Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blaze

I was sad to learn of the death of Blaze Starr last Monday morning.  She was perhaps the most famous "stripper" in the world in the late 1950's and early 60's.
At 15, Ms. Starr began performing at a club near the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. In 1950, after moving to Baltimore, she stepped onto the runway of the 2 O’Clock Club on the Block, that city’s famous strip of adult entertainment shops and stages. 
Blaze Starr

She gained national recognition when she was featured in Esquire magazine in 1954, hailed as the successor to Lili St. Cyr on the burlesque circuit. Unlike Ms. St. Cyr, however, she made many of her own costumes, part of a stage wardrobe, including three mink coats, that was valued in 1967 at $20,000 (about $142,000 in today’s money).

This is a story I wrote for my old high school website 5 years ago about the  night 53 years ago shortly before my wife and I were to be married:



 
Washington, DC  September 1963

Linda and I had gone together for a little over 2 years, and I knew
she was a very bright and sophisticated lady......with a great sense of humor, and we were both in love, but........she didn’t have any idea how certifiable one of my best friends was.


Paul Niven at Kennedy Nixon Debate

His name was Paul Niven, who very few people remember now, but at the time was part of Ed Murrow’s team of reporters at CBS. He was moderating Face the Nation in the early 60’s and I was the announcer on that show as well as a number of Paul’s radio newscasts throughout the week.

Broadcasting was his job.

But practical jokes...the more outrageous the better...were his life!

Paul Niven, Pat Peyser, Lee Shephard
Both of us were bachelors during that time....and since our work schedules were more or less the same.......we ran around together a lot doing things bachelors do....going to bars....acting stupid...and a few times wandering 40 miles up the road to see the sights in Baltimore’s notorious Burlesque district known as “The Block.”

Paul was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.....and one of the funniest.....and kindest.

But I knew that like all of Paul’s friends, I had a target on my back. And an up coming wedding was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

I was convinced that the “terror attack” would come right after the wedding or perhaps during the honeymoon.

So, a couple of weeks before the wedding,  I didn’t think twice when Paul asked us to meet him and his date at a very exclusive restaurant (The Rive Gauche) in Georgetown.

Blaze Starr
I spotted Paul right away when we entered and as Linda and I were being led to his table........Suddenly, I began to realize who his “date” was. I recognized her even without her “boa.” It was the “Queen of the Block” and probably the best known xcydiast in the country, Blaze Star.

This was ground zero....and the attack was about to begin.

Blaze performed her part well.....telling Linda that she had been sent by the city of Baltimore to plead with her not to marry me....because the entire economy of the “block” would collapse without my many trips to the bars....."have pity on the strippers’ hungry children," she pleaded......Paul had also paid a couple of waitresses to come by our table with picket signs...with similar "unfair to Baltimore's working girls".....messages.

I was dying.

Linda thought it was hilarious.

Whew!

I figured after that, the next 50 years would be a breeze.

They were.

  -Ed


(After the initial shock....the rest of the evening was great. Blaze told us about beginning her career when she was 15.........and how she had been supporting her Mom and sisters in West Virginia ever since..and talked about her long-term romance with then-governor Earl Long.
It was, to say the least, an unforgettable evening.

Paul Niven died in a tragic house fire in 1979. Linda was pregnant with our third child at the time......and since our other two children were boys, we were confident the new one would be too...so we decided to name him Paul, after our friend.


But, our third child turned out to be a girl, so we named her Kendall, which was Paul's middle name.


At Paul’s funeral Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave the eulogy. Among other things he said,


“A journalist’s life revolves around stories. And stories of Paul will be heard as long as any who worked with him or knew him gather in those barrooms around the world where the day’s brutality is somehow surmounted with laughter and a comradeship of equality and honor.”


Rest in Peace, Paul.  -Lee)



Blaze Starr


Blaze Starr

Blaze Starr was a classy lady!  So was her "act."
Remember, this was the early 60's, before this country went insane.

Everyone who knew Blaze, knew her as a loving, generous, kind, and very savvy business person.


With a great sense of humor.


The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported that shortly before her death, she had been very worried about her pet dog, who died about the same time she did.


I have no doubt that contributed to her passing.


-Lee








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