The woman stood in the back of the theater, watching a porno flicker across the screen. Disgusted, she walked backed to her dressing room to pack her costumes.
She confronted the manager in his office. "I'm not following that," she spat, referring to the porno. "I want my money." She knew his type; he was going to give her trouble. She pulled out a .22 derringer. Her meaning was clear.
As he turned his back to open up the safe, she spotted the porno reel. She grabbed it and stashed it in a bag.
She left with the money, and her dignity.
The porno reel is a relic from the hell-raising days of Satan's Angel, a 67-year-old burlesque queen who refuses to hang up her flaming tassels. Angel, born plain ol' Cecilia Walker, danced in mob-controlled Las Vegas, partied with celebrities and knew an infamous killer, if only briefly.
A fresh-faced 19-year-old Angel was hired for a six-day stint at Jack Ruby's Carousel Club in the summer of '63, months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She'll dance on a Dallas stage for the first time since then Saturday night at the Kessler Theater, as the headliner of La Divina's Hotter Than Hell Burlesque.
Angel's performances are classic burlesque -- "It's all about the journey, not the destination," she says -- as opposed to neo-burlesque, which can stray into the bizarre.
"We were all about looking like Rita Hayworth, or Elizabeth Taylor, you know, Hedy Lamarr," Angel said during a phone interview Tuesday night from her Southern California home. "There was no silicone, there were no facelifts." And no nudity.
She learned the art of titillation along San Francisco's North Beach. Just out of high school, the former Catholic schoolgirl was flirting with the idea of college when she discovered an amateur stripping contest at a local joint.
Clad in her sexiest dress -- a black one with side slits -- Angel won. She went from club to club winning contests, pulling in between $500 to $700 a week. "This was the kind of job they should've mentioned at career day in school," she says. She soon signed on at her first club, where she came up with the idea to twirl flaming tassel pasties, dubbed the "ta ta flambé."
Angel was a seasoned performer when her agent sent her to dance at Abe Weinstein's Colony Club on Commerce Street, an area of downtown Dallas teeming with burlesque clubs. But the Colony was overbooked, so she switched to the nearby Carousel Club, owned by a man Angel's agent described as a wannabe "mobster type."
Jack Ruby's Carousel was one stop amongst thousands, but Angel remembers its owner as a pudgy womanizer with slicked-back hair.
"He hit on me for the first couple of days," she recalls. "I just told him, 'I'm going to be honest with you, you'll probably fire me over it.' Because you did not tell people that you were gay." But Ruby backed off. Angel fulfilled her contract and moved on to Kansas City.
Six months later, she recognized the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK's assassin, as her one-time boss. She had witnessed Ruby's nasty fits of temper at the club. "He was kinda like a Jekyll-and-Hyde guy," Angel says. "One minute he was really nice and the next minute he wanted to pound your face into the cement."
Back in those days, she says, despite the Bible-thumping, "Texas was wild." But as the '70s turned into the '80s, tastes and attitudes began to shift. "All the porn started coming in," Angel says. "Nobody was coming out to the clubs. You had to be more bizarre, you had to be more crazy. ... It got so nasty and filthy and disgusting, finally in 1985 I decided to quit."
Incidents like the one at the porno theater pushed her out. Angel kept the old movie reel she stole from the manager as a reminder. When asked why she returned to the stage, Angel says it is because of the younger generation.
"I do it to keep a lot of the young girls on the straight and narrow," she says, hinting at the pitfalls that come with the business. "And try to get them not to be so crazy on stage, to be more sensual."
This weekend, Angel is debuting a new costume and a new number. It begins with a minute or so of "gliding around," then segues into a sexier bit. "I get into that ol' honky tonk blues, get out of my dress and it's all bumpin' and grindin'," she says. After Dallas, Angel's taking her act to Australia, New Zealand and Europe. But as for Saturday's grand finale ...
"I'm going to set my tits on fire," she says. "I rock it pretty hard for an old broad."
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