Satan’s Angel, Queen of the Fire Tassels takes us on a historical look at burlesque and its renaissance as it chronicles the life of one of the boldest dancers still working, Satan’s Angel, a bawdy and beautiful woman, and
One of the women who began this whole path of us being able to own our own sexuality.
The film premiered yesterday at Outfest, and we’re thrilled to have director/producer Joshua Dragotta and producer Tony Marsico, who also created the soundtrack, with us tonight.
She’s been called the Cadillac of Burlesque, a living legend, and an inspiration to legions of burlesque dancers, a 68 year-old exotic dancer, out lesbian, and cultural phenomenon with four decades of stories; a Catholic school girl whose beautiful face, rockin’ bod, and elegant stage work made her famous from San Francisco’s North Beach to Europe, Guam and beyond.
With the rise of the adult entertainment industry and more gynecologically explicit acts, Satan’s Angel and other burlesque performers found themselves getting shunted aside. But conversely, as porn-industry influenced strip clubs became more pervasive, burlesque was was being rediscovered by the underground. And thanks in part to the Exotic World Burlesque Hall of Fame, which originally opened in 1990 in Helendale, California, much of the history of burlesque from the early 1900s on has been preserved (the Exotic World Museum moved to Fremont Street in Las Vegas). There are now burlesque/exotic dance classes and burlesque troupes adorned with feathers and rhinestones appearing in cities around the world.
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Burlesque is not the kind of pole dancing popular in today’s “gentlemen’s clubs.” Burlesque has a tease to it, humor, a story line in each routine, glamor, style and storied history. And Satan’s Angel has quite a story to tell–though she won’t reveal her real name. Growing up in San Francisco, Angel worked as an artist’s model and began her stage career in amateur clubs dancing for prize money, then turned professional–just as her mother, alerted by a neighbor, showed up to see her daughter dance in the nude at a club.
Satan’s Angel’s mom didn’t disapprove of her daughter’s career choice, and in fact supported it, as well as lovingly supporting her daughter’s relationship with women, explaining that gay or straight, stripper or not, your children are your children and you love them no matter what.
Once Satan’ Angel developed her fire tassel routine–twirling flaming tassels as she danced–the world was her oyster, and she was booked non-stop. Though her orientation was lesbian, she dated movie stars like Clint Eastwood, Bobby Darin and Frank Gorshen (the latter two she says were her favorite male lovers because they made love like women), and married four times–once to a gay man so she could work in Canada, the other times to guys she met at clubs. Her husbands provided cover for her love affairs with women. She states bluntly that if a dancer was perceived as “queer,” she wouldn’t get hired. And in some cases, she’d be beaten by her employers. Angel left all of her husbands, who eventually filed for divorce, while she continued her affairs with women.
When world of exotic dancing shifted to porn stars shaking it on stage, Satan’s Angel and other featured performers like Dixie Evans and Big Fanni Annie were out of work, and Angel made a “career choice” that almost killed her–she became addicted to cocaine for two years until a friend hauled her into a room filled with mirrors; Angel got a brutal look at what the drug had done to her. Slowly she rebuilt her life, though she still lived on the edge: A run-in with a biker gang put a price on her head; and she revamped a struggling bar, turning it into a successful topless club, before she was (re)discovered in tourist ghost town by Terry Earp, a playwright and wife of a descendent of Wyatt Earp. Terry developed a play based on Angel’s life at the same time burlesque was embraced by a new generation of performers and fans.
Satan’s Angel, now 68, still works as a dancer and sometimes struggles: She’s banned from the Las Vegas’ Exotic World shows and conventions because of a fight few years ago, and as her girlfriend Vic–who is also her road manager–points out that has lost them significant income. At some conventions, nothing sells. Angel admits at times she’s had to hock her furs and jewels to pay bills. But she’s still going strong and is an icon and a den mother to the current crop of burlesque girls, especially the lesbian dancers who see her as a brave pioneer who is out and proud.