CANDY BARR: The Small-Town Texas Runaway Who Became a Darling of the Mob and the Queen of Las Vegas

by Jacquelyn Lewis

While offering a salacious account of burlesque queen Candy Barr’s life, the book suffers from a nearly sycophantic look at her.

The name Candy Barr carries with it a hefty legacy: hers is the story of a young girl (née Juanita Slusher) fleeing sexual abuse who was forced into a Dallas prostitution ring called The Capture, at 13, before ascending to stardom as a headlining act. Slusher’s raucous history includes relationships with the celebrated and the nefarious—her friendship with Sammy Davis, Jr., challenged the conservative racial politics of the 1950s South, and her involvement with Jack Ruby (Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassin) courted an investigation by the FBI.
While offering a salacious account of the burlesque queen’s life, the book suffers from a nearly sycophantic look at Slusher. The author spends a good deal of time reminding the reader of her virtues without turning a critical eye on the infamous entertainer, who claimed to feel most free during the three years she was incarcerated. Schwarz unflinchingly presents Slusher’s accounts of events, and in her words, she is resolutely naïve. When describing the impact of her stripping, she remarks, “I didn’t even know [the audience was] getting turned on. This is the truth.” The brief epilogue acknowledges that Slusher may have been less than forthcoming about one of her marriages. Why not probe further? Important aspects of Slusher’s story are glossed over; we’re told of the dangers of trying to flee The Capture and then given no explanation of her eventual escape. The author neglects the opportunity to explore Slusher’s own admissions and to create an honest, thoughtful portrait of a complex and vibrant woman.

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