You may not have heard of her but in the late 1940s and early ’50s Jinx Falkenburg was a household name in the US. What’s wonderful about her is that she made the absolute most of her talents and opportunities.
She’s tall, athletic, handsome, garrulous, giggly, full of beans and fun to be around. As one reporter put it, her “natural endowments … included good looks, vivacity and a fearful physical exuberance.” To quote an article by Dugal O’Liam in the October 1942 issue of Screenland:
Jinx makes no claim to being an intellectual. She likes the things the average outdoor girl likes, viz, tennis, swimming, horseback riding, hiking, golf, groceries and men. Not necessarily in that order, but pretty close. Her top interest in clothes is sports styles. She wears evening gowns like La Pompadour herself, but isn’t mad about them, largely because they make her look taller. She has always yearned to wear high heels, but hasn’t because they increase her height. She absolutely never wears them on the street, nor in the bath tub.
Hers is the archetypal American story of the girl from a modest background who makes good. She builds a successful career and manages to combine it with a happy home life. Her story is a refreshing contrast with the travails of the likes of Gene Tierney and Hedy Lamarr.
Jinx Falkenburg gets around
Born in Spain in 1919, she’s christened Eugenia Lincoln Falkenburg. Not surprisingly, no one actually uses that name, instead they call her Jinx or The Jinx. Her father Eugene is an electrical engineer, her mother Marguerite (Mickey to her family and friends) an accomplished amateur tennis player. Age three, Jinx moves with her family to Santiago, Chile, where they spend 13 happy and relatively prosperous years. Mickey becomes tennis champion of Brazil, Jinx swimming champion of Chile. But as the country slides towards revolution, the family goes broke and is forced to leave the country.
They decamp to the US, where they arrive with just the possessions they’ve managed to load into the car in which they’ve fled. Fortunately, Mickey is a spirited, gregarious, outgoing woman who can walk into a room and know everyone there within a matter of minutes. She’s full of enthusiasm and get-up-and-go. It takes her no time at all to talk her way into Hollywood’s West Side Tennis Club, where she strikes up a friendship with the casting director for Spanish-speaking movies at Twentieth Century-Fox. Within months Jinx, who speaks fluent Spanish, finds herself playing walk-on parts in movies for the Latin American market.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, by the time she leaves Hollywood High School age 16, Jinx Falkenburg is California’s third-ranking junior tennis player. And West Side Tennis Club continues to play a big role in her life. It there that, after a series of auditions with David O Selznick’s studio that go nowhere, she’s summoned to meet Samuel Goldwyn. He signs her to a seven-year contract. But at five foot ten it turns out she’s too tall and after six months the studio cancels her contract. Even after that, she gets bit parts in a handful of movies with other studios. And back at West Side Tennis Club at a celebrities’ tournament, she’s teamed with Paulette Goddard, then Charlie Chaplin’s wife, who will be one of her closest friends over the following decades.
Jinx Falkenburg gets a break
One day in 1937 Jinx is waiting with a friend in the MGM commissary to go on a tour of the studios when she’s approached by a man who asks her if she’d be interested in doing some modeling. He suggests she meets him at his apartment the following day. While she’s game for a test shoot, there’s no way she is going to be rocking up on her own at a stranger’s apartment. So she suggests meeting at her tennis club. Deal done.
The stranger is none other than Paul Hesse, a leading commercial photographer. And it turns out to be a match made in heaven. He quickly recognizes her as the embodiment of the healthy outdoor girl and will later describe Jinx Falkenburg as “the most charming, most vital personality I have ever had the pleasure to photograph.”
Two and a half months later, she’s on the cover of The American Magazine and her modeling career is launched, with invitations from more than five dozen other magazines to feature her.
Jinx Falkenburg takes a tumble
After six months of modeling, Jinx gets a contract with the Matson Steamship Line that involves not just a trip to Honolulu but also being photographed by the legendary Edward Steichen. Here’s how she describes what happens in her autobiography:
The night before the last day’s shooting [in Honolulu] Patsy and I had to be up at ﬁve a.m., so we decided, or rather Mr. Bowman of the advertising agency decided, that we ought to forego the evening’s festivities and get a good night’s rest. They sent us up to our rooms and we sat out on our lanai [veranda] for a little while and talked. Patsy and I thought it would be fun to walk over onto the roof above the open dining room and wave goodnight to everybody below. I took my shoes off and went ﬁrst. I stepped off the balcony and – fell through the roof. …
In any case, I fell about thirty-two feet to the cement ﬂoor below … right between two chairs. Why I didn’t kill any diners, or at least a waiter, I’ll never know.
She’s unconscious for 16 hours. When she comes to, she’s told:
“They took X-rays this morning while you were still unconscious. By some miracle you have no broken bones, but every rib is bruised and your body is a solid mass of black-and-blue marks. You won’t be able to move for quite a while.”
She’s in hospital for two weeks. As luck would have it, Al Jolson is cooped up in the room next to hers so the two get to know each other and he offers her a part in his upcoming Broadway musical. By the time she leaves she’s lost 25 pounds – 20% of her body weight. That all happens in March/April 1939. That November, she’s taken to hospital with a high temperature and acute back pain. X-rays reveal that she was born with a single kidney and the other is in serious trouble thanks to the fall. A major operation is needed and she’s in hospital for over six weeks right up until Christmas.
Jinx Falkenburg hits the headlines
By the time she’s discharged, Jinx Falkenburg’s family is pretty much broke due to the cost of her treatment. Fortunately, in the meanwhile Paul Hesse and his client, Albert Hailparn at Einson-Freeman sales promotion agency, have sold Rheingold Beer the idea of making Jinx the first Rheingold Girl – the face of Rheingold Beer.
Once the campaign hits the billboards in March 1940, Jinx Falkenburg’s name and face are in every store in New York that sells beer. No surprise, then, that she’s approached by John Robert Powers offering her an exclusive modeling contract worth $200 a week. She turns him down – she likes sports and out-of-doors and she doesn’t want to do indoor work. But his rival, Harry Conover, is more persuasive, pointing out that while she’s in NYC for Al Jolson’s show, she might just as well maximize her earnings potential with his modeling agency.
Harry drops by to see her on the first day of rehearsals for Al Jolson’s Hold on to Your Hats. The same day, Tex McCrary, a writer for The Daily Mirror, shows up, looking for an interview. It turns out to be start of a long and, partly thanks to the war, tortuous romance that will culminate in their marriage. When Hold on to Your Hats closes in February 1941, Jinx signs a six-year contract with Columbia Pictures.
In 1941 and 1942 Jinx is at the peak of her success as a model. In its January 27 1941 issue, LIFE magazine publishes a long article by Oliver Jensen – Jinx Falkenburg Is Leading Candidate for Title of America’s No. 1 Girl for 1941:
It was Paul Hesse, the commercial photographer, who … made a picture of her and sold it for the cover of the American Magazine. Since then she has been on 52 covers and posed for 150 products including Lux, Campbell’s Soup, Nestle’s Chocolate, Mobilgas, Rogers Silverware, Drene Shampoo. At first she did her modeling in Hollywood but last year the Rheingold beer company brought her to New York to do a series of ads featuring her by name as the Rheingold Girl. Jinx got $2,000 for the job and stayed in New York. …
As a model, Miss Falkenburg’s specialty is sparkling outdoor vitality. She is usually photographed with sports clothes, tennis rackets, skis and the like. She loves posing – the glamor of the lights, the men focusing their attention on her, the fuss – but it is not necessary to pose her carefully. Most models are known for the completely forgettable quality of their beauty. “The trouble with them,” Paul Hesse says, “is that they turn on expressions 1, 2 and 3 and smiles 4, 5 and 6. You don’t know how to liven them up.” Miss Falkenburg is never bored or deadpan and Hesse makes the most of this by often snapping her unawares. He keeps her outdoors and plays her favorite swing records (Only Forever and Two Dreams Met) on a portable phonograph to get her in the mood. When he wants a particularly romantic smile he tells her about the thick juicy steak they are going to have. …
Miss Falkenburg’s tremendous appeal – “draw” in the show business, “pull” in the advertising world – is an established and commercially measurable quality. It has sold thousands of theater tickets, tons of cigarettes, gallons of perfume, tank cars of beer. It has made her the hit of the Tuxedo Park Ball, the darling of the Stork Club and the most famous model in America with an unrivaled record of 1,500 separate advertisements. At this moment she is the leading candidate for the distinction of America’s No. 1 Girl for 1941.
No surprise, then, that in April 1942 Jinx goes on to be voted America’s No 1 brunette by 25,000 beauty shop owners (Rita Hayworth is named No 1 redhead and Evelyn Keyes No 1 blonde).
Between 1941 and 1945 Jinx appears in 11 Hollywood movies made for distribution in the US. The best known of them is Cover Girl, for which she is uniquely qualified, alongside Rita Hayworth. She looks great but acting is not really her strength and most of her films are basically rubbish.
Jinx being Jinx, she isn’t spending all her time modeling and acting. In December 1941, with Charles “Buddy” Rogers, her co-star in Sing for Your Supper as her instructor, she becomes one of Hollywood’s most expert women flyers. The following month she’s off skiing almost every weekend. And of course she continues to play tennis.
Jinx Falkenburg supports the war effort
But arguably the most impressive thing about Jinx Falkenburg around this time is her commitment to supporting the US war effort.
Like many Hollywood stars, she helps to sell war bonds. In May 1942 she’s in New York promoting the Lips for Liberty campaign for buying war stamps. The following month, posing for a series of posters on the war effort, she’s named Victory Poster Girl. And in September, together with Evelyn Keyes, she’s the first film actress to sign up with the hundreds of housewives, boys and girls to pick fruit and vegetables in the tomato fields of the San Fernando Valley to aid the War Manpower Commission. That’s as well as being on tour selling more bonds with Jane Wyman and John Payne. Another bond-selling tour in late 1943/early 1944 culminates in Washington, where Jinx and her fellow-stars appear in 16 theatres in a single night and get to meet President Roosevelt at the White House.
Then there’s her work with USO (United Service Organizations), a charity founded during World War II to be the GI’s “home away from home.” One of its principal activities is entertaining the troops. Much the most arduous and exciting trip for Jinx involves traveling to China, Burma (Myanmar) and India in the last three months of 1944. This extract from her autobiography about the visit to Paishihyi gives an idea of just how hazardous the tour turns out to be:
After our nightmarish sedan-chair ride, needless to say, even with all the risks, we chose the plane. And it was really a bad ride, even though it lasted only ﬁfteen minutes. We had completely socked-in weather. Ordinarily, no matter how hazardous the route, the pilot can follow the river to his destination, but this day the ceiling was so low that we were forced to go thousands of feet up and ended up ﬂying on instruments. There were ﬁve horrible minutes when, in the middle of nowhere, we started circling for a landing. The pilot had no idea where we were – he was taking the word of the radio engineer on the ground who really didn’t know where we were either. We were all scared to death but nobody dared say a word. All of a sudden, Pat [O’Brien, a Hollywood actor] said, “Relax, kids. I’m praying for the whole d––n bunch of us.”
And I saw then that he had his rosary out. This was the ﬁrst time that Pat had made any reference to being nervous or saying prayers – we were glad that he was praying for us.
Zoom! Suddenly we were rushing headlong down into the clouds. Centuries later, when we landed, I looked at our pilot – he was wringing wet. And after we’d done the show, we went through exactly the same thing ﬂying back to Chungking, late that afternoon…
Soon after Paishihyi, the troupe visits Liuchow:
Liuchow was probably the worst and most dangerous spot we had been in. We arrived at eight p.m. by the light of a full moon with the Japs only eighteen miles away. Wherever you went, you couldn’t escape the excruciating wails of the women and children as they were stacked, one on top of the other on freight cars to be evacuated to the South. When we left the next day, we were the last civilians out before the Japs arrived.
By comparison, the European tour in 1945 is rather routine – except that on 19 July, Jinx Falkenburg and the other members of her troupe are granted an audience with Pope Pius XII in the Vatican. By the end of World War II, she has travelled over 60,000 miles entertaining the troops and is awarded the Asiatic-Pacific campaign medal for her work.
Jinx Falkenburg becomes a celeb
During the war, Jinx pursues a mostly distant romance with Tex McCrary, whom she met for the first time when she was rehearsing Hold on to Your Hats on Broadway back in 1941. Since then, their hectic schedules have kept them mostly apart, with Jinx fretting non-stop over him. After the war, Lieutenant Colonel John Reagan, “Tex,” McCrary proposes to Jinx Falkenburg and they are married in New York in June 1945. He is 34; she’s 26. They settle in Long Island.
The following year, Tex and Jinx persuade radio station WEAF in New York to give them their own show and they become pioneers of talk-show hosting. Tex writes most of the show himself and coaches his wife, who has no experience as an interviewer, into the role. Hi, Jinx, broadcast on weekday mornings, is prepared to tackle controversial issues such as venereal disease, the United Nations and the atom bomb and quickly becomes a hit with audiences and critics alike.
After that, the couple are on a roll. In 1947 they make their television début with At Home, an NBC series in which they interview guests in their homes, following it up with The Swift Home Service Club, in which they offer household hints and conduct chatty interviews. Another radio show, Meet Tex and Jinx, is a big success, and they also begin a syndicated daily column in the Herald Tribune called New York Close Up. Crucial to the success of Tex and Jinx are the latter’s energy and enthusiasm.
Jinx Falkenburg in later life
Tex and Jinx have two sons, John born in 1946 and Kevin in 1948. On one memorable broadcast, a hook-up between Tex in New York and Jinx in Bermuda, he asks her, “How are the children?” “Oh,” she replies, “I thought they were with you.”
In 1951 Jinx Falkenburg publishes an autobiography, Jinx. During the early 1950s the couple get increasingly involved with politics as staunch Republicans. Not only do they help raise money for the party, they also play a part in persuading Dwight D Eisenhower to run for president in 1952. And two years later, Jinx becomes head of the Republican Party’s women’s division.
Although she partially retires in 1958, she will go on to stage fashion shows for charity and, in 1975, to be part of a celebrity team playing a pre-opening tennis match at Forest Hills. Towards the end of her life, she is still living in Long Island and serving on the board of the North Shore Hospital, which Tex and she helped to found. In the 1980s the couple will separate but remain friends. They will both die in 2003 within months of each other. Once asked for her own epitaph, Jinx immediately wrote, “She died trying” and there’s no doubting she had a great deal to show for her efforts.
Want to know more about Jinx Falkenburg?
The main sources for this piece are:
- Jinx Falkenburg’s 1951 autobiography, Jinx.
- An article by Oliver Jensen in the January 27, 1941 issue of LIFE magazine, Jinx Falkenburg Is Leading Candidate for Title of America’s No. 1 Girl for 1941.
- Lucky Jinx, an article by Dugal O’Liam in the October 1942 issue of Screenland (available online at the Media History Digital Library).
- The Jinx Falkenburg page at Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen.
For some photos of Jinx on the China-Burma-India USO mission, take a look at LIFE magazine’s Jinx Returns from the War.