Today is the birthday of Texas Guinan (for my full squib on that quintessential jazz age entertainer go here). We think of her primarily today as the legendary hostess of her own speakeasy. But Guinan had an earlier career, one equally intriguing, as a star of silent westerns from 1917 to 1921. So much has changed in so short a time: When writing No Applause I despaired of ever getting to see any of these films; now many of them are available. The Mad Marchioness and I watched a bunch a few weeks ago, and they are incredible, groundbreaking. Essentially Guinan played a female western hero of the type Barbara Stanwyck would embody in the 1950s and 60s: not a damsel, not a schoolmarm, or a dance hall girl (ok, sometimes she was that), but rather she was almost invariably cast as a lady rancher, who could ride, rope and shoot alongside any man. She was cast as that rara ava because that’s what she was: though she was educated, she also acquired all those ranching skills from growing up in Texas. But some of her westerns here.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.