In Memoriam: Tempest Storm

Dear Constant Reader,

Last night I got the sad news that Tempest Storm had died at 93*. In some way I thought she’d outlive us all.

She was probably the most famous of our Living Legends and I don’t need to rehash her life and career here (you can read her memoir or see Teaserama or the 2016 documentary Tempest Storm).

I first saw Tempest at Miss Exotic World in 2006. She strutted on stage in a purple evening gown and boa to the beat of an actual drummer. She was every inch a queen and owned that room. She had the audience in the palm of her hand her entire act (I think it was about 3 songs; definitely more time than anyone else got). This was a true connection between or past and our present, right there on stage in front of me. Even in her late 70s, she was gorgeous and graceful.

A couple of years later I was overwhelmed to learn we** would be performing in Tempest Storm’s Las Vegas Burlesque Revue for its New England dates. Tempest wasn’t performing, since she had recently broken her hip, but she introduced the show with her charming accent and gave the audience a good look at her famous figure and trademark flaming hair. She was so kind and gracious, posing for pictures and signing autographs afterwards. After the show at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine (easily the biggest venue I’ve ever played), the cast went out for a late-night seafood feast. At a long table packed with performers, there were oysters and wine and lots of loud conversation and laughter. I think we were celebrating Angie Pontani’s birthday. Tempest sat quietly at the end of the table, with a soft smile. I wish I had known what to say to draw her out, convince her to tell some stories of her amazing life, but I was too awestruck.

I’m grateful for those small brushes with greatness. Tempest was not just a Legend; she was Legendary. Her death is the end of an era. Our world is a little duller without her sparkle.

Tempest photo

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

*or 23 — she was born on February 29.
**Betty and I were performing; Scratch ended up, as usual, supplying vital tech expertise and backstage support, including providing a chaise for Kitten DeVille to hump.

Published in: on 21 April 2021 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s Friday! It’s snowing here in Boston! Of course it is, because this would have been Expo weekend…

Last week we were watching Scratch’s niece perform as a finalist* at the NYC Teen Poetry Slam and one of the judges said this:

A setback is a setup for a comeback.

And what a setback this past year has been. Let’s start to set up our comebacks.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

*We are pretty goddamn proud of her

Published in: on 16 April 2021 at 1:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Review: Marinka: From Havana To Burlesque

Dear Constant Reader,

Like the rest of the burlesque world, I was saddened to hear of the death of Marinka, Queen of the Amazons and grateful that she shared the story of her life.

Marinka: From Havana to Burlesque by Marinka Melanie Hunter and Lily Star, 2020.

In this memoir, Marinka is honest about her life, particularly her big secret, which she kept for so long. In her introduction she says “If I had done this when I was 30, it would have been a sensation instead of my story.” I’m certainly glad times and attitudes have changed enough that she felt she could finally be completely honest and tell her whole story without it being lost behind the sensational nature.

Growing up in Havana, as the thirteenth child of wealthy Spanish immigrants, Marinka was different from other children. A fortune teller declared the five-year-old was born under a “different star”.  Marinka’s parents were worried by their youngest’s effeminate behavior. In 1959, when Castro took power in Cuba, Marinka’s parents thought New York City, where Marinka’s godparents lived, would be a safer place for their flamboyant teenager.

Once in New York, Marinka could finally live as she truly was, as a woman. She became acquainted with the underground gay and drag scene. After being declared “the most beautiful drag queen in New York City” at a ball, she was hired as a female impersonator at The Powderpuff Revue and also learned to belly dance. At this time she used the stage name “Sully”.

Very soon she became an exotic dancer. Her agent had dubbed her “Tina Darling”, but she wasn’t comfortable with it. She heard the name “Marinka” and knew that was who she was. She began working in “mixing clubs” (including the Teddy Bare Lounge and Two O’Clock in Boston), where the dancers would sit and drink with the patrons between acts.

One of her tours took her to Ohio and the Toledo burlesque theatre run by legendary performer and impresario Rose La Rose. Rose took one look at the striking beauty and asked why she wasn’t a feature. Marinka didn’t think she had the act or the experience to become a feature, but Rose La Rose thought otherwise. First, Marinka had to return to New York for something very important.

In December 1969, Marinka entered a hospital for the moment she had been dreaming of — gender confirmation surgery, or as she called it then, a sex change operation. A warning here: she describes her surgery and recovery from it in a fair bit of detail. After jumping through a few legal hoops, she was able to update all her official paperwork to reflect who she really was and chose the name Maria Arias. I’m unclear when she started using the name Melanie Hunter.

Marinka’s burlesque career was taking off. She returned to Toledo and Rose La Rose helped her create a feature act and gave her the move that became her signature — “fucking the curtains”. I loved this chapter because it detailed the different sections of a feature’s act.

From there she became a much sought after headliner. She was a regular at the resorts in the Catskills for many years as well as performing overseas. Bob Fosse cast her in All That Jazz  — you can see her in the burlesque club flashback and in the finale — and that led to an appearance in Playboy. More movie work followed, but only as an extra. Unfortunately, Hollywood was uncomfortable with a transgender actress and she never could land a larger role. But burlesque loved her and she continued performing.

Marinka had many loves and marriages and her share of heartbreak. Like so many burlesque Legends, she fell in love with some charming men who spent her hard-earned money and resented her work in burlesque. She’s not bitter about them, just sad at how things turned out. She had happier relationships too, including at least one with a celebrity.

The pacing of the book is a little uneven. She’ll spend one chapter on a particular incident and then cover a longer span of time in the next. The last chapter of the book compresses a couple of decades into a few pages, as she moved from Switzerland to Florida to Las Vegas and began to have health issues.

There are many sections of photos, from early headshots (when she was known as Sully) to her appearances at The Burlesque Hall of Fame. There are also candid shots with her friends and family, plus a few press clippings.

As always, I recommend the memoirs of Legends, because it is so important to know our past. This book is useful as a look back to burlesque history, but it also happens to be enjoyable and entertaining. The tone is very conversational and her story moves along smoothly. Most importantly, it’s the very personal story of a woman who always knew who she was.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 15 April 2021 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It Friday again! I don’t know about where you are, but here in Boston it is gloriously spring out. I’m writing this in haste so I can go play outside. Here’s your tip!

When costuming a group act in identical or nearly so costumes, make sure to label them so you can tell whose is whose.

It’s a useful practice for both short-term and long. It will cut down on the amount of time sifting through a pile of identical bras, trying to find the one that fits you. It’s also useful later for determining which pieces fit other performers if you have a different cast for that act or use the same pieces in a different number.

In the theatre, costumes generally have big tags on the inside with the character name or the name of the actor. In burlesque we have to be more discrete, so the audience can’t see the labels. We have put the markings on the insides of waistbands, under facings, inside pasties, and other mostly hidden places. Sometimes we use embroidery, sometime a fabric marker. You can also add one unique decoration to each garment so if you know, you can tell them apart.

You could label with the performers’ initials, or the size of the garment, or just a number (and then keep a master list of what those numbers mean). The important thing is to be consistent. Unfortunately, over our 15 years, we haven’t been and sometimes end up wondering if the “M” is for “Mina” or “medium” (bad example, because it doesn’t matter in that case).

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 9 April 2021 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s Friday! Time for a tip!

Along with my Little Book of Burlesque Costuming, I provide a bookmark which has a list of essential sewing tools and I want to highlight one in particular. I just list “ruler” as one of those essential tools, but today’s tip is about a specific kind of ruler.

Get a clear ruler.

I originally bought mine to use as a straight-edge with my rotary cutter. Then I realized all the other things it could do, like take the effort out of marking long, accurate lines. It’s invaluable for pattern making and hemming.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 2 April 2021 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Carnival Cream

Dear Constant Reader,

One of my friends sent me this mid-century recipe and kind of dared me to make it. So, of course, I did. If you want to see the whole process in living color, become one of my Patrons!

Carnival Cream is a simple frozen dessert, a little bit like ice cream, with a very special ingredient, which I will reveal later.

You needIMG_0962

eggs, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, the Special Ingredient, and maraschino cherries & toasted almonds for topping. (there is actually sugar in this picture — hiding behind the almonds)

Beat the eggs with sugar until thick. Whip the cream until stiff. Carefully fold in the vanilla and Special Ingredient. Fold in the eggs. Pour the mixture into molds and top with chopped cherries and almonds. Freeze until firm.

Isn’t it pretty?

IMG_0972

What did I think? It’s sweet and creamy. It’s also much firmer than ice cream, since there’s no churning. Maybe you could use a spoon if you let it thaw a little, but I bit right into it. The cherries and nuts add some much needed texture. The Special Ingredient provides a subtle, but distinctive flavor. It might not be immediately recognized.

So what is the Special Ingredient?

Ketchup.

Yes, you read that correctly. This was a recipe from Heinz Ketchup.
For a dessert.
Containing ketchup.
You see why I just had to try it.

It’s not a disgusting as you might think. Really. It’s kind of odd, but not terrible. One could probably use sriracha instead of ketchup if one liked spicy things (I don’t) and be rather au courant.

Here’s the original recipe. (I rearranged the order slightly in my video and above for dramatic effect.)

Carnival Cream

From Mrs. Frank Flynn, Philadelphia, Pa.

Whip 1 cup heavy cream until stiff. Fold in 1/4 cup of the world’s best-loved ketchup, Heinz, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla. Beat 3 eggs with 1/2 cup sugar until thick. Fold into whipped cream mixture.

Pour into individual molds or ice cube trays. Sprinkle with 3 Tbs finely chopped Maraschino cherries and 2 Tbs. chopped toasted almond.s Freeze until firm. (Makes 8 to 12 servings.)

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 15 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 31 March 2021 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s Friday again! Here’s a tip!

Check out rhinestone brands other than Swarovski.

I know there’s a lot of prestige in the Swarovski name, but the company has decided to get out of the “DIY market” and concentrate on their luxury lines. By the end of the year they will stop selling to retailers who will stop selling to us. (You may weep briefly.)

Do not despair! There are a lot of other great stones out there that might fit your needs and budget better. Get some sample cards, play around with colors, expand your horizons. Be prepared for when all the Swarovskis are gone.

Manuge et Toi has done some great work researching rhinestone brands. Support her on Patreon to see her rhinestone comparison video.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 26 March 2021 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s Friday again! Here’s your tip!

Spring clean your wardrobe.

It’s almost spring and that’s a great time to go through your costume closet. Air everything out! Check for spots that need cleaning or damage that needs repairing. If items have been stored folded, give them a press and refold in a different way, so you don’t create weak spots along the fold lines. Pack away any out-of-season costumes.

And while you’re at it, look over your pieces with a critical eye. Are they all still up to your standards? Do any need alteration or additional embellishment to make them stage-worthy again? Are there some you are honestly never going to wear again? Make a plan to adjust the ones you want to elevate. Sell or give away the ones that don’t make the cut.

Of course, you can do the same with your regular clothes as well.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 19 March 2021 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

For many this week marked the start of our quarantine year.

It’s all right to mourn what you’ve lost.

Perhaps you’re grieving for people lost to the pandemic or chances to see friends and family or special occasions. Maybe also lost shows, festivals, other opportunities, &c. . We’ve all lost something. Whatever it is, you can grieve for the loss and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 12 March 2021 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

A Year Off Stage

Dear Constant Reader,

Last night marked one year since the BeauTease appeared on stage in front of an audience. We were in Taste O’ Burlesque at Thunder Road, bookending the competition. If you want to see the show, much of it is here. We were starting to worry about the approaching epidemic. I had made Guilted Lilly a basket to take on her woodland frolics and when she went to hug me, for a moment, I thought “should I do this?”. I’m so glad I accepted her bountiful embrace, because it was the last time I would touch someone who wasn’t living in my house for many months.

Since then Thunder Road has closed for good and we’ve done five virtual shows (I’ll write about that experience another time). I miss performing live. I miss it so much. I keep thinking about being backstage, getting ready for a show. Chatting with the other troupe members, checking in with the stage hands. Everyone knows what to do — we hang the banners, put together the clothing racks and unpack the costumes, set out snacks (most often Devastasia). It’s fun. It’s hard to imagine that we didn’t have to wear masks and keep our distance.

The best part is being in front of the audience. Something changes when there are people there. A lot of performers talk about the energy of the audience and it’s true. There’s a connection and you each feed off each other’s excitement. Having people to play off, even if it’s just tossing a smile over here or directing a bump over there, makes such a huge difference in performance. Sure, I give my best to the camera (or try to), but I don’t feel as playful or spontaneous as when I’m in front of people. There’s a reason we say “the magic of live theatre”.

I can’t believe it’s been a year. I miss you all.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 14 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 9 March 2021 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment