Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Candy Barr: America's First Porn Princess

The Big D

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.

Juanita Dale Slusher, a.k.a. Candy Barr
Juanita Dale Slusher, aka Candy Barr

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.

She married at 14, but prison bars came between Juanita and her teenage husband, whose primary skill was taking things that didn't belong to him.

She had to eat, so like many down-and-out divorcees she found her way to the naughty nightclubs of 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 colored her brown hair platinum and used giggles and wiggles to induce pickled fellows to tuck astonishing tips in her smock pockets.

Every customer had a come-on, and she would flirt back. At the end of the night, most of them got a peck on the cheek and a pat on the head. But a few particularly generous customers got a roll in the hay — more Texas hospitality than prostitution.

One patron played his angle hard. He said he was a film director, and he convinced Juanita of her movie-star potential. She should have been skeptical when the screen test turned out to be not in Hollywood, but San Antonio.

Slusher won film stardom, all right. She was the female lead of a silent stag film, Smart Alec, the story of a nubile teenager, a horny traveling salesman, and a busy motel bed.

The 20-minute blue romp — filmed when she was 16 — earned Juanita Slusher the title of America's first porn princess.

Jack Ruby
Jack Ruby

But that was just the beginning of a life lived on the front pages.

She had a long, profitable career as a marquee stripper. She canoodled with the rich and famous, including an infamous mobster. A marijuana arrest made her a touchstone figure in the "Reefer Madness" of the 1950s. As a confidante of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, she was interrogated by authorities about the assassination of President Kennedy.

She was a bravely independent woman, and she took on anyone who crossed her, from the drunken, abusive husband (one of four) that she shot in the groin to the cops she believed set her up for the pot bust.

Late in her life, as pornography shifted toward the mainstream of American popular culture, she became an iconic figure among sex workers, modern burlesque dancers and those who enjoy the services of those occupations.

Oh, yes: She was also a published poet.

Annie Sprinkle, a former stripper and porn star, describes Juanita Slusher as a "great sex goddess and artist."

Annie Sprinkle
Annie Sprinkle

Sprinkle and others told the Crime Library that Juanita was a groundbreaking exotic entertainer who paved the way for the "sex-positive" feminism that emerged in the 1980s and for the American sexual emancipation that led to the mainstreaming of sexuality.

Not long before she began her burlesque career, Juanita picked up a nom-de-striptease that ensured her a place among the world's most widely recognized exotic dancers, alongside Salome, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, Mata Hari, Chesty Morgan and Fanne Foxe.

Juanita Dale Slusher, who had a typical teenager's sweet tooth, became known on stage as Candy Barr.

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