Icon, legend, pioneer and full force of womanhood, burlesque dancer Satan’s Angel is royalty. We were honoured that she found time to share her stories and wisdom with us while she was still alive.
Satan’s Angel Burlesque
What’s going on at the moment, Angel? They’re making a documentary movie about my life and I’m going to finish my book. I’m not really telling so much about my life, I’m just telling the wild and crazy things about me that I thought were funny.
What was the craziest? The craziest, oh my gawd, you don’t have enough time. I couldn’t pick one that was the craziest because any time you went to work somewhere it was always a little crazy, nutty.
Once I went to work at this nightclub and I’d taken the cab up from the airport but when we got to the destination it was all blocked off because the building was on fire. The Woman’s Temperance League in that town had burnt the stripper club to the ground. So I’m like “Oh Hell, I’m stuck here for a week what am I going to do?” Basically, the cab driver says, “I have a brother who owns his own business where you could work for a week.” It was a beef jerky factory and I ate it every day and to this day, I still can’t eat it.”
Was that just for you or for everybody? I’m pretty sure it was the same for a lot of the girls too. Once I hit Connecticut in the worst blizzard in a hundred years. The snow was so high you couldn’t get out of your house; you had to climb out of the attic or the second story of your house. Of course, nobody came to the show because we were snowed in so the owner said, “Well I’m not going to pay you.” So I just pushed a knife in his scrotum and said, “You’re going to pay me or you’re going to be talking like a girl all your life.” I have a lot of stories and I know that I’m not the only one.
Do you think crazy followed you? Oh it still does. Crazy is like anything else, there are different levels of it and you just have to roll with it to avoid going CRAZY yourself!
Why did you get into burlesque? The reason why I got into burlesque was the money. I was making $99 every two weeks when I went to an amateur strip contest and a girl would take off her dress and make 100 bucks. I was like these are the kinda jobs they should have told us about at career days at school because this is the kinda math I can understand.
Was there a turning point when you became a star? I started in ’61 and moved to Las Vegas in about ’69. One of the big name strippers on the strip heard about me and she came down to see my show and she said, “Oh my God, what the hell are you doing here?” About a month later she told me I was hired at the Hacienda and once I got in there, I worked over ten years on the strip, every burlesque show they had.
I travelled the world: I worked at a theatre in Tokyo that seated a 5,000 audience and not a seat empty. You know you’ve got it when everything is paid for – your flowers and chocolates and furs. Stage door Jills and Johnnies wanting to give you the world. One asked me, “Do you like Spanish food?” and the next thing I know we’re on a plane to New York and then we’re in Spain and he’s buying me a whole new wardrobe. Things like that.
(Main image from Chris Hutcheson)
So, what made you come back out of retirement? Me and my girlfriend opened up a small gift shop in a theatre in a ghost town outside of Phoenix, Arizona. While I was there, in the corner of my shop I had a huge Indian outfit that I wore in the 60s with some pictures of me around the outside where the headpiece was.
This woman came up to me and said, “My name is Terry Earp,” she was married to the great-grand-nephew of Wyatt Earp. She’s a playwright, actress, very well known. Two days after that she rang me and said she was going to write a play about my life and she did called Have Tassels Will Travel. She said to me, “Where can I find out more about burlesque?” and I said, “Well you’re sure as hell not gonna find out about it in Arizona, try LA,” and she did.
She called me and told me about the Burlesque Hall of Fame museum out in the damn desert, so I wrote Dixie a letter in 2001. It’s kind of a shock when you’re in your middle 50s and someone says to you come on out and dance. My ass is sagging, I’ve got chicken legs, my tits are hitting the dust, my face looks like a road map, I’m no longer a brunette, I’m still dark but grey so now I’m a blonde and my belly is bigger. Not really thinking about me as in the old days but as an old woman now ha ha.
So I went there in 2002 and it was 130 degrees, that’s hot. My life partner literally picked me up, carried me to the car and took me back to the hotel till I got better and then we left. I was a little disappointed that there was no follow up on my condition, there was no concern for my wellbeing. I thought that was rude. Then Baby Doe called me in 2003 and said, “If they’re not interested, I am,” and I’ve been dancing ever since.
(Image from Incognito)
Are people prejudiced about you still performing? Not to my face. My family thinks I’m a little crazy but they’re proud of me because I present myself well. I probably have more class on stage than I do off. Like I said, I’m a pretty wild chick.
I think there are some women, some legends who may be jealous but they have to remember I’ve been out longer then they have. I’ve had 12 years to move it and shake it!!! The younger girls are just thrilled that I have time for them and that I love them.
I talk about the geeky, freaky stuff that goes on these days but if that is what burlesque is then that’s fine, I’m just trying to keep the ‘classic burlesque’ alive. I try to teach my ladies about the classic burlesque, I want to make sure they still know it and that it still exists.
Do you prefer it this time round? I’ll take yesterday any day. You had to have talent, you had to have natural beauty, you had to have wardrobe. We never had troupes, we never had schools. Of course everybody’s a damn teacher now. This girl goes and takes a class for three weeks and now she owns her own school. This one works for a year in burlesque and now she’s a star, yeah right.
The one thing that I really appreciate about burlesque today. Attitudes have changed. You can be black, you can be Asian, you can be queer, you can be polka dotted and you no longer have to go through the backdoor of the club. Thank Heavens for some of the ladies who keep burlesque alive in the old traditional way! I think a lot of burlesque is more of a shock value and that wasn’t the old days. I guess I’m old fashioned!
Do the younger girls look up to you? Oh yeah and I love them. I have more friends that could be like my daughter or my granddaughter. I think one of the reasons is because I’m honest, almost too brutally honest and they like that. They like that I still like to party. I’m not dead, y’know. You have a good gig and I’m out of there till two in the morning. You’re damn right I’m going to have a couple of Martinis. What am I gonna have? Milk? Hell no, I still party, I still smoke cigarettes, I drink. I’m a party hardy lady.
Do you have any ambitions left in burlesque? I would like to keep on mentoring; I do a lot of burlesque one on one. I want to keep doing my storytellings. I get up and tell all the wild and crazy things like when I was sleeping with Janis Joplin.
I’d rather continue doing this, I don’t know if my body will hold up much longer because I’m very handicapped. I’m not going to get a tit job. If you think I’m going to walk around with a 70-year-old body and a 20-year-old pair of tits you’re kidding. Too many of the legends are falling into the plastic surgery pit and spending money on their bodies, not me! I’m natural, this is me and you can take it or leave it. I’m an old broad.
Satan’s Angel sadly passed away in 2019.
Queen of the Fire Tassels Documentary
Satan’s Angel lived a famously ‘out-there’ life, an inspiration to tassel twirlers and burlesque performers the world over. No stranger to controversy, this burlesque documentary follows her passion for burlesque and her love for her long-term wife.
Jo King spoke to us about her relationship with Satan’s Angel in advance of her performing a role inspired by her for the Burlexe stage show.
In 2008, I was privileged and thrilled to meet Satan’s Angel in Vegas. Her incredible stage presence, ballsy attitude and obvious confidence in her own sexual power make her every millimetre a true burlesque star. She is a rare and stunning force!
“There’s all sorts of burlesque: pretty, funny, cute etc. But Angel gets it better than anyone else I’ve known. She doesn’t need to try. She built the school and burnt it down again. That’s what I love about her.
“And it’s going to be fantastic to play someone I admire and identify with. She’s a gutsy broad and I like to think I am too. We were doing burlesque and striptease when it wasn’t acceptable to be doing it. And we didn’t give a shit, we did it because that’s what we wanted to do. We did it because we loved it.”
Watch our video on what burlesque means with some of the stars of our show…