec became one of the most popular early porn films, the Deep Throat of its day. In their book Dirty Movies, which traces the history of stag films, authors Al Di Lauro and Gerald Rabkin called Smart Alec “the single most popular film of the genre.”

During that period, numerous homemade blue films showcased pimps and their associated prostitutes. In most cases, the performers appeared tore back and unattractive, if not repulsive. The allure of Smart Alec relied solely on Juanita, the protagonist. She possessed exceptional beauty for the adult film industry and exuded genuine pleasure.

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess
Jack Ruby

According to critic Hall, when watching the film ‘Smart Alec’ today, it becomes evident why it gained such popularity. The primary factor behind its success was Candy Barr, who stood out as the most stunning woman in pornography. Unlike most adult film stars who don’t resemble movie stars, Barr had a Hollywood-worthy appearance with her beauty and an attractive physique measuring 38-22-36. Moreover, she possessed a vibrant personality that resonated with the camera. It was hard to believe that she was only 16 years old when she participated in the movie.

At 16, Juanita Slusher earned the title of America’s inaugural porn princess with her 20-minute blue romp.

However, It Was Merely The Start Of A Life Lived In The Public Eye

She had a successful career as a renowned stripper, mingling with prominent individuals, including a notorious mobster. Her arrest for marijuana possession made her a symbol of the “Reefer Madness” era in the 1950s. Being a trusted companion of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, authorities questioned her regarding President Kennedy’s assassination.

She was a fiercely independent woman, taking on anyone who crossed her, from the abusive husband (one of four) whom she bravely shot in the groin to the police officers she believed framed her for the marijuana arrest.

In the later years of her life, as pornography gained more acceptance and became increasingly prevalent in American popular culture, she emerged as a revered symbol for sex workers, contemporary burlesque performers, and individuals who engage with these professions.

Juanita Slusher Was Described As A “Great Sex Goddess And Artist”

Juanita was a pioneering exotic dancer who paved the path for the “sex-positive” feminism that emerged in the 1980s and for the American sexual liberation that popularized sexuality.

Shortly before starting her burlesque career, Juanita adopted a stage name that secured her position among the world’s most renowned exotic dancers, including Salome, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, Mata Hari, Chesty Morgan, and Fanne Foxe.

Juanita Dale Slusher, a teenager with a fondness for sweets, adopted the stage name Candy Barr.

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess
Playbill from the Carousel Club

Juanita’s body became a hot commodity when she returned to Commerce Street after the film shoot.

Commerce flows alongside Main Street in the bustling downtown area of Dallas. This vibrant strip serves as a magnet for visitors from out of town, particularly those with generous budgets, who are enticed by the presence of esteemed hotels such as the Adolphus and the Magnolia. Additionally, an array of nightclubs including the Century Room, Theater Lounge, Carousel, and Colony Club compete for these patrons’ attention by presenting captivating nightly variety shows reminiscent of Vaudeville’s evolution into a new era. These performances encompass elements like comedy acts, live musical performances, and even daring stripteases.

After graduating from being a cocktail waitress, Juanita had various club options to choose from. She decided to take a job at Abe Weinstein’s Colony Club, located at 1322 ½ Commerce St. This club had a better reputation compared to Jack Ruby’s Carousel, which was located just two doors away.

Weinstein gave Juanita the stage name Candy Barr, which made her famous. He sought a sexy and catchy name, similar to Tempest Storm, to fulfill Juanita’s desire for confection as a teenager.

Dallas Soon Began To Salivate Over Candy.

She frequented Tony Zoppi’s “Dallas After Dark” column in the city’s Morning News. While exploring the nightlife of the Big D, Zoppi evaluated club strippers as if they were racehorses. Candy Barr was often compared to another Texan who gained fame in the 1950s, singer/actress Debbie Reynolds.

Candy’s Wardrobe Stood Apart

For her signature striptease, she would enter the stage dressed in a complete Annie Oakley buckskin outfit. By the end of her five-minute routine, she would only be wearing her panties, pasties, cowboy boots, white cowboy hat, and twin holsters hanging low on her hips.

For her grand finale, she would shoot her cap guns into the air as the enthusiastic crowd burst into rebellious cheers of “yee-haw!”

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess

Offstage, Candy enjoyed spending time at the Carousel after hours, where owner Jack Ruby became a close friend and father figure. Little did she know that he would also achieve fame in the future.

In 1953, Candy Barr entered into marriage again with Troy Phillips, a nightclub denizen who also became her husband and manager.

They welcomed a daughter in early 1955, amidst their conflicts.

The Colony Club greatly missed Candy during her absence on maternity leave. Abe Weinstein enticed her to return with a lucrative three-year contract offering $2,000 per week. The baby was sent back to Edna, Texas, and was raised by family members, while Candy thrived as a highly profitable stripper, earning $100,000 annually.

But Her Career Hit A Setback

Her marriage to Phillips ended during the holiday season in 1955. Candy initiated divorce proceedings and relocated to her own apartment in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. However, Phillips did not leave without causing one final conflict. On Jan. 28, 1956, Candy had finished her shift at the Colony and was tucked in bed when the phone rang at 3 a.m. The caller hung up when she answered.

Candy Barr: America'S First Porn Princess Of The 1950'S
Candy Barr dressed for her signature striptease

After a few hours, Phillips arrived at her doorstep. However, when Candy declined to allow him entry, he forcefully kicked down the door and proceeded to wander drunkenly throughout her apartment.

Candy said she warned Phillips that she had a gun and would use it. She grabbed a .22 rifle from a closet and fled the apartment. Phillips closely followed her, bizarrely demanding that she kowtow to him by lighting his cigarette.

“I’m going to make you light my cigarette,” she quoted him as saying, “and then I’m going to beat you.”

From a distance of six feet, she aimed the rifle at her husband and fired, hitting him in the lower abdomen, near the groin. Claiming her aim was off, she admitted to missing high.

The story caused a sensation in Dallas, with the papers raving about the “attractive blond entertainer.” Colony Club owner Weinstein appeared at the police station to post her $10,000 bail. He was fully aware of the significant publicity gained.

“We’re already having standing-room crowds,” he told news scribes. “This’ll mean we’ll have to turn more customers away.” The charges were dropped two weeks after the shooting, as Phillips admitted to being intoxicated and difficult.

After the shooting, Candy became widely known throughout Texas.

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess
Poster: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Robert Glenn, a producer at the Little Theater in Dallas, capitalized on her fame in 1957 by casting Candy in the prominent role of Rita Marlowe, portrayed on Broadway and in the film by Jayne Mansfield, in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Tony Zoppi, the fearless nightlife journalist for the Dallas Morning News, stated that the producer deemed Candy Barr as the “obvious choice” for the role, which emphasizes the attractiveness of a lipstick model.

Candy told Zoppi, “It’s quite a challenge, but I’ll do my best. I’ve always had an ambition to do a stage play, and this one seems especially suited for me.'”

She completed the short run successfully, but did not receive any other legitimate acting opportunities. It was her first and final stage job that didn’t involve nudity. But she did get dozens of fresh offers to strip, and she branched out by taking high-paying special guest gigs at clubs in New Orleans, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Working on the West Coast jobs connected her with a group of renowned patrons who were captivated by Candy in the same manner that pack rats are enticed by shiny objects. Barr became a squeeze of Mickey Cohen, the L.A. mob kingpin, whom she met while headlining at the Largo Club on Sunset Boulevard.

The West Coast Romancing Was A Distraction From A Very Real Problem That Candy Was Having Back In Dallas.
Candy Barr: America'S First Porn Princess Of The 1950'S
Mickey Cohen, L.A. mob kingpin

During the late 1950s, Texas politicians were deeply concerned about the growing issue of narcotics. As a result, law enforcement officers frequently conducted small-scale drug raids on specific individuals. Candy Barr, a well-known stripper who managed to avoid charges for shooting her estranged husband, became a prime target for the moral and vice squad due to their strict beliefs. The authorities viewed her as someone who needed to be closely monitored and controlled.

In October 1957, Dallas detectives Bill Frazier and J.M. Souter visited her apartment after receiving a tip about her possession of marijuana.

After a short interaction with the police, Candy reached into her bosom and retrieved a pill bottle containing less than an ounce of marijuana, which is equivalent to the amount of tobacco found in 25 cigarettes.

Candy was convinced she had been framed by the police. She claimed that a friend had delivered the marijuana for safekeeping the previous day. She believed that the police discovered the marijuana babysitting job through a wiretap on her phone. Through her own investigation, she discovered that an undercover police officer, using an alias, had rented a neighboring apartment.

In the days before strict legal protocols, law enforcement officers used wiretaps freely. Candy’s lawyers struggled to make the police acknowledge the wiretap, despite confirmation from the phone company. Furthermore, the police refused to disclose the identity of the supposed informant.

Candy Barr’s trial was a spectacle, as men eagerly crowded the courtroom to gawk at the stripper.

The Morning News reported one day, “The courtroom was again crowded with spectators, 75 percent of them men.” Under Texas’ severe “Reefer Madness” laws, Candy faced a potential life sentence for possessing a small amount of marijuana. She refrained from testifying during the trial that lasted for a week. The jury, consisting of 11 men and one woman, deliberated for almost three hours before delivering a guilty verdict.

Candy Barr: America'S First Porn Princess Of The 1950'S
Candy Barr Performing at Huntsville Prison Rodeo

Prosecutor James Allen strongly recommended a 25-year prison term, emphasizing the severity of the offence. However, despite his argument, the jury decided to impose a more lenient punishment and sentenced her to only 15 years. The news of this unexpected outcome hit Candy hard as her head dropped towards the defence table upon hearing the verdict. Overwhelmed by emotions, she mustered up the courage to stand and address a protest statement to the jurors but was overcome with tears when the judge attempted to interrupt her.

Later, she told reporters, “It was an unfair verdict, but my spirit is not broken. At least we showed what the police department is doing.” She added that jurors “made up their minds before the trial started.”

Years later, a Dallas police official suggested that Candy’s conviction was influenced by her profession. He claimed that the 11 male jurors would have felt embarrassed to return home without finding her guilty, considering the reaction they would face from their wives. Candy almost certainly would have been acquitted under search and seizure laws established in the 1960s.

Candy Barr: America'S First Porn Princess Of The 1950'S
Candy Barr Performing at Huntsville Prison Rodeo

However, her appeals were unsuccessful, even after reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, with partial funding from Mickey Cohen. In January 1960, shortly after her marriage to Sahakian, she exhausted all her legal options and voluntarily turned herself in at Goree Prison Farm for Women, located near Huntsville.

Although She Resented Being There, Candy Used Her Prison Times Wisely

She earned good-time credit by working earnestly in the prison laundry and by attending classes to catch up on some of the high schooling she had missed out on. And she managed to keep her hand in entertaining while behind bars. She was a star attraction at the famous annual rodeo at the Huntsville state prison — as a singer, not a stripper.

She accumulated good-time credit through diligent work in the prison laundry and by attending classes to make up for the education she had previously missed. Additionally, she maintained her involvement in entertainment while incarcerated. She became a prominent figure at the renowned annual rodeo held at Huntsville state prison, captivating audiences with her singing talent rather than engaging in stripping activities.

After serving a sentence of three years and three months, she left the prison premises on April 2, 1963. She carried a Bible in her hands and possessed a one-way bus ticket worth $5.70 to return home to Edna. However, as part of her parole agreement, she was prohibited from pursuing employment as an exotic dancer.

“I’m through being a stripper,” she said. “Prison gave me the opportunity to realize I wasn’t bad. I don’t think there is any way to describe what I was when I walked into prison. But I walked out a human being.” Candy expressed her desire to return home to Edna, abandon her frivolous stage name, and resume her former role as Juanita, a modest Texan homemaker.

However, She Couldn’t Evade The Spotlight

Candy Barr: America'S First Porn Princess Of The 1950'S
Jack Ruby Mugshot

Jack Ruby, Barr’s former nightclub acquaintance, visited her after she was released and gifted her two dachshund puppies. The dogs were about six months old when Ruby’s name popped up on every newspaper front page in America.

President Kennedy’s Assassination

On November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, a man who felt disconnected from society and had a strong fixation on Russia and Fidel Castro, fatally shot President Kennedy in Dallas. Two days following the assassination, Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald. Surprisingly, only 12 hours after this second shooting took place, the FBI visited Candy Barr to gather information regarding President Kennedy’s assassination as well as the murder of his killer.

Despite her claims of ignorance, Candy is still perceived by some as a component within the intricate machinery of the Kennedy conspiracy.

In 1965, she attempted to lift the parole restrictions that hindered her career. Despite being denied, she persisted. As her 35th birthday neared in 1969, Candy sought reinstatement to the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Candy Barr: America'S First Porn Princess Of The 1950'S
Lee Harvey Oswald

However, her life took another turn due to a police raid for marijuana. She was residing in Brownwood, Texas and looking after her terminally ill father when the police showed up on March 11, 1969. Eventually, the case was dismissed since the confiscation of the tiny quantity of marijuana was deemed unlawful.

In 1972, she published a slim volume of poetry, some of which she had written in prison.

The title poem reads:

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess
Oui magazine cover featuring Candy Barr

“Hate the world that strikes you down,
A warped lesson quickly learned,
Rebellion, a universal sound,
Nobody cares … No one’s concerned.
Fatigued by unyielding strife
Self-pity consoles the abused,
And the bludgeoning of daily life
Leaves a gentle mind … confused.”`

“A Gentle Mind… Confused” by Juanita

Candy’s Third Act As An Aging Sex Symbol Was Riddled With Perplexing Contradictions

In every interview, she criticized her fame as Candy Barr and the profession that brought her recognition. Yet, she resorted to that name and occupation for financial reasons. She was enticed out of retirement from the adult entertainment industry with a $5,000 payment when she posed naked for Oui magazine in 1976, at the age of 41.

In the ’80s, she occasionally performed at strip clubs in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Dallas. Her last burlesque show took place in 1998, at the age of 62, at the Ruby Room in Dallas. By then, she had transformed from a provocative figure to a unique and respected Lone Star personality, akin to a character from a Larry McMurtry novel.

In 1999, she was named to Playboy’s “Most Desirable” list, and she made Texas Monthly’s list of “perfect Texans.” “Of all the small-town bad girls,” the magazine said, Candy Barr “was the baddest.”

She Had Long Since Grown Weary Of The Attention

”Let the world find someone else to talk about,” she told the Texas magazine.

Candy Barr, 70, died of pneumonia on Dec. 30, 2005, at a hospital in Victoria, Texas, not far from her hometown. She had moved back to Edna in 1992. She lived quietly in a modest house. Neighbors said she kept to herself and went out only when she had to — for groceries and whatnot.

No one who crossed her path would have guessed that she was a sex icon and an inductee of the World Burlesque Museum. She is often seen as a bold and confident woman who used her sexuality on her own terms, during a time when women were expected to be sexually submissive.

She Wasn’t Trying To Turn Men On, She Said. She Simply Wanted To Dance.

It’s not clear that Candy accepted the sex goddess mantle without some regret. She was proud of her career as an exotic dancer. But as she aged, she often lamented her one appearance in a stag film. During various interviews, she claimed that she was either drugged or forced at gunpoint to do the sex scenes for Smart Alec. Skeptics note that she appeared lucid and engaged in the film.

In Any Case, Her Age At The Time Of Filming Makes Her A Victim.

Some exotic dancers revel in the power they feel onstage — their control over the men in the audience, and over their libidos. But in one of her last interviews, Candy Barr said she was never particularly interested in that dynamic of exotic entertainment.

Historical archives of the Dallas Morning News

A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film, Luke Ford, Prometheus Books, 1999

Dirty Movies: An Illustrated History of the Stag Film, 1915-1970, Al Di Lauro and Gerald Rabkin,Chelsea House, 1970

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