Last December saw the passing of Candy Barr, one of the most colorful women in show business history. The 70-year-old entertainer was primarily known as being among the top strippers of the 1950s, and she earned plenty of notoriety for her highly publicized private life. But for movie lovers, her contributions to cinema history were encapsulated in single production: the 1951 porno classic “Smart Alec.”
Way back when, adult entertainment was not available for theatrical public viewing. If you wanted to see porno, you had to buy 16mm or 8mm reels (either from shady mail order companies or dubious retailers who sold such offerings). Men’s clubs, frat houses, bachelor parties and horny private collectors would plug in their projectors, set up a screen, and run what was euphemistically referred to as “stag films.” The films were black-and-white and silent, but the absence of color and sound rarely brought displeasure from viewers who were less interested in the technical aspects of the film and more interested in watching people have sex on camera.
Porno goes back to the dawn of motion pictures and no one is quite certain how many adult movies were made during the first part of the 20th century. But the 20-minute “Smart Alec” (not “Smart Aleck,” as some sources incorrectly report) seemed to stand out from the genre. In fact, one could call it the “Citizen Kane” of stag films. The film was still being sold and screened as late as the 1970s, by which time porno came out of the shadows and into the cultural mainstream through the proliferation of X-rated theaters and the popularity of skin flicks like “Behind the Green Door” and “Deep Throat” (feature-length films in color and with sound).
“Smart Alec” is not exactly a smart movie in regards to its plot: a salesman picks up a girl at a motel swimming pool and takes her back to his room for drinks. After a bit of alcohol, they disrobe and go into energetic intercourse. But when the man insists on a blowjob, the girl refuses. However, she calls a friend who comes over to the room and disrobes. The man enjoys the pleasure of having two girls servicing him at once. The end.
But viewing “Smart Alec” today, one can see three main reasons why this film was so popular. The first reason was Candy Barr, who was clearly the most gorgeous woman to appear in pornography. Let’s face it – most porno stars do not look like movie stars. Barr looked like she belonged in Hollywood – she was very pretty, had a great body (38-22-36), and clearly had a vibrant personality that connected with the camera. It was difficult to imagine that she was 16 when she made the film – she would later claim she was forced to make the film by a man she met in a Dallas club. Barr would state in various interviews that she was either drugged or threatened at gun point to act in “Smart Alec,” but if this is the case then she was the greatest actress of all time. There is absolutely nothing in this film to suggest a narcotized state or violent coercion. In fact, Barr’s self-confidence is so astonishing that it is impossible to imagine her being anyone’s victim.
Second, the sex in the film is perhaps the most passionate ever presented in this genre. Right after Barr and her male co-star (he is not identified in the credits and his name is still unknown) disrobe, they go into a long and dramatic kiss. Most stag films go straight for the dirty stuff – in “Smart Alec,” the kissing and the embracing is so kinetic that even the most warped voyeur can feel like an interloper in watching Barr and her co-star locking lips. When they finally stop kissing and start fucking, the energy which both of them display is wild in its intensity. Perhaps it was too wild for the man: when he lies horizontal on the bed while Barr sits atop him, he convulses into an orgasm.
Third, Barr comes across as a proto-feminist for refusing to perform fellatio. In all stag films, women gladly do what men demand of them. In “Smart Alec,” not only does Barr refuse but she literally fights back. When the man tries to force her mouth between his legs, she punches him back! And when he visibly sulks for not getting his way, she comes up with the idea of getting another girl to come in for the blowjob. Who wears the pants in this skin flick?
Barr was actually born Juanita Dale in 1935 in Edna, Texas. She ran away from her dysfunctional family when she was in the ninth grade and married Billy Joe Dabbs, the first of her four husbands, when she was 14 (the lucky groom supported his bride by working as a safecracker!). Shortly after “Smart Alec” was made, Barr made her way into the adult entertainment world as a stripper. This was still during the time of old-style burlesque, when striptease put more of an emphasis on the tease than on the strip. The stage name Candy Barr was inspired by her fondness for chocolate (she would frequently claim to hate the moniker, but she never changed it). Fame as a stripper came fairly quickly, first in the Dallas burlesque houses and then in Las Vegas.
As Barr’s star rose, word spread that she was the girl in “Smart Alec,” which helped make that film even more popular among stag film fans. Barr was the first “name” to be associated with a skin flick, and naturally men were curious to see the famous stripper take it all off on camera.
Barr’s personal life would also catch attention. In 1956, she was arrested for shooting her second husband, Troy Phillips, in the stomach after he threatened her in a drunken rage. A grand jury dismissed the charges against her. The following year, though, she was arrested again in Dallas for marijuana possession. Barr claimed the local cops framed her out of anger for the failure to gain an indictment against her in the shooting case, and in retrospect it seems she was correct. However, a lengthy appeal that went to the Texas Supreme Court was unsuccessful and she served three years of a 15-year sentence.
Barr’s romantic life included reported liaisons with gangster Mickey Cohen, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, and nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Yes, that Jack Ruby.
Barr never made it into mainstream movies, but she had one brief brush with Hollywood: she taught Joan Collins how to do a striptease for the forgettable 1960 feature “Seven Thieves” and received “technical adviser” billing. Plans of turning her life into a biopic starring another Texas beauty, Farrah Fawcett, were raised in the 1980s but nothing came of it.
Barr withdrew from the spotlight in the 1960s, but was never fully able to disappear completely. In 1976, she did a nude spread for Oui Magazine (looking amazing at 41), and the same year she was heralded as “the first pornographic star” in the landmark book “Dirty Movies: An Illustrated History of the Stag Film.” She made occasional public appearances in her later years and could still attract media attention: Playboy listed her in 1999 as being among the most desirable women of the 20th century and in 2001 Texas Monthly named her as being among the legends of the Lone Star State.
As for “Smart Alec,” the film continues to be bootlegged and duped. Various DVD collections of vintage stag films include the movie, sometimes in severely edited forms (a copy I have is missing the poolside encounter). To this date, the film’s credits remain elusive: no one seems to know who made it, who else appeared on screen with Barr, or even where it was made. Even if anyone wanted to restore the film, it is probably impossible to locate the original materials (the dupes on the market are faded and scratched up).
Yet for one brief 20-minute spin, “Smart Alec” gave the world its only filmed record of a genuine original and ensured that Candy Barr would have a place in film history. Tits ahoy, Candy Barr!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
Posted on February 3, 2006 in Features by Phil Hall
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- THE BOOTLEG FILES: “SMART ALEC”
- “AMERICAN STAG” IS COMING
- DALLAS DOES VIDEO
- AMERICAN STAG
- TEXAS DOES TEXAS AT THE AURORA PICTURE SHOW
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