Candy Barr in 1989. DMN staff photo by Randy Eli Grothe
Candy Barr (July 6, 1935–December 30, 2005) was an American stripper, burlesque dancer, actress, and adult model in men’s magazines of the mid-20th century.
During the 1950s she received nationwide attention for her stripping career in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas; her troubles with the law; shooting her estranged second husband; and being arrested and sentenced to a prison term for drug possession, as well as her relationships with Mickey Cohen and Jack Ruby.
After serving three years in prison, Barr began a new life in South Texas. She briefly returned to stripping in the late 1960s, posed for Oui magazine in the 1970s, and then retired. In the early 1980s, Barr was acknowledged in the magazine Texas Monthly as one of history’s “perfect Texans,” along with other Texans including Lady Bird Johnson.
At age 16, though she appeared much older, Barr appeared in one of the most famous and widely circulated of the early underground pornographic movies, Smart Alec (1951). Because of the widespread “underground” distribution and popularity of this short hardcore 8mm movie, which is no more than 15 minutes long, she has been called “the first porn star.” She originally told a men’s magazine that she did the film for the money, as she then had less than a dollar to her name at the time. Many years later, Barr instead insisted that she was drugged and coerced into appearing in the movie.
Shortly after the release of Smart Alec, and while still underage, she was hired as a stripper at the Theater Lounge in Dallas by Barney Weinstein for $85 a week. She acquired the stage name Candy Barr at this time—given her by Weinstein, reportedly because of her fondness for Snickers bars—bleached her hair platinum blond, and quickly became a headliner. She also worked at Weinstein’s Colony Club, with a large placard of her prominently displayed out front.
Barr established herself in burlesque and striptease with her trademark costume—cowboy hat, pasties, scant panties, a pair of pearl handled cap six-shooters in a holster strapped low on her hips, and cowboy boots.
When the Theater Lounge would close, she would often patronize the after-hours Vegas Club, where she became acquainted with the owner and operator, Jack Ruby, in about 1952. Their friendship was very casual, however, as she never worked for him and never associated with him outside the Vegas Club and the Silver Spur Inn, which he also operated.
She reportedly married her second husband, Troy B. Phillips, around 1953 and had a daughter about 1954. In January 1956, Barr shot her estranged and violent husband when he kicked in the door of her apartment in Dallas. She was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but the charges were later dropped. Phillips was not fatally wounded.
Barr performed for the only time on the legitimate stage in 1957, playing the role of Rita Marlowe in the Dallas Little Theater production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? In late October of that year, in yet another notorious case, Dallas police raided her apartment and found four fifths of an ounce of marijuana, which was said to be hidden in her bra. She was arrested for drug possession, subsequently convicted, and received a 15-year prison sentence, though, according to her, she was set up and was only holding the marijuana for a friend.
While the marijuana case devolved into a lengthy series of appeals, her fame spread nationwide and Barr became the toast of the strip club runways, reportedly earning $2,000 a week in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as at the Sho-Bar Club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
While stripping at the Largo Club on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, she met gangster Mickey Cohen and became his girl. According to Cohen, in hisautobiography, In My Own Words, he helped her make bail after Gary Crosby told him, “One thing about that broad, she can make ya feel like a real man.”
Barr accompanied Cohen to the Saints and Sinners testimonial for Milton Berle in April 1959. The mobster, who insisted he wanted to marry her, eventually sent her and her 4-year-old daughter to Mexico so she could evade arrest. He arranged for her hair to be dyed by hairdresser to the stars Jack Sahakian, provided her with a fake birth certificate and social security card, and gave her $1,200 cash. He later sent her $500 after she was established in a Mexican hideaway. She became restless there, however, and returned to the U.S. During this time, her interest in Cohen foundered.
Also in 1959, she was hired by 20th Century Fox Studios as a choreographer for Seven Thieves (1960). She taught actress Joan Collins how to “dance” for her role as a stripper and was given a credit as technical adviser. Barr was quoted as saying, “Anytime Miss Collins wants to leave the movies, she has it made in burlesque.” “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 won another chance at reversing her 15-year sentence that October, when the district attorney in Dallas said the U.S. Supreme Court had informed his office that her lawyers would be given 20 days to file a motion for a rehearing.
She and hairdresser Jack Sahakian were married November 25, 1959, in Las Vegas, while she was headlining at El Rancho Vegas Hotel. Days later, despite rumors that her arrest had been a setup designed to punish the stripper for her wantonness in conservative Dallas, Barr was arrested by the FBI when her appeal on the marijuana conviction was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Prison term and release
On December 4, Barr reportedly left her daughter with her third husband, Sahakian, and entered the Goree State Farm for women near Huntsville, Texas. While serving her sentence, she was a witness in Los Angeles in mid-1961 in the tax evasion trial of her former boyfriend Mickey Cohen. She testified that he paid $15,000 to her attorneys and lavished gifts on her during their brief engagement in 1959. She said that among the other gifts she received from him were jewelry, luggage, and a poodle. It was her understanding, she said, that Cohen was to settle a clothing bill of hers for $1,001.95.
After being incarcerated for over three years, Barr was paroled from Goree women’s unit on April 1, 1963. She left the prison without any fanfare or publicity, having requested that no pictures be taken and no interviews arranged. Barr had intended to return to Dallas, but her parole stipulations were so strict that it was not permitted. Instead, she returned to her hometown of Edna, where her father and stepmother still lived.
At this time, she became closer to Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in telephone conversations. As she was having health problems when she was released from prison, she decided the best way to earn a living was by raising animals for profit. Ruby went down to Edna and gave her a pair of dachshund breeding dogs from his prized litter to get her started.
Twelve hours after Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered by Ruby, the FBI arrived in Edna to interview Barr. She made a statement, as Juanita Dale Phillips, regarding her knowledge of Ruby prior to Oswald’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Ruby’s subsequent murder of Oswald. It was rumored that she knew more than she disclosed, but she later said, “They thought Ruby had told me names and places and people, which he didn’t.”
The Texas governor, John Connally, pardoned her for the marijuana conviction in 1968. Barr said, “I really don’t know why, unless he studied the case and knew it was an injustice whether I was a victim or not.”
Comeback and later life
Barr returned to the stripping circuit in early 1968, including appearances at the Largo Club in Los Angeles and the Bonanza Hotel in Las Vegas. She also returned to the Colony Club in Dallas.
She then moved to Brownwood, Texas, as her father was ill in Kerrville. She was arrested and charged with marijuana possession again in 1969 in Brownwood. Barr later said, “While my father was in the process of dying, they decided to take advantage of my situation there and busted me. I knew the marijuana wasn’t there, I hadn’t had any around me for three years.”
The district attorney in Brown County eventually dismissed the case against her for lack of evidence. In 1972, 56 poems that she wrote while in prison were published with the title A Gentle Mind . . . Confused.
At the beginning of the book, she wrote:“Loneliness is like an early frost. Let us be among the seedlings that survive …” The title poem further set the tone:
- “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.”
The 41-year-old grandmother was featured in a 1976 issue of Oui magazine. She also gave an interview in Playboy soon afterward.
The film rights to Barr’s early life story was purchased by producer Mardi Rustam in 1982. In 1984 Texas Monthly listed Barr among alongside other Texans like Lady Bird Johnson as one of history’s “perfect Texans.” In March 1988, it was announced that Ryan O’Neal would direct Farrah Fawcett in a biopic about Barr based on ascript by George Axelrod, who wrote the Broadway play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, but the movie was never produced.
Final years and death
In 1992 Barr moved from Brownwood back to Edna. Living in quiet retirement, with her animals at her rural home, she was content not to exploit or relive her legendary past. She said she was never interested in arousing men, she just wanted to dance. As Garbo had, Barr said she just wanted to be left alone.
On December 30, 2005, Barr died at age 70 from complications from pneumonia at a hospital in Victoria, Texas.
Candy Barr is among the inductees in the Hall of Fame of Exotic World Burlesque Museum, Helendale, California, halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Her lip prints are part of the museum’s display.
More Candy Barr movies HERE
I must admit that Candy Barr is not really among the forgotten ones, at least not among lovers of classic glamour and burlesque. But working on the last post made me want to build a post dedicated to her anyway – Ted
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