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  
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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  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s a very sad day in the burlesque world. Last night, we lost one of our Legends, Satan’s Angel, The Devil’s Own Mistress, Queen of the Fire Tassels. She was a force of nature and an inspiration to many performers.

I was fortunate enough to meet her a couple of times, most notably at The Great Burlesque Expo in 2008, where she impressed everyone by twirling her fire tassels. “Tatas Flambé”, she called them. Now, she’d been told the venue didn’t allow fire, but that was Angel — she did exactly what she wanted, damn the consequences. Her energy on stage belied her age and years of hard living. I still have not seen anyone work a duster like she did.

Despite her intimidating stage presence, she was quite approachable. She spoke her mind, bluntly and completely unfiltered, and if you were smart, you listened.

Today I want to share some wise words from Mr. Scratch, from when we first learned that Angel was ill:

If you are in the world of burlesque, figure out the legend who is closest to you (I don’t mean geographically; the one who speaks to you as a performer) and reach out to them. Listen to them; learn from them.

We did not invent Burlesque. We inherited it. We cannot keep its flame alive if we do not know what that flame is.

Our Legends are a precious link to our history, and a dwindling resource. Cherish them.

Yours in sorrow,
M2

Published in: on 12 April 2019 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! This week’s tip comes from the wisdom of burlesque Legend Toni Elling, The Duke’s Delight. I first met Miss Elling at Miss Exotic World in 2006, but received this pearl from her at the very first BurlyCon.

Keep your head up.

Toni said never to drop your head on stage. You’re not ashamed of what you do, so never look like it. She also said not to take a bow, but to receive the audience’s appreciation upright. I’ve taken this advice to heart ever since.

Keeping your head up is about more than just pride in your chosen art. It also keeps your connection to and interest in the audience. Dropping your head breaks that connection. If you want to direct the audience’s attention to something low on the stage, like your leg, lower your eyes, but not your whole head. Similarly if you need to pick something up, bend from the hips or sink down into a squat while looking out, rather than just bending over from the waist.

As always there are exceptions: since lowering your head signals defeat or shame, these are emotions you may want to project for a specific character or moment.

Chin up!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 5 October 2018 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In Memoriam: Blaze Starr

Dear Constant Reader,

The world has lost a burlesque legend. Blaze Starr, famed for her flaming couch, black panther, affair with the governor of Louisiana, and unrepentant attitude, died last week. You can read her obituary in the New York Times, if you like.

I’m not going to recap her fascinating life story here, for that you should read Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry, which I reviewed here some years ago.

At that time The Boston Babydolls were creating Madame Burlesque: An Evening of Tributes, a show inspired by the stars of burlesque’s Golden Age. For the most part, we weren’t doing tributes as most burlesquers use the term, meaning a re-creation of a legend’s signature act, but new acts that were inspired by those legendary performers.

Betty Blaize was creating a Blaze Starr-inspired act for one of her numbers and Scratch wanted permission before bringing it to the stage. Miss Starr generously granted it, via email, requesting that the act be “in good taste”. Betty performed a slinky, sultry striptease climaxing with the famed flames.

I was told that when Blaze’s couch burst into flames, sometimes she would holler “barbecue tonight, boys!”. Every time Betty’s flames ignited, she really, really wanted to follow suit, but it would have wrecked the mood she was creating and therfore violated the good taste request.

We’re really honored that we were allowed to present a piece in Miss Starr’s name and with her blessing.

Recently Scratch acquired this fabulous piece of Blaze Starr memorabilia:

It means a lot to us because of the Boston connection. The Pilgrim Theater was in the Combat Zone, where burlesque fled after the redevelopment of Scollay Square, and was probably the last true burlesque house in Boston. A number of big names performed there in the mid 1970’s and I suspect this handbill was from 1974.

Bold, brash, larger than life, and a good businesswoman, Blaze Starr made a huge impact on the world of burlesque (and politics!). She will not be forgotten.

M2

Published in: on 22 June 2015 at 9:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip: In Memoriam

Dear Constant Reader,

This is a special Friday Tip, laden with sorrow.

Always remember those who came before.

Saturday night at the Ohio Burlesque Festival, shortly before the headliners started, Scratch came over to me and said simply, “Dixie died.”

Dixie Evans, The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, was the godmother of modern burlesque. She took dreams of a burlesque museum and made them reality. She created the Miss Exotic World pageant. In some way or another every current burlesque performer can trace their heritage back to Dixie and her work to keep burlesque alive. At the end of this month, performers around the world planned classes and shows to celebrate her 87th birthday and raise money for her care.

While I stood there, stunned and sad, Bella Sin began talking to Scratch. I knew what she was asking. It was a heavy request, but we all knew he was the right person.

When the show was over, and the stage was filled with energized performers having just taken their final curtain call, Scratch took the stage to announce our loss.

He spoke eloquently about Dixie’s life and legacy. About her importance to the burlesque world and her connection to all of us. And then he began to choke up: “I think you know where I’m going with this. (Fuck!) Dixie died this afternoon.” It was that muffled profanity that made me begin to weep again — seeing our silver-tongued Scratch, usually never at a loss for words, being almost unable to speak.

It breaks my heart that I can’t share his moving, extemporaneous speech with you. I was too overcome with emotion to even think of taking a crummy cellphone video. And the videographer had stopped filming. You just had to have been there.

He ended by asking everyone to light a candle, raise a glass, whatever was meaningful to you, to celebrate the life of this great Legend. And she was sent off with thunderous applause.

Every time we lose a Legend the connection to our past and our history becomes ever more tenuous. Always remember them and what they did to make what we do possible. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

April March, The First Lady of Burlesque; Dixie Evans, The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque; Lily Ann Rose, Banned in Boston

Sorrowfully,
M2

Published in: on 9 August 2013 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  
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