Cheers to all the Leap Day babies, for they stay forever young! Some notable Leap Day birthday celebrants who may be of interest to DM readers include the mononymic Brazilian illustrator Jaguar, the extraordinary experimental hip-hop artist Saul Williams, and the serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez. But today, we’re concerned with an iconic burlesque artist with a redundant stage name: Tempest Storm. Born Annie Banks 88 years ago on February, 29th, 1928, she celebrates her 22nd birthday today.
Along with Blaze Starr (RIP 2015), Storm was one of the performers who sat squarely atop that great last gasp of American burlesque that existed on the west coast in the mid-1950s, when cinematic expressions of the form like Striporama, Varietease, and Teaserama brought a tame form of striptease to New Yorkers and hinterlanders, where many actual strip clubs had been put out of business by social puritans. In person, though, it was anything but tame: Storm distinguished herself not just with a massive chest (though obviously that would hardly have been a demerit), but with a larger-than-life persona and outsized stage moves which not only bolstered the flagging form, but which spoke directly through the decades to the burlesque revival currently ongoing. From Rachel Shteir’s Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show:
In the South and the West, a flamboyant striptease was emerging. The woman epitomizing this style was Tempest Storm. Beginning in the early 1950s at the Follies Theater and the El Rey in Oakland, Storm stripped and did highly exaggerated bumps and grinds. Journalists described her as “a force of nature,” as they had Ann Corio in the 1930s, but here the phrase was meant to be even less glamorous and more parodic. “The ‘Storm’ Returns,” one of Storm’s posters read. Storm wore a leopard-print bra in pinup photos and even considered recording an album, which she wanted to call Stormy Weather.
Born Annie Blanche Banks in Appalachia in 1928, Storm escaped into stripping from a turbulent home life. She fled an abusive father at age sixteen, and after a few years’ worth of detours and marriages, came to Los Angeles after the war. She first stripped at the Follies Theater at the end of 1951, under the name Stormy Dan. Quickly, she changed it to Tempest Storm. In keeping with the national trend of “oversized” strippers, Storm’s appeal relied less on grace or charm than on her dimensions. A 1955 Playboy pictorial, “Tempest in a C-Cup,” did exactly that.
Though the album mentioned above never happened, there is a Tempest Storm 7” on Third Man, featuring an interview conducted by Jack White on side 1, and her advice to young women on side two.
Here’s Storm with the legendary pinup model Bettie Page, in a scene from Teaserama. We note with some amusement that the segment revolves around putting clothing on.
Storm’s burlesque fame creeped somewhat into the mainstream, giving her access to social spheres that allowed for dalliances with Elvis and JFK, and a marriage to jazz vocalist Herb Jeffries, whose own life story was pretty amazing. That “interracial” marriage got her blackballed by Hollywood, though it turns out that Jeffries wasn’t even actually black. It’s all pretty messed up, and Storm remains estranged from her daughter with Jeffries to this day.
Despite the eventual exhaustion of the burlesque scene, Storm continued to perform into the 1990s—just overlapping with the beginnings of the neo-burlesque revival—functioning as a conservator of a form rendered quaint by significantly relaxed sexual mores. Her “retirement” seems discretionary, though, as she’s continued to give occasional performances for years, and she very recently starred in the video for the Roy Orbison song “One Of The Lonely Ones,” the title cut from a posthumously-released album that was once considered lost.
Storm’s life story will be told largely in her own words this spring, when Nimisha Mukerji’s documentary Tempest Storm is expected to be released. Here’s a preview clip. Given the subject, I’m sure you’ll understand why I refrain from calling it a “teaser.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The amazing, unpublishable burlesque pop-up book
Looking for a TON of burlesque matchbook covers? Well, you can stop looking.
Senior citizen strippers: Burlesque beauties decked out and working it for the camera