Satan’s Angel: the fire of burlesque
In 2012, the late, great Satan’s Angel gave us an interview.
We know that your first meeting with striptease, during a night out with your friends, was a bit funny. An experience that became the first step to an amazing career. Please, tell us something about it.
I think the House of Charm (charm school) in San Fancisco really got me started in dance around high school, as I started dancing in 1961. There, to get a good job, I learnt how to be a lady, and I learnt dance, fencing, ballet and jazz/tap dancing. And I was good at it. It didn’t help me catch a rich husband, but I did get a good job.
One day one of the other secretary’s came in to my office area, and told me there was an amateur strip contest in North Beach (that was an area where all the strip, gogo, and dance clubs were in San Francisco). Asked if I wanted to go and I said “sure why not”! Now you have to understand that we were all under age. So we went home, ratted up our hair in big beehive hairdo’s, put on Liz Taylor Cleopatra eyes, mom’s old chiffon cocktail dress, stale pack of cigarettes and fake id’s (identification papers proving you were 21 yrs. of age) and off we went.
We strutted right through the front door of the club and watched the show. Then the master of ceremonies came on stage and asked the women in the audience if they wanted to come up and dance one song. And if they won… Made a crisp $100.00 dollar bill! And all the women had to do was take off there dress. Pantyhose wasn’t even made/invented then… So I’m thinking this is the kind of jobs they should have told us at career day in high school, this was the kind of math I understood. And seeing’s how I made $99.00 every two weeks in work pay.
I went home that friday night, practiced taking off my sexiest dress, and then the next night I went back to the club, and I won… And kept right on winning in all the clubs that had the amateur contests! Then one night, an owner of a night club hired me on full time. That’s how I really got started, I was a performance artist who twirled five regular tassels (ta ta’s, belly button, and on each cheek of my rear end). Work was hard, we did about eight shows a night. I met this woman who made costumes for all entertainers called Bebe Hughes, she talked me into becoming an exotic dancer. Because she told me I could make 3 times what I was used to making as a performance artist, and do less shows… So exotic dancer I became.
How your family reacted to your choice?
In the 1950’s and 1960’s women did *not* have many choices of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Mother/housewife, sales person, or factory work. The hippy movement was just beginning, make love not war, burn your bra, peace, freedom of choice. The whole world was changing. But I still didn’t know if I wanted to go to college or not. It was the money, I couldn’t afford it, and neither could my parents. So when this opportunity came up to dance i took it! My mother found out I was dancing by the neighbor coming over to her house and saying… This sure looks like your daughter in this newspaper. Well, my mom wasn’t happy, but what could she do? I was out on my own, but she has always supported me my whole life. Burlesque for me had nothing to do with the empowerment of women, it was all about the money. By the time I was 25 years old, I owned 2 business’s, my own home, plenty of money in the bank, a new Cadillac every year… I would never have had any of that if I stayed at my old job making $99.00 a week ! Sad to say… I’ll say it again, it was all about the money!
By the mid-60s, you created the act which you are best known for.
I remember my first night club that I worked in as an exotic dancer. It was early evening, I’m in the dressing room of the Moulin Rouge night club for exotic stars in North Beach. And I look down to the end of this very long dressing room table to see an older woman. Maybe late 30’s to early 40’s. I think to myself, honey your getting old, you need to retire! Course I laugh now at 66 and dancing… Who knew! Anyway she was smoking like a chimney, and drinking something on the rocks! When she asked me what my name was, I told her, and she said, well what do you do for an act. I said i’m a tassel twirler, she groans and says to me, “oh noooooo! Not another tassel twirler”! I get a little upset over her words, and retorted back… I’ll have you know I twirl five tassels on my body. And then she said, well maybe that’s good, but eventually the other dancers will be doing them, and your act won’t be all that great or unusual, ya gotta have a gimmick! So then I become slightly mad, and spun around and yelled at her, so what do you want me to do? Set them on fire. And she replied; now that’s a gimmick! And I’ve been twirling fire tassels or as I call them ta ta flambé ever since! Over 25,000 times and for over 40 years…
What about your friendship with Tura Satana?
Tura and I were great friends. We both twirled tassels! She was more of a comedian then I was….I’m a lil’ bit more serious lol if you can believe that. We knew each other since we were young women! We never worked at the same places, because she was a featured star performer, and so was I! She could’ve twirled fire tassels, but preferred not to. As it was hard to find a club even then that allowed fire. Of course I just never worked in them that much, unless I could do my fire tassels! Plus she moved on to make/star in movies! She became very famous for that. She has passed away and now dances and twirls in the heavens. I love and miss her dearly! Oh! The stories we could tell…
In the same years you were also the frontwoman and bass player of an all-girl topless rock band. Something that was completely new, in those times!
Yes! I was the leader of the all girl band The Hummingbirds! Which was the second band, owned by Ray Floyd a top professional golfer. The first band was the Ladybirds! After there great success on the Broadway strip, they begun to travel all over the world! So alas, the Hummingbirds! We were an all girl *topless* band! Was very hard for me to play the bass with those big 44dd’s sticking out there. Most of the girls when the band broke up became leaders of there own band or singers. And that’s what I did, I sang. I had a rock blusy jazz band and traveled all over the USA. I was known as Cece Walker! But it paid very badly! And so in the end, back to burlesque! There are very few pictures of us, as the club was to cheap to have new flyers etc made, so they used the other bands promo… But I do have a few, and some recordings of us singing!
And then, the USO tours in Vietnam with Bob Hope. What do you remember about that experience?
Actually we followed Bob Hope’s tour into Vietnam, they always said I was in his tour but not actually. Although we came on after him, and I met him. We were not in his tour. But the boys didn’t care, we were dancers, and that’s all that they cared about! And we were there to make them forgot about being in a war, that we should have never been in! It was our patriotic duty…
Actually, although it sounds fab that I was there… The true story is this. I was working in Hawaii at the Hubba Hubba Club… And one evening some service men came up to me and complimented me on my show. Saying I was the kind of dancer Bob and his other tours would love. And basically that was about it. Later in the evening one of the men came back to me and asked me if I would be interested in joining the tour for Vietnam show (he was head of the entertainment staff). Well, after I picked myself up from the floor (and not really believing what he said) I said sure I would. And he said they’ll make all the arrangements. Thinking nothing of it, the very next day, Jack the owner of the Hubba Hubba called me very early in the morning and asked me, how fast I could get ready? I said “ready for what?” He said Vietnam! Well I told him probably a day or two, he said no angel try an hour! I said my good Jack what about my things here, my bookings? He said don’t worry about it. It will be here when you return and I’ll take care of everything!
I called Sol Goodmen (my agent), he told me it was all true and have fun, and he’d talk to me upon my return. I threw everything together, grabbed my one suitcase and passport, and I was off to the airport. On the plane they briefed me on the show. Told me one of the girls had caught a very bad case of dysentery from some beetle that crawls up under your toe nails (or something like that) lays eggs, and they get into your blood stream, and viola, the green apple trots… Poor thing! And she was in Tokyo recouping… And I was replacing her. It would be a two week engagement… Well! When they opened up the plane door and that humid and wet hot hot hotter then hell weather slapped me in the face… I knew I was in trouble! And so thus begun my adventures in Vietnam… Which of course you’ll have to read when my book comes out around the holidays in 2012!
Your come back on stage, in a burlesque show, is dated 2003. It was the Tease-O-Rama in San Francisco. How did you feel, after several years?
Oh!!! I remember my first time on stage for the Tease-O-Rama pageant. I hadn’t danced for years. And I walked out on the stage for the first time like I never left. The audience applauded yelled and screamed, and I cried. I’ve never felt that kind of love in all my years performing. They really liked me… I was stunned! And it happens where ever I perform., but now that I’m getting into my late 60’s… I’m not that happy! My body is failing me fast. I’m not growing old gracefully! And because I’m all natural, it is even worse haha! But it does not seem to bother my peers or fans. They love me either way! They never really see me as a grandmother type, which is great for me. It helps to keep me feeling young in spirit! I was always a good dancer, age has just slowed me down. But I still shimmy and shake it, yell it and vibrate it! When I leave the stage… You know Satan’s Angel was there!
You spent a lifetime of incredible experiences, both human and artistic. Experiences that merged into the show Have Tassels, Will Travel written by Terry Earp. Please, tell us about it.
Although in 1997, i for two years put on my own burlesque show in Mesa Arizona, and worked with Pyrrah Sutra and her Scandalesque revue, and performed in her show, as well as produced my own shows in Phoenix Arizona. Terry Earp was the woman who brought me out into the world of the big festivals and pageants. She is a renowned playwright, author and actor. She was writing a play, and asked me to collaborate with her. So I did, when she started to take notes after hearing my stories she closed up the note book and said: “I’m going to write a play about your life” and she did. So now I do a shorter version of the play, and I do storytelling’s. If it wasn’t for her and her love for me and my stories… You’d probably never known who I was. And for this Terry I love and bless you for! You kept this old legend alive and well, with love from burlesque lovers from around the world… I bow to you all! I’m honored and humbled.
About experiences: there’s a documentary film dedicated to you, Satan’s Angel, Queen of the Fire Tassels. We know it’s in post production. What about it? And when is it going to be released?
We are putting the film into the film festivals all over the world! We are just waiting… This tells you everything I would not tell you in my book, it’s very very personal! From being born to now. You see me cry, you see me laugh, you learn what the thing in all the world I like to do best! Like fishing! Laughing as I said that. Or how Satan’s Angel is not going to hell, she’ll go to heaven, because I believe in God! It’s a crazy wild and different documentary, which I hope you’ll love. The release date is not for sure yet, but soon! Be patient my lil ones, it’s coming.
And what about the autobiography you hint about?
I’m hoping to have my book done by Christmas of 2012. It’s not about me and how I grew up, or anything that’s really depressing, etc. It’s about all the wild and crazy things that happened to me in my life in burlesque. But know this, I will not tell all haha it’s funny and it’ll make you cry… I will have tons of clippings, links, photos, contracts, no photo shop etc., everything to prove that I was a real featured star performer who traveled all across the stages of the world! It’s just I have been working so much, I’ve had a hard time getting back to the book! But now I will have time to do so. This year I will *produce* the very first Philadelphia Burlesque Pageant ever, with Lulu Black and Ecret Productions. Plus I will be opening my glamorous boutique and dance studio, also in Philly. So it is very hard for me to get back as I said to the book, but I’m working on it!
In the 2000’s new-burlesque has arrived in Italy too. Now, in our country there are several aspiring performers. They’ll surely be pleased to receive some tips and advices from you!
Although burlesque will always be here, I tell all the ladies, keep that day job or go back to school. Don’t be an old woman living on social security (if it’s still here in 40 years). Even tho there are many woman who will keep it growing and strong. The old ways are loved by many exotic throughout the world. It may not be the same as yesterday, but there are many producers out there who take the old and the new , some just keep the old ways, and some are as far out as the stars. Burlesque as I know it will be here long after I’m gone. It’s like vintage anything… It’s well loved all over the world. And I hope I had a part in keeping true burlesque alive!
And so with burning gratitude and fiery love once again I thank you all!