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Jinx Falkenburg, 84; Model and Actress Later Pioneered Talk Show

August 29, 2003|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Jinx Falkenburg, a leading fashion model and actress who, with her husband, Tex McCrary, pioneered the talk show format on radio and television, has died. She was 84.

Falkenburg died Wednesday at a hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., less than a month after McCrary's death.

Falkenburg and McCrary pioneered talk radio programming with the morning show "Hi Jinx" in 1946. They soon branched out to television with the program "At Home," alternating on TV and radio through the mid-1950s. Their shows combined news, celebrity interviews and household tips.

The daughter of a mining engineer, Falkenburg was born Eugenia Lincoln Falkenburg in Barcelona, Spain. Her mother gave her the nickname Jinx, saying she thought it would bring the girl good fortune.

As a child, Falkenburg lived in Chile, New York City and Brazil. An athlete throughout her life, she won the junior swimming championship in Chile at age 13. As an adult she was an accomplished tennis player and played golf into her late 70s.

A revolution in Chile forced the family to return to the United States, where they settled in Los Angeles. Falkenburg's father found work as an engineer with the city's water district. Jinx graduated from Hollywood High School in 1935.

Her film career began at age 16 when she was discovered by a talent scout for Warner Bros. Fluent in Spanish, she was first cast in Spanish-language films at Warner and then made appearances in such English-language fare as "The Lone Ranger Rides Again" and "Cover Girl."

While at MGM, she met Paul Hesse, a fashion photographer for the popular publication American Magazine. A highly lucrative modeling career developed.

Falkenburg, who for a time was considered one of the most beautiful women in America, had her first cover appearance on American Magazine in August 1937 and went on to appear on the covers of more than 60 magazines in the late 1930s and '40s.

A chance meeting with Al Jolson brought her a part in his musical comedy "Hold On to Your Hats" at the Shubert Theater in New York City. That appearance led to the formation of the Jinx Falkenburg Fan Club, which grew rapidly and made her a household name across America.

By 1941, she was the highest-paid model in the United States. That same year, she became the first Miss Rheingold, chosen by a beer manufacturer who believed he would sell more suds if he had a pretty model for an advertising vehicle.

During World War II, Falkenburg met McCrary, who was serving in the Army Air Forces, when he went to interview her for a story he was writing for a military publication. They crossed paths again during an overseas USO tour, one of several that Falkenburg participated in during the war, and became engaged in 1942. They wed in 1945 and remained married throughout their lives, although they had separated in the 1980s. They were still friends at the time of his death last month at age 93, family members said.

As newlyweds, they talked New York City station WEAF into letting them host a morning program. "Hi Jinx" became one of the top-rated shows on radio and was known for dealing with controversial subjects such as the United Nations, venereal disease and the atomic bomb, topics that other morning programs refused to touch. They also lured top guest stars to their program, including Bob Hope, Bernard Baruch, Esther Williams and Dorothy Lamour.

By 1947, Tex and Jinx, as they were popularly known in homes across the country, had moved to television with "At Home," broadcast Sunday nights on NBC. The program integrated the use of film and live interviews in what was early talk television.

Their audience and celebrity grew, and at one point in the early 1950s they hosted two radio programs and a daily television show and wrote a column for the New York Herald Tribune.

Falkenburg covered many major stories of the day, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London and the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco. She even covered the famed "kitchen debate" in Moscow between then Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

A staunch Republican, Falkenburg was appointed head of the party's women's division in 1954. She was also a major fund-raiser for the GOP.

She is survived by her sons, John Reagan McCrary III of Mill Neck, N.Y., and Kevin Jock McCrary of New York City.

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