Blaze Starr (Fannie Belle Fleming)

Blaze Starr

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. Snyder became Fleming’s first manager, encouraged her to start stripping, and gave her the stage name Blaze Starr. After he attempted to rape her, however, Starr left Snyder. She later suffered a gang rape during her teenage years. 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. 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.

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Born

  • April, 10, 1932
  • USA
  • Wayne County, West Virginia

Died

  • June, 15, 2015
  • USA
  • Wilsondale, West Virginia

Cemetery

  • D.K. Vance Cemetery
  • Wilsondale, West Virginia
  • USA

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