Fannie Belle Fleming
April 10, 1932
|Died||June 15, 2015 (aged 83)|
Wilsondale, Wayne County, West Virginia, US
|Other names||"The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque"|
|Occupation(s)||Stripper, American burlesque star, nude model, gemologist|
|Years active||1950–1983 (stripper)|
Blaze Starr (born Fannie Belle Fleming; April 10, 1932 – June 15, 2015) was an American stripper and burlesque star. Her vivacious presence and inventive use of stage props earned her the nickname "The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque". She was also known for her affair with Louisiana Governor Earl Kemp Long. Based on her memoir Blaze Starr! My Life as Told to Huey Perry (published in 1974), the 1989 film Blaze told the story of that affair starring Paul Newman as Long and Lolita Davidovich as Starr, with Starr herself acting in a cameo role and as a consultant.
Starr was born on April 10, 1932, in rural Wayne County, West Virginia, along Twelvepole Creek, (also spelled Twelve Pole Creek) the second eldest of 11 siblings born to Lora (née Evans) and Goodlow Fleming.
Reared in the Newground Hollow (also spelled New Ground Hollow) area of Wilsondale, West Virginia, she left home at either age 14 or 15, claiming to have suffered a gang rape during her teenage years. She first moved to Logan, West Virginia, working as a carhop, and then from there to Washington D.C., where, according to her autobiography, she was discovered by a promoter while she was employed in a doughnut shop.
I was 15 and working as a waitress at the Mayflower Donut Shop in Washington, D.C., when a man named Red Snyder told me I was pretty and ought to be in show business. I said I had been raised to believe it was sinful to dance, but I could play the guitar. "Good," he said. "I'm going to make you a star." Red said he wanted me to dress up as a cowgirl, play the guitar a little and then strip. I had never heard of striptease before. But Red sweet-talked me and said the girls who did all had to be really beautiful. When you have never even shown your belly button, the thought of stripping is scary. So when I went onstage for the first time in my red-and-white cowgirl outfit, I used my hat to cover myself. After the show I threw up. It wasn't that I thought there was anything wrong with stripping. I was just overwhelmed by the emotion of getting into show business.
Starr moved to Baltimore, where she began performing at the Two O'Clock Club nightclub in 1950. She eventually became its headliner. She rose to national renown after she was profiled in a February 1954 Esquire magazine article, "B-Belles of Burlesque: You Get Strip Tease With Your Beer in Baltimore". The Two O'Clock Club remained her home base, but she began to travel and perform in clubs throughout the country.
Starr's striking red hair, voluptuous figure and on-stage enthusiasm were a large part of her appeal. The theatrical flourishes and unique gimmicks she used in her stage show went beyond established burlesque routines like the fan dance and balloon dance. She often performed with dangerous cats, including a baby black panther.
Her trademark routine was "the exploding couch". As she explained in 1989, "I had finally got my gimmick, a comedy thing where I'm supposed to be getting so worked up that I stretch out on the couch, and — when I push a secret button — smoke starts coming out from like between my legs. Then a fan and a floodlight come on, and you see all these red silk streamers blowing, shaped just like flames, so it looked like the couch had just burst into fire."
Blaze was arrested more than once. The first time was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for lewdness, by a young police officer, Frank Rizzo, who would later become that city's police commissioner and mayor. Another time was in New Orleans.
In 1968, Starr bought the Two O'Clock Club on The Block in Baltimore, Maryland, which at the time was valued at 65,000 dollars. She continued to perform in the club. In the early 1980s, Starr made an appearance at the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre in San Francisco.
Relationship with Louisiana Governor Earl Long
In the late 1950s, while briefly working at the Sho-Bar on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Starr began a long-term affair with then-governor Earl Long. Starr was in the process of divorcing her husband, club owner Carroll Glorioso, and Long was married to the state's first lady, known colloquially as "Miz Blanche".
Two of Starr's performances, including the combustible sofa, are among the burlesque routines featured in the 1956 compilation film Buxom Beautease, produced and directed by Irving Klaw. Director Doris Wishman's 1962 film Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, a nudie-sexploitation film, features Starr's one lead movie role. As the title suggests, she plays herself. The film is also known as Blaze Starr Goes Back to Nature, Blaze Starr Goes Wild, Blaze Starr the Original, and Busting Out.
The 1989 movie Blaze recounted the story of her and Long's relationship. The film was directed by Ron Shelton, adapted by him from Starr's memoir Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry (1974), and starred Lolita Davidovich as Starr and Paul Newman as Long. Starr herself appeared in a cameo role and acted as consultant, earning four percent of the film's profits.
Retirement and personal life
Semi-retired since 1975, Starr finally retired from stripping for good in 1983 to become a full-time gemologist, an occupation in which she had dabbled in part-time since 1975 and had spent several holiday seasons selling hand-crafted jewelry at the Carrolltowne Mall in Eldersburg, near Baltimore.
Starr died June 15, 2015, either at her home in Wilsondale, West Virginia, or at a hospital in nearby Williamson (sources vary). She was 83 years old. She had been worried about the health of her dog, whom she adopted as a stray. One of her sisters claimed the stress, along with a "severe heart condition", killed her. Her dog died hours later.
- III, Harris M. Lentz (2016). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2015. McFarland. p. 332. ISBN 9781476625539. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
- Sorkin, Amy Davidson (June 17, 2015). "Blaze Starr and the Politicians". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
- Powell, Bob (April 10, 2015). "April 10, 1932: Striptease Artist Blaze Starr Born in Wayne County". West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Archived from the original on June 16, 2015. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
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- "House Concurrent Resolution No. 23". West Virginia Legislature. February 14, 2002. Archived from the original on September 3, 2010. Retrieved June 16, 2015. Gives spelling as "Twelve Pole Creek" and "New Ground Hollow".
- Sellinger, Margie Bonnett (December 18, 1989). "Stripper Blaze Starr Recalls Her Affair with the Governor". People. Vol. 32, no. 25. Archived from the original on May 5, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
- Newground Hollow is an area of Wilsondale per "Obituary: Bennie Fleming". Williamson Daily News (Williamson, West Virginia) via Legacy.com. Archived from the original on June 17, 2015. Retrieved June 16, 2015.
Born June 9, 1948, at NewGround [sic] Hollow in Wilsondale.... Survivors include ... sisters, Berta Gail Fleming (Freelin) and Blaze Starr, both of Wilsondale
- Zemeckis, Leslie (2013). Behind the Burly Q. Delaware: Skyhorse. ISBN 978-1-62087-691-6.[page needed]
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- "Who's Who in Burly-Q: Blaze Starr (1932-2015)". Burlesque Hall of Fame. April 10, 2019. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
- Southall, Ashley (June 16, 2015). "Blaze Starr, Burlesque Queen Who Was Linked to a Governor, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 4, 2016.
- Buxom beautease. WorldCat. 2007. OCLC 191538136.
- "Blaze Starr, burlesque performer - obituary". Daily Telegraph. June 16, 2015. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
- "Diane Arbus: Family Albums". Grey Art Gallery. December 2, 2015. Retrieved December 29, 2019.
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- Nyden, Paul (June 15, 2015). "WV native, burlesque performer Blaze Starr dies at 83". Charleston Gazette. Charleston, West Virginia. Archived from the original on June 16, 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- "Burlesque dancer Blaze Starr dies at 83". The Baltimore Sun. June 15, 2015. Archived from the original on March 19, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2015.