Candy Barr, 70; 1950s Stripper and Stag Film Star Personified the Joy and Danger of Sex

Times Staff Writer

Candy Barr, infamous 1950s stripper and stag film star once romantically linked to mobster Mickey Cohen and associated with Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, has died. She was 70.

Barr died Friday of pneumonia in an Abilene, Texas, hospital. She had lived quietly in her native south Texas for several years.

Born Juanita Dale Slusher in Edna, Texas, on July 6, 1935, Barr forged a life exotic enough in the mid-20th century to inspire a biopic. (One was contemplated but never produced in the late 1980s, with Farrah Fawcett portraying Barr.)

Before the dancer's career was derailed in 1960 by a prison term for marijuana, she was earning $2,000 a week in Los Angeles and Las Vegas clubs.

It was Barr who trained actress Joan Collins for her role as an exotic dancer in the 1960 movie "Seven Thieves," earning her a credit as technical advisor.

"She taught me more about sensuality than I had learned in all my years under contract," Collins wrote in her autobiography, "Past Imperfect." Collins went on to describe Barr as "a down-to-earth girl with an incredibly gorgeous body and an angelic face."

Barr became a landmark in the sexual liberation of Texas men in the 1950s, Gary Cartwright wrote in a 1976 Texas Monthly magazine article, the same year the 41-year-old but still shapely Barr posed nude for Oui men's magazine.

Cartwright wrote that in her early career, Barr had epitomized "the conflict between sex as joy and sex as danger. The body was perfect, but it was the innocence of the face that lured you on."

In 1984, Texas Monthly listed Barr among such luminaries as Lady Bird Johnson as one of history's "perfect Texans."

"Of all the small-town bad girls," the magazine said, Barr "was the baddest."

And Barr earned her place in the exhaustive 2004 volume published by Oxford University, "Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show."

Barr said she began life as "poor white trash." After her mother died when she was 9, she was ignored by her stepmother and sexually abused by a neighbor and a baby-sitter.

She fled to Dallas at the age of 13, married a safecracker at 14 and soon fell into exotic dancing and prostitution. Later claiming that she was drugged and forced to perform, she was featured in a 1951 blue movie "Smart Alec."

She befriended Ruby, owner of Dallas' Carousel Club, who was subsequently convicted of killing Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy. Federal agents questioned Barr after Oswald's killing, but she insisted she knew nothing about Ruby's involvement in any conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination.

In the early 1950s, Barr got a job as cigarette girl at Barney Weinstein's Theater Lounge in downtown Dallas. Impressed with her startling beauty, Weinstein's brother, Abe, gave her her stage name, had her bleach her hair and showcased her as a bump-and-grind burlesque queen in his Colony Club.

Barr developed her trademark costume -- 10-gallon hat, pasties, "scanty panties," a pair of six-shooters and cowboy boots -- and quickly became a favorite with fraternity boys, Dallas crime figures, businessmen and political leaders, who booked her for stag parties.

Conservative Dallas residents, however, were less impressed and began pressuring police and prosecutors to shut down Barr's act.

In 1957, she was arrested for having less than four-fifths of an ounce of marijuana concealed in her bra. She maintained that she was framed by police and was only holding the drug for a friend.

"We think we can convince a jury that a woman with her reputation, a woman who has done the things she has done, should go to prison," Assistant Dallas County Dist. Atty. Bill Alexander told the Dallas Morning News after Barr's arrest.

"She may be cute," Alexander, who would prosecute Ruby six years later, told the jury in his closing argument, "but under the evidence, she's soiled and dirty."

Barr was convicted and, under tough state laws for what would now be a misdemeanor, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The trial garnered national publicity and only enhanced her fame. The judge even asked to be photographed with her in his chambers.

Awaiting appeal, Barr was hired to perform in Las Vegas' El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Los Angeles' Club Largo on Sunset Boulevard, drawing $2,000 fees.

It was during this period that Barr met and dated Cohen for two months. They publicly said they were engaged, and he crisscrossed the country with her, consulting lawyers in the appeal of her sentence.

But neither the romance nor the appeal could go on forever.

"It's all over," the dapper ex-bookie told The Times in May 1959. "We're just two different kinds of people. No, we didn't have no fight. It was more like what you might call a discussion."

Two years later, Barr revealed Cohen's answer to her drug sentence when she was returned to Los Angeles to testify against him in his trial for income tax invasion, in which he was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Barr testified that although Cohen paid her lawyers $15,000, he also gave her cash and phony identification documents, had her dye her hair and flee to Mexico. She said she got bored and returned to the U.S. shortly before her appeal was denied.

"I always wanted a brick house of my own, and it looks like I am going to have one," Barr told an assembled crowd and news media when she finally walked into Goree Farm for Women in Huntsville, Texas, in December 1959.

Then-Texas Gov. John B. Connally paroled her in 1963 and pardoned her four years later.

During her imprisonment, she took high school courses, worked as a seamstress, sang in the prison choir and played in its band.

Barr also wrote a book of poetry, which she published in 1972, titled "A Gentle Mind ... Confused." Its title poem stated:

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."

Barr was arrested a second time for possession of marijuana in a 1969 raid on her home, but charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

She tried briefly to restart her career as a dancer in 1967 at the age of 32, again at Hollywood's Largo club, performing before a backdrop of prison bars.

"Time has been kind to Miss Barr. The onetime fiancee of Mickey Cohen is in good, if slightly gaunt, form and is still an energetic dancer," wrote Times critic Kevin Thomas. "From the audience, she seems a young woman with an aura of sadness and sorrow who is doing the thing she knows best."

Barr largely retired to a reclusive life in Texas, surrounded by her pets.

"Let the world find someone else to talk about," she told Texas Monthly in 2001. "I like being left alone."

Barr married and divorced four husbands. She had a daughter and became a grandmother, but information on survivors was not immediately available.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 04, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction Candy Barr obituary -- The obituary of entertainer Candy Barr in Tuesday's California section said she died in a hospital in Abilene, Texas. The hospital is in Victoria, Texas.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°