Remembering Blaze Starr: Miss Spontaneous Combustion

By on June 17, 2015

In 1962, burlesque dancer and legendary stripper Blaze Starr — born Fannie Belle Fleming in Wilsondale, West Virginia, she died on on Monday, June 15, 2015, age 83 — appeared in this wonderfully colorful campy little movie, Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, playing herself, which shows her checking out the scenery at Florida’s Sunny Palms nudist resort, where she discovers first-hand the wonders of nude volleyball, nude archery and, of course, nude checkers. (NSFW)

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It all comes together after Blaze, the voluptuous Queen of Burlesque — she was known as “Miss Spontaneous Combustion” and “The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque” — ducks into a movie theater to escape her agent — who is also her fiancé — and her scheduled press functions, and ends up seeing a movie on nudism. Intrigued, Blaze Starr Goes Nudist!, and we get to see her having an wonderful time, even finding the time to fall for the camp director, Andy Simms (Ralph Young, who is billed here as Russ Martine, was one-half of the popular 60s singing duo Sandler & Young).

Fiery Blaze
Studio portrait of Blaze Starr, reclining on pillows on the floor, wearing a red-trimmed white dress and white elbow-length gloves, circa 1955 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Ms. Starr is not only known for her role as in the world of stripping and burlesquery, but she is also known for her many public affairs with politicians, like Louisiana governor Earl Long (it was the basis of the Ron Shelton’s 1989 film Blaze, starring Lolita Davidovich in the title role, alongside Paul Newman as the governor.)

The film drew upon excerpts from her memoir, Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry, published in 1974.

In her New York Times obit this week, she was remembered for her “thickly luxurious, fiery red hair, an ample bosom and a penchant for playful humor.”  

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Here’s more from the NYT:

She was born Fannie Belle Fleming in Wilsondale on April 10, 1932. As a child, the eighth of 11 in her family, she washed laundry for $1 a day. Her father was a railroad worker. As a teenager she got on a bus to Washington and landed a job there as a singer in a country band. But while working at a doughnut shop she met a promoter who persuaded her to become a stripper, saying the pay was better.

At 15, Ms. Starr began performing at a club near the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. In 1950, after moving to Baltimore, she stepped onto the runway of the 2 O’Clock Club on the Block, that city’s famous strip of adult entertainment shops and stages. Two of her sisters, following her lead, also worked as strippers on the Block.

Ms. Starr gained national recognition when she was featured in Esquire magazine in 1954, hailed as the successor to Lili St. Cyr on the burlesque circuit. Unlike Ms. St. Cyr, however, she made many of her own costumes, part of a stage wardrobe, including three mink coats, that was valued in 1967 at $20,000 (about $142,000 in today’s money).

“I didn’t have a thing to do between shows, so I started to sew,” Ms. Starr told The Times that year.

She had recently spent four months sewing and gluing hundreds of beads on a black lamé gown. She also designed her $100,000 ranch-style house in Baltimore, complete with a purple sunken bathtub and fur-covered furniture. The newspapers called it “Belle’s Little Acre.” She was earning up to $100,000 a year in the mid-1960s.

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Onstage, she often delighted crowds by tucking a rose in her bosom and blowing the petals across her chest. Sometimes she stretched out on a couch and wiggled seductively while removing her garments. When she got to the last pieces, smoke would emerge from between her legs, drawing laughs.

Ms. Starr met Governor Long while performing at the Sho-Bar in New Orleans in 1959. She recalled their affair in her memoir, and also claimed to have had a sexual encounter with President John F. Kennedy after he attended one of her shows.

Ms. Starr performed for more than 30 years, sometimes in the Times Square theater district, before hanging up her G-string and pasties in the 1980s, telling People magazine in 1989 that she stopped because burlesque had become raunchy.

She became a gemologist, making jewelry and selling it at a mall in suburban Baltimore.

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Reflecting on her career as a stripper, she told a reporter for The Baltimore Sun in 2010: “Honey, I loved it. But everything has its season.”

(h/t New York Times)

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • David Fullam

    May she rest in peace.