On a sultry July afternoon, she steps into my motel room. “So you’re the one who wants me,” she says in a deep, cigarette-stained voice.
For a moment, I have no idea what to say. She takes a seat by the bed and lights a Virginia Slim. She’s tiny, no more than five feet three inches tall, and she weighs perhaps 110 pounds. She is wearing tan boots, a long denim skirt, a cotton sweater, a colorful Indian-blanket jacket, sunglasses that cover the top half of her face, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. I stare at the woman, thinking, “Is this really her?” The most recent photographs I could find were taken more than 25 years ago, when she was in her early forties. Since then she has been a virtual recluse.
“Miss Barr?” I finally stammer.
She pulls off her jacket, removes her hat, and then, after a pause, takes off her sunglasses. And suddenly, there it is: the famous teardrop-shaped face with the glittering, deep-set green eyes. The face that once launched a million male fantasies. The face that could only belong to Candy Barr, the former Dallas stripper whose madcap adventures in the late fifties and early sixties—from her tumultuous love affairs with gangsters to her battles with a self-righteous Dallas police captain to her farcical criminal trial over her alleged possession of marijuana—catapulted her onto the front pages of every newspaper in Texas and turned her into something of a folk hero.
At a time in our social evolution when thousands of surgically enhanced young women seem to believe their calling in life is to disrobe and perform lap dances in expensive “gentlemen’s clubs,” it is hard to imagine that there was once an era when a pretty, wisecracking blond dancer could rock the foundations of an entire city. Yet half a century ago, during the days of Eisenhower and DiMaggio, when Playboy was being sold under the counter and “organizations for decency” were trying to get Hemingway and Faulkner banned from bookstores and school libraries, Candy Barr started strutting across a small stage at the Colony Club in downtown Dallas, just across the street from the great Adolphus Hotel, wearing only pasties, “scanty panties,” a ten-gallon hat, and a cap gun on each hip. Then in her early twenties, she looked like the kind of girl who would have been voted high school class favorite or head cheerleader, but she had a way of shaking her body that made men’s knees buckle. As Gary Cartwright wrote in this magazine in December 1976, Candy Barr became “a landmark” in the sexual liberation of Texas men in the fifties. She was “forbidden fruit, a symbol for the agony of our tightly corked libidos.” She epitomized, he wrote, “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.”
Now Candy Barr is 66, and her face is lined with wrinkles. Her famous blond hair is closely cropped, and she walks slowly as a result of respiratory problems and a bad back (she broke it a few years ago while helping a disabled friend get out of bed). She lives with two dogs, two cats, and a crippled parakeet in a small frame house in rural South Texas. Although she is not happy that I am going to mention it, her only source of income is a monthly Social Security disability check. She cooks her meals on a hot plate. She has a television set that gets only a couple of channels. Because her car doesn’t go far without breaking down, she rarely ventures out of her house except for trips to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, and the veterinarian’s office. (She agreed to drive into her hometown of Edna to meet me because she doesn’t want anyone knowing the exact location of her house.) Yet she has lost none of the feistiness that used to captivate legions of men.
“So, baby, what are you waiting for?” she says, pursing her lips as she gives me the once-over. “I know what you want.” She pauses. “You want to know what the hell’s happened to me.”
Before she was Candy Barr she was Juanita Dale Slusher, the daughter of a South Texas bricklayer and harmonica player. When Juanita was nine, her mother died and her father married a woman who cared little for the offspring of his first marriage. At thirteen Juanita ran away from home and ended up in Dallas, working as a maid at the Trolley Courts Motel on Harry Hines Boulevard. At the age of fourteen she married a young Dallas safecracker named Billy Debbs. They became kind of like a teenage Bonnie and Clyde. She would walk into a local business in a cute dress, pretending to apply for a job as a way to find out where the safe was, and at night she would drive the getaway car after Billy committed the burglary. When Billy went off to prison, she was alone again (he was shot to death soon after his release). She started spending her evenings dancing at nightclubs, where men would woo her, saying they would pay her to have sex. Some men, she says, held knives and guns on her if she didn’t submit. “It was what I had to do to survive,” she says with a shrug, but for a moment her eyes shift from mine and focus on the floor. “I was a poor girl with no education. I thought I could save my money to go to college someday, but sometimes things just don’t work out like you’d planned.” One afternoon a man forced her to be filmed while having sex with another man in a motel room. The grainy black and white film (there was no audio), titled Smart Aleck, was circulated nationwide and became the Deep Throat of its time. No one had ever seen such a beautiful girl in a