Texas Stripper Candy Barr Dies; Had Dalliance With Vegas Mobster

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Candy Barr, 70, whose inspired stage name and beguiling striptease wiles ignited naughty male fantasies among '50s-era Texans, died Dec. 30 at a hospital in Victoria, Tex. She had pneumonia.

Abe Weinstein's Colony Club in downtown Dallas, a few blocks from City Hall, was the scene of Miss Barr's nightly triumphs. Big-spending businessmen, conventioneers out on the town, local politicos, cops and hustlers, not to mention wide-eyed country boys from Canton or Waxahachie all crowded into the club to ogle the blond beauty.

Outfitted in her trademark Texas costume -- 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots, pasties and "scanty panties" -- and waving cap-gun six-shooters, she gave them a show they wouldn't soon forget.

With that name and that reputation, she became a Texas folk hero. (Texas Monthly made it official in 1984, naming her one of its "perfect Texans," along with Lady Bird Johnson and other notables.)

A friend of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby and romantically linked to Las Vegas gangster Mickey Cohen, she had a distinct skill for making front-page news. When she was arrested after shooting her estranged second husband, Troy Phillips, in 1956, she told newspaper photographers jostling for a good photo, "Make it sexy, boys."

She insisted that in shooting her husband, she was aiming at his groin. Instead, she hit him in the stomach. He lived.

Her husband might have protested the suggestion by Texas Monthly writer Gary Cartwright that she was "a landmark" in the sexual liberation of Texas men. But Cartwright spoke for many when he cheekily noted that she was "forbidden fruit, a symbol for the agony of our tightly corked libidos."

According to Cartwright, who rhapsodized about her teardrop face and her tropical green eyes, she represented "the conflict between sex as joy and sex as danger. The body was perfect, but it was the innocence that lured you on."

The story of the real-life Candy Barr -- born Juanita Dale Slusher in Edna, Tex. -- was one of innocence lost at an early age. Her mother died when she was 9, and her father, a whiskey-drinking harmonica player and bricklayer, then married a woman who didn't want her around.

Molested as a young child, she ran away from home at 13. She made her way to Dallas, where she found work in a hot-sheet motel, making beds by day and turning tricks at night. At 14, she married a young Dallas safecracker named Billy Debbs.

"They became kind of like a teenage Bonnie and Clyde," Skip Hollandsworth wrote in a 2001 Texas Monthly article. He cracked the safes; she drove the getaway car.

When Debbs was shipped off to prison, his young wife wiled away her lonely evenings dancing at seedy Dallas nightclubs. Soon, men were paying her for sex. She claimed that at age 15, a man forced her to be filmed having sex in a motel room.

The grainy black-and-white movie, titled "Smart Aleck," came out in 1951 and circulated nationwide. As Hollandsworth noted, the film "became the 'Deep Throat' of its time."

Weinstein helped transform brown-haired Slusher into bleached-blond Candy Barr. They came up with the name together. In addition to packing them in at the Colony Club, she was big on the stage club circuit and at college fraternity bashes. Weinstein helped her land the Jayne Mansfield role in a Dallas Little Theater production of "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?"

The Dallas district attorney also had his eye on Candy Barr, particularly after she shot Phillips. She beat that rap, claiming that Phillips was abusive, but couldn't beat a marijuana charge in 1957. For possession of less than an ounce, a Dallas judge sentenced her to 15 years in prison.

Free on appeal, she took her six-guns and headed west. Still petite and pretty, she found work at clubs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where she made as much as $2,000 a week. She also worked as a "technical adviser" on the 1960 movie "Seven Thieves," training actress Joan Collins for her role as an exotic dancer.

Briefly involved in a turbulent romance with mobster Cohen, she lost her job at El Rancho nightclub in Las Vegas because of her "detrimental effect" on the community's morals. Texas Monthly's Hollandsworth noted that she was replaced by Nelson Eddy.

Back in Texas in 1960, she served three years and 91 days in prison. "I always wanted a brick house of my own, and it looks like I am going to have one," she remarked on her way into the Goree Farm for Women in Huntsville.

Behind bars, she worked in the prison garment factory, sang in the choir, played in a band at the prison rodeo and published a book of poetry, "A Gentle Mind . . . Confused."

She was paroled on condition that she live within 36 miles of her small South Texas home town and never work again as a stripper or at an establishment that served alcohol. Ruby came to see her two months before the John F. Kennedy assassination; so did federal agents after Ruby shot presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. She always insisted she knew nothing about any conspiracy involving Ruby.

In 1968, she received a pardon from then-Gov. John Connally.

In 1975, Oui magazine paid the 41-year-old grandmother $5,000 to pose nude.

In recent years, she had lived alone in a small frame house and rarely ventured out. She liked it that way, she said in 2001.

Miss Barr's four marriages ended in divorce. She had one daughter.


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