Bur­lesque icon Blaze Starr dies

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - News.obits@latimes.com Jac­ques Kelly and Chris Kal­tenbach write for the Bal­ti­more Sun. The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. By Jac­ques Kelly and Chris Kal­tenbach

Her af­fair with a col­or­ful Louisiana gover­nor, Earl Long, be­came the ba­sis for a Hol­ly­wood movie. She was 83.

Blaze Starr, a bur­lesque icon and strip­per whose af­fair with a col­or­ful Louisiana gover­nor was the ba­sis for a Hol­ly­wood movie, has died at the age of 83.

Starr died Mon­day at her home in West Vir­ginia, said her nephew Earsten Spauld­ing. She had ex­pe­ri­enced heart prob­lems in re­cent years.

Born Fan­nie Belle Flem­ing in Wayne County, W. Va., Starr long per­formed at the Two O’Clock Club in Bal­ti­more, earn­ing her the nick­name “The Hottest Blaze in Bur­lesque.”

Starr, how­ever, be­came bet­ter known for what hap­pened when she landed at the Sho-Bar club in New Or­leans, where she fa­mously had an af­fair with Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, who served in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gus Weill, one of Louisiana’s first po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants, who got his start in pol­i­tics in the 1960s, said Starr was a knock­out beauty who gave New Or­leans glam­our. He did not know her per­son­ally.

“They had the ro­mance and history, and she added a good dol­lop of glam­our,” Weill said about her con­tri­bu­tion to New Or­leans. “She was a won­der­ful dancer and much loved.”

Ted Jones, 81, a for­mer aide to Long, said the gover­nor’s af­fair was the ref lec­tion of “a 60-year-old man try­ing to rein­vent his life.”

Jones said the open af­fair lasted from 1959 un­til Long’s death in Septem­ber 1960, but didn’t ap­pear to mar Long’s legacy — although it served as po­lit­i­cal chum for his op­po­nents

“Of course, Ms. Blanche (Long’s wife) didn’t like her, but that was be­side the point,” Jones said. “It didn’t mar his legacy; it demon­strated that old men have a flair for nice women.”

Jones re­called the last time he saw Long was right af­ter the for­mer gover­nor had se­cured a con­gres­sional seat in 1960. He was sit­ting on the edge of a bed at the Bent­ley Ho­tel in Alexandria, La., with his arm around Starr.

“Per­sonal mis­be­hav­iors on the part of male politi­cians were not an un­usual thing,” said Ale­cia P. Long, a history pro­fes­sor at Louisiana State Univer­sity. She is not re­lated to the Long po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. But she added that Long was a “par­tic­u­lar case be­cause he was so open about it.”

The flam­boy­ant strip­per also claimed she had slept with John F. Kennedy be­fore he won the pres­i­dency.

Starr later mi­grated more to­ward com­edy acts when she bought the Two O’Clock Club.

Film­maker John Wa­ters, a Bal­ti­more na­tive who cel­e­brated the city’s weird­ness in movies such as “Pink Flamin­gos,” said he watched Starr’s shows as a teenager, though he never met her. He said her wardrobe was a ma­jor inf lu­ence on Di­vine, the cross-dress­ing ac­tor who starred in sev­eral of Wa­ters’ movies.

“Other boys my age were at football games and the Ori­oles and the Colts, but I was think­ing about Blaze Starr, and not in an erotic way, ei­ther,” Wa­ters said. “Just from a showbiz point of view, I re­spected her deeply.”

So did the city. Dur­ing the height of her pop­u­lar­ity, she led pa­rades, cheered for the Ori­oles, Colts and Bul­lets, presided over bi­cy­cle races and gave dis­abled Viet­nam vet­er­ans a free show at her club. The Amer­i­can Le­gion gave her awards for hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism.

“For a while, she was the only fa­mous per­son Bal­ti­more had,” Wa­ters said. “I still think she was the best tourist at­trac­tion that Bal­ti­more ever had.”

Starr, who was born April 10, 1932, and grew up in West Vir­ginia’s coal fields, co-au­thored her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in 1974.

The book was adapted 15 years later into the movie “Blaze,” star­ring Paul New­man as Earl Long and Lolita Davi­dovich as Starr.

Spauld­ing re­called his aunt as car­ing, sen­ti­men­tal and a char­ac­ter.

She made many of her elab­o­rate bur­lesque out­fits, was a fan of hunt­ing mush­rooms and gin­seng and quickly picked up how to play the banjo, he said.

“She was tal­ented at any­thing she wanted to do,” he said.

Hulton Archive/Getty Im­ages

Apic/Getty Im­ages

‘THE HOTTEST BLAZE IN BUR­LESQUE’ Blaze Starr’s af­fair with Gov. Long inspired a movie

star­ring Paul New­man and Lolita Davi­dovich.

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