Incendiary Blonde (1945)

As is often stated in this biopic, Texas Guinan crammed a lot of living into her relatively short life. Nevertheless, even she would occasionally embellish an already crowded resume. As such, she probably would have got a kick out of this highly fictionalised account of her life.

Despite starting off with the funeral of its lead character, this biopic is a rollicking, joyous affair. As ex-husband and father reminisce about Texas’s life, the movie flashes back to the day she ran away from home to join a Wild West Show. A romance develops with the troupe’s owner Bill Kilgannon, yet fate conspires to keep them apart as Texas progresses from tent to vaudeville, Broadway, Hollywood and finally to the speakeasies, where she assumed her best known role as Queen of the Night Clubs.

Such a variety of platforms provides Betty Hutton with ample opportunity to display her talent for musical-comedy. Whether she’s taking pratfalls on stage, hamming it up making silent films or entertaining club patrons with a rendition of “Row, Row, Row”, Hutton is a delight. Here she is well served by a supporting cast that includes Barry Fitzgerald and Charlie Ruggles. Notwithstanding such comic talent, the film's funniest line is delivered by famed stuntman Jimmie Dundee as a bootlegger’s henchman. Hutton also impresses when she gets the chance to show off her dramatic abilities, be it tangling with those bootleggers or romancing Arturo de Cordova as Kilgannon.

At one point he informs Texas that being an actress in one-tenth remembering lines and nine-tenths personality. Like the character she portrays, Hutton had this in spades.

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The character of Tim Callahan is an amalgam of Texas Guinan’s husband, newspaper cartoonist John J. Moynahan, and companion Julian Johnson, theatre critic and editor of Photoplay.

Some sources claim that Southern critics and audiences protested the casting of Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova, because William Kilgannon was actually Irish, not Mexican-Irish as portrayed in the film. Yet it is more likely that Kilgannon is a fictional character, as there is no mention of him in in Texas Guinan’s biographies.

When the film flashes back to 1909, Guinan is still living with her family and yet to embark on her entertainment career. In reality, by 1909 Guinan had already performed in Wild West Shows and starred in numerous stage productions. What’s more, she had also been married and divorced.

Rather than eventually succumbing to some unnamed terminal disease, Guinan died suddenly after contracting amoebic dysentery.

Biopic features a generic recreation of a silent movie to represent Texas Guinan’s film career.

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