Juanita Hansen

Juanita C. Hansen (March 3, 1895 – September 26, 1961) was an American actress who performed in silent films. Beginning as one of the Sennett Bathing Beauties, she appeared in a variety of serials through the late 1910s. She was well known for her troubled personal life and struggle with addiction to cocaine and morphine. In 1934, she became clean and traveled lecturing on the evils of drugs. She wrote a book about addiction and started her own charity to help raise awareness about drug abuse.[1]

Juanita Hansen
Hansen, c. 1913
Born(1895-03-03)March 3, 1895
DiedSeptember 26, 1961(1961-09-26) (aged 66)
OccupationActress, Author, Speaker
Years active1915–1921

Early life

Hansen was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Her family moved to California when she was a girl and Juanita graduated from Los Angeles High School. There she secured her first acting job with L. Frank Baum's Oz Film Manufacturing Company. She appeared in The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914), a film based on Baum's book. Given a minor role as the bell ringer, Hansen had a major role in The Magic Cloak of Oz, an adaptation of Queen Zixi of Ix, and she played the title role in the film.

Early in her career the actress was also associated with Famous Players-Lasky and acted with Jack Pickford. In 1915, Hansen appeared in six films. One of her early feature roles was in The Secret of the Submarine. The following year, her good looks landed her work as one of the Sennett Bathing Beauties doing comedy shorts at Keystone/Triangle Studios. Although she told reporters she liked working for Mack Sennett, she wanted to do more than slapstick comedy.

Serial career

She left Keystone. She was soon doing serious roles for Universal Studios. Miss Hansen became famous as the star of the 18-episode serial titled The Brass Bullet. The actress made seven films in 1919. Soon she was cast in the starring role of Princess Elyata in a 15-episode serial titled The Lost City. It was produced by William Selig and Harry Warner, Jack L. Warner, and Sam Warner. The successful serial was edited to seven reels and re-released in the form of a feature-length film titled The Jungle Princess. However, during this time, Hansen's increasingly reckless lifestyle led to a cocaine addiction that quickly overwhelmed her life.

Hansen's performance in the Universal productions led to a 1920 deal with Pathé to star with Warner Oland and William Bailey in a 15-episode serial titled The Phantom Foe. She made a second Pathé serial titled The Yellow Arm (1921). In 1921, Juanita retired from movies after she was scalded in a bathroom accident in a New York City hotel. She was awarded $118,000 in damages following a long legal battle.

Personal problems

When she returned to work, behavioral problems caused by her drug addiction disrupted filming and ended her relationship with Pathé. She appeared in secondary roles in two more films, but by 1923 her film career was over at the age of 28. Her life became a series of constant ups and downs fighting her addictions. Hansen was named as one of two co-respondents in a divorce suit brought by Evelyn Nesbit against Jack Clifford. Clifford left Nesbit in 1918, and she divorced him in 1933.

She began working in live theatre, appearing in 1928 in the short-lived Broadway production The High Hatters. Ten years after her last film in 1933, she was given a secondary role in the Monogram Pictures B-movie Sensation Hunters (1933). This, her first talkie, was her last film, and the ensuing years were marked by continual struggles with her drug addiction. In 1934, Juanita tried a comeback in movies but it was unsuccessful.

At one point, she attempted suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. She survived, and the experience helped turn her around. Although her acting career was long over, and her drug habit had left her penniless, she took a job as a clerk for a railroad company. She also worked in the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.

Later career and charitable work

Eventually, the former actress went public with her story. She created the Juanita Hansen Foundation to raise awareness of the dangers of drugs. Juanita was jailed in 1937 on a narcotics charge. She was cleared when she gave testimony that tablets which police found in her purse were prescribed to her for medical purposes. She went on a lecture tour, crusading against traffic in illegal drugs.

In 1938 she wrote the book The Conspiracy of Silence, arguing that drug addicts should be sent to specialized medical institutions for treatment instead of being sent to prison.

Juanita Hansen died in 1961 at her home in West Hollywood, California of heart failure. Her residence was 858 Hilldale Avenue. Her body was found by her maid, Pearl Edwards, who told deputy sheriffs the actress was suffering from a heart ailment. She was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. In the years before her death, she resided in a neighborhood only a few miles from where she once made motion pictures.


Year Title Role Notes
1914The Patchwork Girl of OzBell RingerUncredited
1914The Magic Cloak of OzQueen Zixi of IxShort
1915The Love RouteLilly Belle
1915The AbsenteeGenevieve Rhodes / Vanity
1915Betty in Search of a ThrillJune Hastings
1915The Secret of the SubmarineCleo Burke
1915The FailureRuth Shipman
1915Martyrs of the AlamoOld Soldier's Daughter
1916The MediatorMaggie
1917Dangers of a BrideThe Country GirlShort
1917A Clever DummyA Leading Lady
1917Whose Baby?Short, Uncredited
1918Broadway LoveCherry Blow
1918Fast CompanyAlicia Vanderveldt
1918The Risky RoadLottie Bangor
1918The Mating of MarcellaLois Underwood
1918The Brass BulletRosalind Joy
1918The Rough LoverHelen
1918The Sea FlowerLurline
1919Breezy JimPatricia Wentworth
1919A Midnight RomanceBlondie Mazie
1919The Poppy Girl's HusbandPolly Dutton
1919Devil McCareMary Archer
1919Rough Riding RomanceThe Princess
1919Lombardi, Ltd.Phyllis Manning
1920The Lost CityPrincess Elyata of Tarik
1920The Phantom FoeJanet Dale
1920The Jungle PrincessZoolah / Princess Elyata of Tarik
1921The Yellow ArmSuzanne Valette
1921The Red Snow
1922The Eternal Flame
1922The Broadway MadonnaGloria Thomas
1923Girl from the West
1933Sensation HuntersTrixie Snell(final film role)


  • Michael G. Ankerich (2010). Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. BearManor. ISBN 1-59393-605-2.


  1. "Notes." Time Magazine.
  • "Arrest Noted Film Actress As Hop User." Davenport Democrat and Leader. January 12, 1923, Page 19.
  • "Star of Silent Films Juanita Hansen Dies." Los Angeles Times. September 27, 1961, Page 2.
  • "Juanita Hansen, 66, Film-Serials Star." New York Times. September 28, 1961, Page 41.
  • Hansen, Juanita and Preston Langley Hickey. The Conspiracy of Silence. Educational Associates. 1938.
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