The Pin Curl staff had the good fortune to be able to celebrate Satan’s Angel’s birthday with her at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival last month. This month the legendary Devil’s Own Mistress dishes about her start in burlesque, the arrest of Wonder Woman, gumbo and the burlesque revival.
By: Divertida Devotchka
After graduating high school, Satan’s Angel worked as an operator directing calls for $99 every two weeks. One day she went with friends (using fake Ids, of course) to an amateur stripping contest at a North Beach night club, and after seeing the winner make more than her entire 2-week paycheck, she came to the next amateur night, competed, and won! She continued to win the amateur contests until she was hired full time as a dancer.
In her career, she followed Bob Hope’s U.S.O. shows in Vietnam and entertained armed forces in Guam several times. She also appeared on Gypsy Rose Lee’s television show, performed with the Folies Bergére in Paris, and worked with Harold Minsky, Ann Corio, Barry Ashton, and many more. She is the originator of fire tassel-twirling and has lit her tassels approximately 25,000 times all over the world. She came out of retirement in 2000 to produce her one-woman play, “Have Tassels Will Travel” and she’s performed at every Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend since 2003. In 2007, she won “America’s Most Outrageous Talent” on the Maury Povich show, and she’s also received the Legend award for lifetime achievement in burlesque at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend 2009.
I was arrested in Guam for lewd and mischievous behavior while performing my Wonder Woman routine. My costume had a g-string, bikini panties, a bodysuit, and blue shorts, so four total layers. During my performance while I was still wearing the full costume, I put my foot on the shoulder of a man in the audience, and almost immediately two goons came and grabbed me! It almost caused a riot because a lot of the guys watching the show were Marines who were willing to fight on my behalf. That’s the only time in my life that I have been arrested. I still have my citation and the newspaper clipping about my arrest, which was on the front page!
Your name led to lots of attempts at censorship and caused issues with PR and booking, right? What other names did venue owners/show producers try to call you? Did “Satan” really cause that much of a stir?
I really wanted to use the name “Hell’s Angel,” but no one would put something like that on the marquee or in any advertising. I chose Satan’s Angel instead to avoid that issue, but that name still caused problems. My name still causes a stir today. It’s mellowed out a lot but I still get a lot of flack. Even this year if there are blogs or newspaper articles online about me, there’s always comments from concerned readers calling me a “devil worshiper” and saying that they’ll pray for me! As far as other names I was called, they tried to book me as “Satana” Angel (like Tura Satana, and I didn’t like that because I wanted to be respectful of the performer with that name. You just couldn’t use another girl’s name like that.) They’d also use “Satin Angel” (even though there were 2 other performers using that name.) At least two venues put a name on the marquee that wasn’t mine.
The Pin Curl Magazine staff was lucky enough to celebrate your birthday with you at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Was it an enjoyable one?
Yeah, I was drinking pretty good on my birthday! I got to eat oysters and Spooky LeStrange made me some homemade spicy gumbo! Performing with Trixie Minx and Fleur de Tease at the Boomtown Casino was an interesting experience since we weren’t allowed to take anything off. It was a lot like the old days where you knew that if you couldn’t take anything off you had better be a good dancer.
I was glad to go to New Orleans to party but also to see how it looks after Katrina. I really think I’ll be dead before that town fully recovers from that. I mean they’re working on it, but the old city is gone. The city and the people are fighters, and burlesque is alive and doing very well!
What are your fondest memories in your performing career?
Gypsy Rose Lee was really great to work for. I remember, she comes up to me and she says “Let me see you in my dressing room in 15 minutes.” And I thought, “Oh god I’ve upset the queen of burlesque, the one and only.” So I go in there and she says, “You remind me of myself, kid.” I said, “thank you, that’s a great honor.” She said ‘’you’ve got moxie.” I said “thanks, I took that from you.” That’s where that came from- from her. Gypsy Rose Lee wasn’t the most beautiful woman in the world; she made herself into that, and it’s because of her that I learned that you don’t have to be the most gorgeous woman in the world or the world’s best dancer or singer. You just have the guts to get out there and do your thing. To stand on stage with your fist raised in the air, saying “I’m not staying home and raising kids, working as a waitress, or whatever,” (because that was all you had then). It’s getting up there and saying “Here I am! I am a woman and I am beautiful!”
Gypsy gave me a dusty pink feather fan of hers, which I still have to this day in a box. It needs to be re-glued and repaired, but you know what, it’s Gypsy Rose Lee’s, so I just try to preserve it as best I can.
I also really loved performing in Japan. We were backed by a twenty-piece orchestra, the theater sat 5,000 people, and there was this waterfall behind the stage, so you’d be performing and the water would trickle down and you’d be up there feeling just like the queen of the world, like a goddess or Zeus!
Another memory of mine is one that I talk about in my storytelling. When the first carrier coming from Vietnam (USS Carrier Ranger) came into the San Francisco bay, we raced out on a little tugboat called the Salmon Queen. All these soldiers started shouting “we want the topless” and so of course, I did my patriotic duty and I showed those boys my goods! So then we hear the Coast Guard announcing, “Ma’am please put your top back on. You are breaking the law!” from a boat. So I put my top back on and hauled ass out of there!
Who inspired you as a performer?
I got balls from Gypsy Rose Lee, the glitz and glamour from Mae West, the class from Lili St. Cyr.
In an article about burlesque in Time Magazine in April of 1970, you were quoted saying, “It will never be the same again. I’ll never be a Tempest Storm or a Lili St. Cyr. Burlesque is dead.” Forty years have passed since the publication of that article, and you’re still performing. Do you still think burlesque is dead? Or has it been revived? If it’s been revived, to whom should we attribute the revival?
What I meant was that I could never be a Lili or a Tempest and I really felt that their era was gone and it would never come back.
I absolutely believe it’s been revived. The Montreal Burlesque Festival was just like the old days. I would attribute the revival basically to Jennie Lee, who passed in 1990, and Dixie Evans and whoever they have helping them. It’s definitely coming back. It’s different now, but it’s back.
Cattiness, rivalry and similar shenanigans are known to happen in the industry. Did you have any experiences with costume/prop sabotage, fighting, or the like?
In my day, when you didn’t like someone or if you had a problem with a girl, you’d just wait til after the show, get in their face and tell them how you feel. And if they got a little over the top, you’d punch ‘em in the nose. I never got into fights. If anyone didn’t like me, they never told me.
How does the current burlesque generation compare to the one before it? By that I mean, what are we doing well? What do we still need to learn from you and your fellow industry pioneers?
I’ll tell you what you’re doing well, you’re keeping it alive! That’s the most important thing! I don’t know how to explain what you need to learn, but I always tell the girls who take my classes that you have to remember that it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. The tease, the charisma. Really looking at them and playing with the audience. That and you’ve got to work your best assets, whatever they may be.