Thursday, 21 Oct 2021

Inside the wild life of burlesque star Tempest Storm, who ‘dated JFK and Elvis’

Tempest Storm, the flame-haired burlesque icon who claimed to have bedded rock and roll legend Elvis Presley and former US President John F. Kennedy, has died aged 93.

Ms Storm, who legally changed her name from Annie Blanche Banks in the mid-1950s, was born in the state of Georgia on February 29, 1928.

She left her abusive childhood home in her early teens, marrying for the first time at just 14 and getting a job as a waitress. Her marriage was annulled but Tempest’s second marriage, just a year later, lasted only six months.

"I just left one day," she told film reviewer Roger Ebert. "I still had it in my mind to go to Hollywood. I couldn't get it out of my system."

She was waitressing in Los Angeles, aged 17 when a customer suggested she try stripping.

"I was pretty, and already I had a good figure, but I must have looked like the original little country girl come to Hollywood," she said. "What a sight I must have been."

Three weeks after being hired as an exotic dancer at $40 a week (something like £400 a week in today’s money), she was promoted to stripper and given a pay rise to $60 (roughly £600).

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It was in 1951 when 17-year-old Annie started performing at the renowned Follies Theatre, that talent manager Lillian Hunt suggested that she ought to adopt a stage name.

"I asked her if she had any suggestions," she told Ebert. "She said, 'what about Tempest Storm?' I asked her if she had any other suggestions. 'Well', she said, 'what about Sunny Day?' Well, I said, I guess it might as well be Tempest Storm."

Years later, recalling her first performance, she said: "I remember going on stage for the first time, with Lillian in the wings whispering instructions."

By 1956, when Tempest signed a 10-year contract with the Bryan-Engels burlesque chain, she was guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 a year – that would be just short of a million dollars in 2021.

She was famed at the time as the best-paid stripper in the business, a distinction she retained for over a decade.

Partly as a publicity stunt, she insured her 44DD breasts with Lloyds of London for $1 million. She stressed that they were completely natural: "Everything you see," she proudly told an interviewer in 1975, "is all mine".

Tempest's career as an exotic dancer lasted over six decades, and she was still performing well into her seventies.

She believed in the spirit of burlesque, rather than the more explicit routines of later strippers.

"The secret to a good striptease is to leave as much as possible to the imagination,” she said.

"I think taking off all your clothes – and I've never taken off all my clothes – is not only immoral but boring."

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She moved from the stage to the screen, starring alongside iconic fetish model Bettie Page in Irving Klaw’s 1955 exploitation movie, Teaserama.

Tempest had several other screen outings during the Fifties, including French Peep Show, Paris After Midnight, Striptease Girl, and Buxom Beautease.

Those films and the performers in them may now be mostly forgotten, but she gained more enduring fame when she dated two of the most famous men in America.

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She told US radio station WQAD8 about meeting Elvis Presley when she was appearing in the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas: "It was 1956. We had a burlesque review and he came to see the show.

"He came over and sat down – he had the most beautiful eyes – and we got into a relationship and it was absolutely fantastic. He was a real Southern gentleman. Very polite."

The following year, she met future President John F Kennedy: "I met him in 1957 when he was a senator," she said.

"It was a great relationship.

"[JFK] was a great man in his politics and everything. I hadn’t seen him for years, and the last time I saw him, I said, 'You’re going to be president,' and he said, 'I hope you’re right!'"

As well as her marriage to jazz singer Herb Jeffries, Tempest also dated Rat Pack hero Sammy Davis Jr, gangster Mickey Cohen, film director Russ Meyer and singer Vic Damone.

She found it difficult to sustain a lasting relationship, saying her fame as a stripper got in the way.

"A guy marries a girl in this business and he thinks he can handle it," she told The Kansas City Star in 2014.

"They love you when you're engaged, but they can't handle it when you're married. All of a sudden they want you to wear dresses all the way up to your neck."

She officially retired from regular performance in 1995 at the age of 67 but Tempest never completely quit the stage.

"I can't see why I should quit while I'm making so much money," she told Ebert in 1998.

"I'm not a relic, after all. I'm happy with the way things turned out."

She added: "I went into burlesque, which I never planned on, but at least I did make it to the top."

Tempest Storm died on Tuesday, April 20, at her home in Las Vegas. She was 93

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