Veteran true-crime/entertainment scribe Schwarz (Hollywood Confidential: How the Studios Beat the Mob at Their Own Game, 2007, etc.) charts the lurid life and times of a stripper.
The burlesque star notorious for her association with Jack Ruby and mob boss Mickey Cohen was born Juanita Slusher to impoverished parents in a small Texas town. A precociously attractive child, she was regularly abused and molested by a string of neighbors and family members. (In a particularly horrific passage, Schwarz describes eight-year-old Juanita being put up as the jackpot in a pedophile poker game.) She ran away from home in her early teens, settling in Dallas. There she immediately fell prey to “the Capture,” a tradition in which, Schwarz informs us, young girls were kidnapped, systematically raped and forced into prostitution, catering to the hypocritical Dallas establishment. After suffering in this role for a period, Juanita somehow managed to carve out a career as “Candy Barr,” a burlesque dancer whose act was so transporting that she became the toast of Las Vegas and attracted Cohen’s attention. Schwarz clearly presents this sensational material, but the book is one-dimensional. The endless litany of kidnappings, murder attempts, conspiracies, drug arrests, prison and rape after rape is hard to stomach and, after a while, hard to completely believe. Readers may raise eyebrows over the author’s unquestioning acceptance of Barr’s muddled, often half-remembered saga; they surely will wonder about his characterization of her as a brilliant artist. Quoted at length, she comes across as a rough-edged survivor and a self-mythologizer. Schwarz has written a compelling, upsetting screed against society’s depraved exploitation of an innocent, but it lacks the rigor necessary for full-scale biography and social history.
A punishing read, filled with righteous anger and fuzzy on details.