|Born||Fannie Belle Fleming
April 10, 1932
Wayne County, West Virginia, U.S.
|Died||June 15, 2015(aged 83)|
|Occupation||Stripper, American burlesque star, nude model, actress, gemologist|
|Years active||1950–1983 (stripper)
|Height||5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)|
Blaze Starr (born Fannie Belle Fleming; April 10, 1932 – June 15, 2015) was an American stripper and burlesque comedian. 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. The 1989 film Blaze is based on her memoir.
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 and moved 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 mayor. Another time was in New Orleans.
Relationship with Earl Long
In the late 1950s, while working at the Sho-Bar on Bourbon Street in 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". Starr and Long's relationship, cited as one reason for Long being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, lasted until his death in 1960. In his will, Long bequeathed Starr $50,000, which she refused to accept.
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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.
Diane Arbus photographed Starr in 1964. The photo "Blaze Starr at home" was included in the book and traveling exhibit Diane Arbus: Family Albums. 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.
Starr eventually bought the Two O'Clock Club on The Block in Baltimore, Maryland. Some of her costumes and other memorabilia have been displayed at the Museum of Sex in New York City and the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. In the early 1980s, Starr made an appearance at the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre in San Francisco.
Semi-retired since 1975, she finally retired from stripping for good in 1983 to become a full-time gemologist, an occupation in which she had dabbled part-time since 1975 and had spent several holiday seasons selling hand-crafted jewelry at the Carrolltowne Mall in Eldersburg, near Baltimore. She was a cousin of singer Molly O'Day.
Starr died June 15, 2015, either at her home in Wilsondale, 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.
Four siblings predeceased her: brothers Bennie, Ray, and Sherman Franklin, and sister Faye. She was survived by six of her siblings: John P., Berta Gail, Betty, Debbie, Judy, and Mary.
- Lovece, Frank (December 13, 1989). "Starr Power: The Life and Times of a Striptease Queen". Los Angeles Times via author's official site. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
- Sellinger, Margie Bonnett (December 18, 1989). "Stripper Blaze Starr Recalls Her Affair with the Governor". People. 32 (25). Archived from the original on May 5, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
- 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.
- Rasmussen, Frederick N. (May 15, 2010). "Blaze Starr recalls burlesque era in new film". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on June 26, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
- "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".
- 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 16, 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
- Starr, Blaze (1974). Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry. New York: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-19920-3.
- Zemeckis, Leslie (2013). Behind the Burly Q. Delaware: Skyhorse. ISBN 978-1-62087-691-6.
- 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.
- Watson, Sonny, ed. "Blaze Starr". Streetswing.com. Archived from the original on March 19, 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- Mattise, Jonathan; Nuckols, Ben (June 15, 2015). "Blaze Starr, burlesque dancer linked to governor, dead at 83". Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 16, 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- 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". Baltimore Sun. June 15, 2015. Archived from the original on March 19, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2015.