Guinan was born in Waco, Texas, and studied music in Chicago before returning to her hometown with hopes of becoming a professional singer. She toured regional Vaudeville with some success, but became known less for her singinging than her entertaining "wild west" related patter.
In 1917 "Texas" Guinan made her film début in the silent movie The Wildcat. She became the United States' first movie cowgirl, nicknamed "The Queen of the West." In addition to her film career, she also had a sojourn in France entertaining the troops during World War I.
Upon the introduction of Prohibition, she opened a speakeasy called the 300 Club. This became famous for its troupe of 40 scantily-clad fan dancers, but also for Ms. Guinan's own personality. Her aplomb made her a celebrity; arrested several times for serving alcohol and providing entertainment, she would always claim that the patrons had brought the liquor in with them, and that the club was so small that the girls had to dance so close to the customers. She steadfastly claimed that she had never sold an alcoholic drink in her life. She capitalized on her notoriety, earning $700 000 in ten months in 1926 while her clubs were routinely being raided.
Ms. Guinan is credited with coining a number of phrases, such as "butter and egg men" to refer to her well-off patrons, and her well-known demand that the audience "give the little ladies great big hand". She traditionally greeted her patrons with "Hello, suckers!"
Guinan returned to the screen with two sound pictures, playing slightly fictionalized versions of herself as a speakeasy propriatress in "Queen of the Night Clubs" in 1929 and "Broadway Through a Keyhole" in 1933.
During the Great Depression, Ms. Guinan took her show on the road. She made a sally towards Europe, but her reputation preceded her and she was denied entry at every European sea port she attempted to disembark at. She turned this to her advantage by launching a satirical revue entitled Too Hot For Paris.
She was portrayed in a number of movies, including Splendor in the Grass (1961).