Juanita C. Hansen (March 3, 1895 – September 26, 1961) was an American silent film actress. 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.
She 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 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 her next "Oz" film that same year titled The Magic Cloak of Oz. This was 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 opposite Jack Pickford. In 1915 Juanita appeared in six films. One was her first feature role starring opposite Tom Chatterton 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.
She left Keystone. She was soon doing serious roles for Universal Studios. Miss Hansen became famous as the star of the eighteen episode action/adventure serial called The Brass Bullet. The actress made seven films in 1919. Soon she was cast in the starring role of "Princess Elyata" in a fifteen episode serial called The Lost City. It was produced by William Selig and the three Warner brothers, Harry, Jack, and Sam. The successful serial was edited down to seven reels and re-released in the form of a feature-length film with the title The Jungle Princess. However, during this time, Hansen's increasingly reckless lifestyle led to a cocaine addiction that would quickly overwhelm 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 fifteen episode serial titled The Phantom Foe. She made a second Pathé serial called The Yellow Arm (1921), again with Oland and Bailey plus Marguerite Courtot. In 1921, Juanita retired from movies after she was scalded in a bathroom accident in a New York City hotel. She was given $118,000 in damages following a long legal battle.
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 twenty-eight. 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 but important role in a Monogram Pictures B-movie, Sensation Hunters (1933). This, her first talkie, would be her last film and the ensuing years were marked by a continual struggle 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 prior to her death she resided in a neighborhood only a few miles from where she once made motion pictures.
- The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)
- The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914)
- The Love Route (1915)
- Betty in Search of a Thrill (1915)
- The Secret of the Submarine (1915)
- Martyrs of the Alamo (1915)
- Dangers of a Bride (1917)
- A Clever Dummy (1917)
- Whose Baby? (1917) (uncredited)
- Broadway Love (1918)
- Fast Company (1918)
- The Mating of Marcella (1918)
- The Brass Bullet (1918)
- The Poppy Girl's Husband (1919)
- Rough Riding Romance (1919)
- Lombardi, Ltd. (1919)
- The Phantom Foe (1920)
- Sensation Hunters (1933)