originally published August 9, 2012
I try not to write too many articles about living people or the recently deceased. I unwittingly may have embarrassed a NATO fighter pilot by extolling his work as the founder of competitive finger-jousting, and accidentally unearthed a long-standing feud between the surviving members of the Bobby Fuller Four. I’m just some guy with a writing project; I want no blood on my hands.
But this story is too fascinating to pass up. It would make a thrilling bio-pic in the right hands: plenty of sex, violence, drugs, political conspiracy… I’m thinking Scarlett Johansson in the lead. Just remember, you read it here first.
The usual disclaimers apply: my primary source is Wikipedia, so my accuracy will only stretch as far as the Masters of the Wikiverse will allow.
Born the youngest of five children, Juanita Dale Slusher had a rough childhood. She was sexually abused by a neighbor, her mother died from falling out of a car, then at 13 she ran away to Dallas.
Juanita landed smack in the middle of the world of prostitution and white slavery. At 14 she married an alleged safecracker named Billy Joe. She worked as a cocktail waitress and cigarette girl; it was the late 40s; ‘cigarette girl’ was still an actual job.
At 16 she appeared in a 20-minute silent porno called Smart Alec. She later claimed to have been drugged and forced to make the movie, but it gave her a splash of retrospective fame as the world’s first porn actress. The producer of the film was charged by the FBI for exploiting a minor, but that didn’t end Juanita’s career in the nudie arts.
For an impressive $85 per week, Juanita worked as a stripper at the Theater Lounge in Dallas, bleaching her hair blonde and changing her name to Candy Barr, allegedly because of her fondness for Snickers bars. This was her costume:
The ‘sexy cowgirl’ shtick was a big hit in Dallas, no doubt because Candy knew how to sell it. She often hung out at the after-hours Vegas Club in Dallas, where she became friends with the owner, Jack Ruby. By the time she was 19, Candy was married to her second husband, caring for her new daughter. She packed a lot of life into those first two decades.
Troy Phillips, her husband, didn’t appear to be what you’d call a stable personality. As their marriage began to fall apart (Candy was 20 at this point), Troy got violent. He kicked in the door of Candy’s apartment one night, and Candy shot him. She was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but the charge was dropped. Troy lived, and I’d like to think he mellowed out a little bit after that.
In 1957, Candy was busted for having four-fifths of an ounce of marijuana stashed in her home. She was sentenced to fifteen years, despite her vehement claim that she was holding it for a friend (never the best defense – my parents didn’t buy it either).
While her case slunk gradually through the appeals process at Eeyore-speed, Candy became a star. She took her act on the road and was apparently hauling in $2000 per week in Vegas and L.A. In Los Angeles she met mobster Mickey Cohen, who fell for her. Mickey wanted to marry her. He hooked her up with hairdresser-to-the-stars Jack Sahakian to craft a convincing disguise, then paid for Candy and her daughter to flee to Mexico to avoid jail-time. Candy hung out for a while, but eventually returned to the US.
If Candy had been in love with Mickey Cohen, it didn’t stick. By 1959 she was back in L.A. and not at Cohen’s side. She was using her fame to gain legitimate (meaning ‘acceptable, even by prudes’) work. She worked as a choreographer for MGM’s Seven Thieves, teaching Joan Collins how to dance like a stripper. Also, this happened:
That’s Candy and her third husband, Jack Sahakian. Yes, the same hairdresser that Mickey Cohen had sent her to in order to fashion her get-away disguise. Days after the wedding, Candy’s final appeal was rejected and she was sent to Goree State Farm for Women near Huntsville, Texas, to serve her sentence. Her daughter remained in L.A. with Jack.
If Mickey had been pissed off at Candy for hooking up with the hairdresser, he was even less pleased when Candy testified at the tax evasion trial that wound up sending Mickey on an extended vacation in Alcatraz Prison.
Candy served more than three years before being paroled in 1963. She had to stay in Texas, but at least she was free. She remained in contact with her friends in L.A. and Dallas, including Jack Ruby who helped her try to start a new career as a dog breeder.
Then this happened:
Candy was interrogated by the FBI, but if she knew anything about Ruby’s intentions to kill Oswald, she didn’t say a thing. Given their relationship, it’s likely she was being honest, though there was a rumor she knew more than she let on.
By 1968, she was back on stage, stripping in Dallas and Las Vegas. She was arrested again for marijuana possession, but claimed once again to have been set up. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
In the 70s Candy became a published poet, then appeared in Oui magazine as a 41-year-old grandmother. I’m not sure what became of Candy’s daughter; she has done a fine job of staying clear of Wikipedia’s nosy radar. Her marriage with Jack dissolved at some point, as Jack was remarried by 1967.
As for Candy, she never remarried, nor did she use her former fame to push any projects into the public consciousness. She lived a quiet retirement until pneumonia claimed her in 2005 at the age of 70. Ryan Barr, her grandson, named his first daughter Candy in tribute to his grandmother. His second daughter he named Snickers.
This is where my blind adherence to Wikipedia has to break down. There’s a ‘citation needed’ label beside this last little fact-let, and I’m guessing that’s because it’s just a heap of bullshit. If it is true, then it’s a wonderful slice of real-world quirk. But I’ll withhold judgment.
Candy Barr left quite a life story in her wake. The film rights to her story were sold in 1982 (with Farah Fawcett as the likely star), but the movie never got made. It’s not too late though – and I still think Scarlett Johansson would be the logical choice.