Nimisha Mukerji’s moving and gorgeous documentary Tempest Storm tells the life story of the statuesque redhead who moved from tiny town Louisiana to the stages of the world. Storm was as one of the most successful burlesque stars of the Golden Age of stripping, the forties through the seventies. Now 87, Storm continues to work hard and stay beautiful. Storm won the hearts of J.F.K., Elvis and Sinatra, and is an icon to aspiring performers and a legion of fans wowed by her elegant tease. And she is also a reminder of a long gone time when life was a little more innocent. We were extremely fortunate to be able to speak with the dainty and petite and still beautiful Miss Storm in Toronto.
Now, you’re the subject of this amazing documentary and I think it’s great to have dedicated your life to beauty and pleasure.
Yes. I strived for that from day one, to stay beautiful and not doing anything to jeopardize your beauty like drinking and drugs and smoking and all that. I never did that. I was around all that, but never. They used to kid me, “Oh come on Tempest, have a drink.” I said, “I don’t need that. I get high off of life.”
Your life has been colourful. You’ve risen to the heights of fame. You’ve had affairs with famous and powerful men. And you’ve also had dark times, but my impression is that you went through all of it with grace.
I always did it with class, and everybody is thinking about these powerful men that I was with, it was only about sex. No, it was about their greatness and being involved with these great people. I learned. I could always learn something and I never stopped. From day one, I’m going to be a star. That was my drive. I wanted to be a big star. I wanted to be like those people up on the screen that I used to think when they were backstage when I would see the movie when I was growing up.
What was it that triggered you to want fame and to actually set out to get it?
I just had the dream of being a movie star, from the time I could remember. I’m from a country town in Georgia, quit school when I was in 7th grade. I regret that I didn’t get an education. That’s about the only thing I can say that I regretted. Everything that I did, I feel that I did with class.
You worked so hard and spent so much time on the road. But did you have friends on the circuit?
Well, per se I would say I didn’t have many friends because I was concentrating on my career, getting to the top and just staying there. I remember the girls that I started with, they couldn’t wait until the last show so that we’d go out and drink and be out the rest of the night. I never did that. I concentrated on myself and my career and being a star, and being a class one.
And a professional in any career these days can’t do that.
No, they cannot. I’m trying to give advice to not only these young burlesque performers, but all of these young girls out there that are doing so many things that are wrong to jeopardize their health, their drinking and all. I live in Las Vegas and there’s so much murder there, killing their people up there. It’s unbelievable.
Among your lovers were John F. Kennedy and Elvis, and also, there was Frank Sinatra. What was he like?
Yeah. Frank Sinatra was a very good friend of mine. He was very nice. I used to catch his show. We did play Caesar’s Palace in Vegas and he’d always introduce me. He’d introduce the celebrities in the audience and then he saved me for last. He said, “Now, I’d like to introduce a beautiful lady that taught me how to dress.” And then he said, “You thought I was going to say, help me undress.” And the audience just absolutely get up there. It was so funny. I mean all these people have been so dear to me and respectful. Movie stars, I met Rita Hayworth and all these people and a lot of people thought we looked alike, Rita and I. When I met her at a function at Caesar’s many years ago, when they introduced me to her, I had my hair on the side like she was and she was sitting down and she looked up at me. Her mouth was open, “Nice to meet you,” she’s still staring at me. And everybody said, “I thought you two were sisters.”
How did you learn movement?
Lillian Hunt. When I went to apply for a job at the Follies Theater in Los Angeles, I made an appointment through a friend of mine, I was a cocktail waitress at that time and he used to own a clothing store, men’s clothing store across the street from the theater and used to come in for cocktails. And he said, “You should be a dancer.” “What kind? What are you talking about?” He said, “Striptease.” I said, “What is that?” He says, “Burlesque.” I said, “What is that?” He says, “Taking your clothes off.” I said, “Not me.” So he said, “Well, I’ll make an appointment with Lillian Hunt. She’s getting rid of all the professional dancers, striptease artists and hiring all young girls.” So I didn’t show up for the first one, but he says next time, “Go talk to her.”
So I went and talked to her and I walk in she says — her name was Lillian Hunt, she says, “Take off your clothes.” I said, “What do you mean take off my clothes?” “I want to see if you have any scars.” I said, “Trust me, I don’t have any scars.” Next I said, “Do you think my bust is too big for my business?” She said, “Honey, they can’t be too big in this business.” That’s how naïve I was. I think I was 18.
You spoke out in the film about a sexual assault against you when you were 14 and you’re now raising awareness about women’s safety.
This episode was they just grabbed me off of the street. I was walking down the street with an ice cream cone and they grabbed me in the car, about five guys, just grabbed me and took me up in the hills and raped me one by one. And then one night I woke up, my stepfather was on top of me and I had sense enough, there must be a way out of this. And I’ve been so uneducated, 7th grade I quit, but I had sense enough to know that it had to be a better life. And these young girls in all different walks of life, they don’t think that way. All they can think about is going get drunk, going out with strange men they don’t even know.
Young dancers in the film sing your praises. Dita Von Teese and a couple of other girls were emotional, crying on meeting you.
And these young girls in burlesque, they just absolutely idolized me and I’m glad I’m a good inspiration to them. They do that sometimes, I’m autographing my photos after I have a discussion on stage with everybody and they just admire. It’s all the girls that are by my photos, it’s strange. They say “I want to be like you.” I said, “You have to work very hard to do that.”
So tell me just a little bit about your beauty regimen, your daily beauty regimen.
Well, number one I use Estee Lauder which I’ve been using for years. I’ve tried different ones, but I’ve been sticking to that. I cream my face, take cleansing cream and take all my makeup off. I don’t sleep with my makeup on. I use certain creams underneath and all that stuff before you put the moisturizer up and I make sure I take care of my skin.
And you eat well?
I eat well. I don’t eat a lot of sweets. Once in a while. I eat vegetables and non-fattening food. I have to keep my size 2!!