It's both Irish-American and Women's History month, so meet the legendary 'Texas' Guinan

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Guinan in a portrait taken in 1920. Born and raised on a ranch in Waco, she would eventually move to New York City where she'd make her name as an actress and speakeasy hostess.

The popular expression goes: 'Everything is bigger in Texas.' It can apply not only to the State itself, but to the lives of the people who have called Texas home, especially the extraordinary life of 'Texas' Guinan (1884-1933).

You could say, without fear of exaggeration, that 'Texas' Guinan's life exceeded even those lofty words: 'everything is bigger.' She was a rancher, singer, comedian, and a movie-star bootlegger who befriended gangsters. Guinan was a Texas legend whose accomplishments are fit to mention during the month of March.

March is a much-celebrated month in Texas and across the country. It's the anniversary of Texas Independence (March 2), and both Women's History Month and Irish-American History Month.

More than 88-years after her death, a Texas-Irish-American woman by the name of Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan continues to inspire people.

Guinan in a 1921 photo for the Exhibitors Herald. She was born on a ranch in Waco, Texas, later moving to Chicago, then to New York, where she was an actress as well as a hostess for speakeasies during Prohibition.

Guinan was born on January 12, 1884, in Waco, Texas. Her parents were horse and cattle ranchers who nicknamed their daughter, "Mamie." Guinan was a bonafide Texas cowgirl, breaking horses and showing off her incredible marksmanship skills throughout her early life.

After high school, Guinan's parents secured their daughter a two-year scholarship to the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. After she developed her soprano vocal talent, Guinan went on tour with the acting troupe featuring American "Wild West" entertainment.

In 1904 she married newspaper cartoonist John Moynahan. They would later divorce and Guinan would return to the stage.

Guinan's early careers included being an actress, producer, hostess, writer and entrepreneur. She was also a well known manager/hostess of speakeasy clubs during Prohibition when alcohol was banned across the country. She was a woman known for her quick and witty "take-no-prisoners" responses to customers.

Guinan in The Wildcat, a 1920 silent movie "short." Her impact as an actress and hostess is still felt today. The television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, features Whoop Goldberg as the hostess and bartender in the ship's lounge.

Guinan's early career included singing during Prohibition

Guinan's give-and-take style endeared her to men and women flouting the law by patronizing the speakeasy clubs during Prohibition. She was well compensated for her speakeasy career.

In 1923, Guinan was hired as a singer by Emil Gervasini and John Levi, owners of Beaux Arts speakeasy. According an article written by Majorie Corcoran in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on December 18, 1927, Guinan was paid $50,000 to sing at the speakeasy. That's the equivalent of almost $715,00 today — not bad for a 1923 singer/manager/hostess/actress.

In 1927, Guinan commented on her work in the clubs of the 1920s, "I never take a drink and I never sell a drink. I am paid to put on an act and I put on an act. I once gave [U.S. Attorney General] Buckner a certified check for $100,000 to give anyone who has ever seen me take a drink or sell a drink. That check is still good, so's my offer."

A film flyer for Miss Texas Guinan. Over her life, Guinan acted in 51 films and shorts. She primarily acted in silent films, but later made two "talkies."

Stage show producer Nils Granlund took notice of Guinan and her style, quickly scooping her up and designing a show around her.

In Granlund's show, Guinan performed as emcee for the famous Ziegfeld Follies chorus girls. This show, in turn, received the attention of Bootleg huckster Larry Fay. He also chose to capitalize on Guinan's persona, hiring Guinan and Granlund to feature their show at his El Fey Club on West 47th street in Manhattan.

Guinan was known for her catchphrase, "Hello, Sucker! Come on in and leave your wallet on the bar."

In 1926, Guinan was hired as hostess at the 300 Club on W. 54th Street in New York. The club was frequented by famous and powerful people that included Al Jolson, Jack Dempsey, Geraldine Farrar and, the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, who would later become the King of the United Kingdom in 1936, known as Edward VIII.

The Prince of Wales, Edward, often visited Guinan's speakeasy in New York. He would eventually become King Edward VIII.

After the club was closed down by police, Guinan opened the "Texas Guinan Club" at 117 W. 48th Street, a club that would also be closed by police. Not one to let a couple of police raids put her out of work, Guinan and Fay opened the Del-Fey Club in Miami later that year.

According to Guinan, the club took in $700,000 in less than a year. That would be the equivalent of over $10 million today.

Guinan's film career

Guinan acted in numerous films from 1917-1933. She was a leader of early women filmmakers in the U.S. Guinan would also become a writer and producer during these years.

Although a silent movie actress for most of her career, Guinan acted in two sound pictures, Queen of the Night Clubs (1929) and Broadway Thru a Keyhole, written by Walter Winchell. Queen of the Night Clubs was loosely based on Guinan's career as an emcee and hostess in the speakeasies of the day. According to the website, IMDB.com, Guinan acted in 51 films and shorts during her career.

In the 1930s, Guinan took her show on the road during the Great Depression. She had plans to take the show to England, but was told that the authorities would board her ship if she tried to land in England. According to English authorities, Guinan was on their list of "barred aliens."

Once her plans for England fell through, Guinan decided to take her show to France. Once again, she was met with difficulties and never performed her show in that country. Guinan wasn't someone easily dissuaded. After returning to the U.S., she used the difficulties with France to launch satirical revue, Too Hot for Paris.

Guinan dies mere months before Prohibition repealed

In 1933, the enterprising Texan Irish-American woman was touring with her Too Hot for Paris show when she contracted amoebic dysentery in Chicago during the Chicago World's Fair. She was a victim of an epidemic caused by tainted water. She died a mere month before Prohibition was repealed. The industrious and tireless woman had not only experienced the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression, she had thrived.

Even in death, the Texan was larger than life. Guinan's death was mourned by thousands. Her funeral was attended by 7,500 people. She is buried in the land that made her wealthy, Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.