If not for a concerned agent, Tempest Storm says, she would get out on the Adler Theatre stage next weekend and bump and grind just as she's done for the past 65-plus years.

"I could, but two years ago I fell onstage doing my act and I broke my hip," the 85-year-old burlesque legend said from her Las Vegas home.

"It's fine now, but I have such a fear of dancing. I can still dance, but (my agent) has a fear of me falling again," she added. "I haven't gotten up the nerve to do my number. Maybe later, though."

Storm, who is being interviewed for a planned documentary on her life and career, will be in Davenport next weekend for the first Iowa Burlesque Festival. She does three or four such appearances per year, she said, with a talk, a question-and-answer session and some kidding around with her audience.

"I say some funny things," she said. "In Portland, (Ore.), I zeroed in on a couple all night and said to him that he could eat crackers in my bed anytime."

Storm says that in the wake of the hip injury, she's as healthy as she's ever been.

"I've kept myself together," she said. "I never drank, never did drugs, never smoked. I took very good care of myself over these years."

And, as she has for decades, there are long, curly, fire-engine-red tresses. 

Storm said she's enjoyed the revival of burlesque dancing that's taken place over the past few years.

"I give them a lot of credit. They are the ones who are trying to keep it going," she said of the younger dancers. "They all look at me as an inspiration, and I feel very honored they say that about me. I'm hoping they learn something from me. It's unbelievable the way they look up to me."

Born Annie Blanche Banks in 1928 in the small town of Eastman, Ga., she left home at the age of 14.

"My family life was not too kind to me," she said. "I worked my way to Hollywood after being a waitress in Columbus, Ga., and Atlanta, Ga."

While working as a cocktail waitress in Hollywood, one of her customers told her she should be in show business. "I said, 'I've heard that before,' " she added.

But the man knew the manager of the Follies Theatre, across from the clothing store where the fellow worked. The Follies was getting rid of all of its dancers and looking for young performers.

Once she auditioned, she was asked whether she could striptease.

"I said, 'What is that?' I was from a small town, I didn't know," she said. "He said it was just dancing, but you take your clothes off. I said, 'Oh, no, not me. My mother would disown me.' "

She finally was talked into performing, though, starting in the chorus line and getting her own five-minute number.

Storm wore a purple satin two-piece gown and was set to dance to "St. Louis Blues" and "Deep Purple."

The advice from her mentor was "if you make a mistake, keep going." And a mistake happened the first night. Her gown was not snapped properly and hit the floor within seconds.

But she kept on going as if nothing had happened.

"I made up my mind to be a class act," she said.

She took ballet lessons to help her move more gracefully onstage.

"I worked very hard at it. I was either going to be a big star or forget it," she said.

Big Hollywood names such as Edward G. Robinson, Burt Lancaster and Mickey Rooney would come to the Follies, accompanied by their wives, which was commonplace at the time.

"To me it was entertaining. We used to get a lot of couples. The wives would love seeing the costumes and the production numbers," she said. "That was their risque night out."

Performing later in Nevada, she said, left fewer restrictions on the amount of clothing than in other states. She became a regular at the Hilton in Reno, the Sahara at Lake Tahoe and at the small Embassy Club in Vegas.

"They only had two hotels there, and that was in 1951," she said of the town where she's returned to live the past six years. "I've seen Las Vegas grow and grow and grow."

Storm is infamous for claims of affairs with John F. Kennedy (several times before he was president and, she said, once after) as well as Elvis Presley.

"They were great gentlemen and I had a lot of fun," she said. "Elvis I met when he was 22 and I was 29. We went together and we remained friends up until he died. It was such a shame what happened to him. Unbelievable.

"I met (Kennedy) in Washington. I worked at a nightclub, but it wasn't a legit strip club. It had a singing act and different acts, and I was the only one who came in there as a burlesque headliner," she added. "It was a wonderful relationship. A great, great man."

It was far easier to get away with a clandestine affair back then, she said.

"In those days we didn't have all this paparazzi. The things he was doing then, he couldn't get away with now," she said. "It'd be all over the place."

0
0
0
0
0