Juanita Hansen (1895-1961) was a local Los Angeles kid (originally from Iowa), who lucked out one day when she was cast in a supporting part in L. Frank Baum’s movie version of The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914). This led to the lead, Queen Xixi of Ix, in Baum’s following production The Magic Cloak of Oz, the same year. These credits were enough to set her down the path to movie stardom. In 1915 and 1916 she worked for a variety of studios, in melodramas, westerns and the like. One interesting one we came across: Betty in Search of a Thrill (1915), a Hobart Bosworth production featuring Elsie Janis and Owen Moore.
In 1917 she went to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone-Triangle, as an occasional Bathing Girl, but more often as a supporting actress for comedians like Billy Armstrong and Raymond Griffith, with occasional co-starring roles herself. Her films of this year include A Noble Fraud, When Heart’s Collide, Her Nature Dance, A Royal Rogue, Dangers of a Bride, A Clever Dummy, Lost: A Cook, A Prairie Heiress, and His Busy Day.
From 1918 through 1923, she starred in a variety of melodramas and action-packed serials for major studios like Universal, Selig, Pathe, and the Warner Brothers (who weren’t yet incorporated as Warner Brothers.) Her hit serials included The Brass Bullet (1918), The Lost City (1920), The Phantom Foe (1920), and The Yellow Arm (1921). Her last silent era picture was Girl from the West (1923).
The abrupt end of her film career at age 28 was due to several factors, mostly a well-publicized penchant for partying, doing cocaine, and frequent arrests for speeding (from which she needed to be bailed out).
In 1928 she appeared in the Broadway play The High Hatters, which ran less than a month. Any momentum in a hope-for stage career was interrupted when she was scalded with hot water in her hotel, and developed an addiction to morphine from the pain treatments.
In 1933 she landed her first film role in a decade, and her only talkie, a supporting part in the Pre-code Monogram B movie The Sensation Hunters, starring Arline Judge. But this second brief attempt at a come-back did not bear fruit. From now on, all her headlines would be about her private life. In 1933 she was named as correspondent in Evelyn Nesbit’s divorce from her second husband, dancer Jack Clifford. The alleged affair had taken place in 1918. In 1934, Hansen took to working carnivals and tent shows, giving racy lectures on the evils of drugs. But her “Come to Jesus” moment was apparently only temporary, as in 1937 she was jailed on a narcotics charge. The following year she wrote a book called The Conspiracy of Silence, which advocated for medical treatment, as opposed to prison, for drug addicts. In 1941, she attempted suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. In her later years she worked as a clerk for a railroad, mere blocks from the studios where she had once commanded the spotlight.
For more on silent film, including moguls of silent film comedy like Mack Sennett, for whom Juanita Hansen worked, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,