Source – lsupress.org
– “…Both Earl Long and Blaze Starr knew how to work a hungry crowd to advantage. As the populist Governor of Louisiana in the 1940s and ’50s, Long won votes by handing out sacks of food to the poor. Starr, perhaps the most celebrated stripper of the era, stirred the longings of fans with a rose nestled in the cleavage of her 38DD bust. When the “ungovernable Governor”(as LIFE called him) and the stripper fell in love, their affair proved both a scandal and a comic burlesque”
Earl K. Long, Last of the ‘Red Hot Poppas’
In a region famous for its flamboyant politicians, Earl Kemp Long, or “Uncle Earl,” as he was popularly known, was one of the most flamboyant of them all. He was a raspy-voiced stump orator who in his speeches employed anecdotes, name-calling, and quotations from the Bible with equal facility. He was a rustic master of Louisiana politics who was suspected of consorting with known criminals and yet compiled one of the greatest records of reform for Louisiana’s poor in this century. Frequently referring to himself as “the last of the red hot poppas,” he correctly predicted that after him all politicians would have to learn to use the medium of television in campaigning. Fro his days on the campaign trail with his brother Huey through the course of his own remarkable career, Earl Long came to epitomize the character of the powerful southern demagogue.
Earl Kemp Long (August 26, 1895 – September 5, 1960) was an American politician and the 45th Governor of Louisiana for three non-consecutive terms. Long termed himself the “last of the red hot poppas” of politics, referring to his stump-speaking skills. He served from 1939 to 1940, 1948 to 1952, and 1956 to 1960.
He was also elected as lieutenant governor, serving from 1936 to 1939. Trying to keep a close hand in state government, Long failed in three other bids to be elected lieutenant governor.
At the time of his death, Long’s last term as governor had expired. He was the Democratic nominee for the US House of Representatives from the now defunct Eighth Congressional District, based in central Louisiana. This was redistricted after population changed.
“Uncle Earl” and anecdotes
The colorful “Uncle Earl” (so-named because of his relatives, including nephew and U.S. Senator Russell Long) once joked that one day the people of Louisiana would elect “good government, and they won’t like it!” But, beneath his public persona as a simple, plain-spoken rural Louisianan of little education, he had an astute political mind of considerable intelligence. Earl Long was a master campaigner, who attracted large crowds when his caravan crisscrossed the state. He would not allow a local person to introduce him or his ticket mates at a rally. Only out-of-parish people could do the honor. Long reasoned that nearly any local person would have made some political enemies who might reject Earl Long just because that person’s “enemy” was pro-Long. Long was determined to get every vote possible and so tried to remain independent of local rivalries.
Both Earl Long and his brother Huey had grown close to Earl Williamson, a local politician in Caddo Parish. Williamson’s son, Don W. Williamson, later recalled Earl Long coming into their town of Vivian and picking up his father to join the Long entourage for a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where they enjoyed buttermilk drinking and horse racing as well as illicit attractions in the resort city. Long demanded absolute loyalty among his inner circle, often saying that he did not need them to back him when he was right but when he was wrong.
Long’s erratic political behavior led the aspiring singer Jay Chevalier to compose in 1959 the song, “The Ballad of Earl K. Long”.
Eccentricity and hospitalization
Long was well known for eccentric behavior, leading some to suspect that he suffered from bipolar disorder. In his last term in office his wife, Blanche Revere Long (1902–1998), and others attempted to remove him on the grounds of mental instability. For a time, Long was confined to the Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, but his legal adviser, Joseph A. Sims, was said to have “rescued” Long from the institution. Long was never formally diagnosed with any mental illness. Commentators have speculated that political opposition may have led the effort to prove him mentally incompetent, including his wife, who resented his connection with Blaze Starr.
He had a severe heart attack in 1951. Additionally, in his later years he was alleged to have suffered from strokes, resulting in further mental impairment. Some have speculated that he may have suffered from dementia in his last days.
While confined in the mental hospital in Mandeville, Long kept his political machine running via telephone. His staff discovered that nothing in Louisiana law required him to relinquish power because he was confined to the mental hospital. Long ordered Jesse Bankston, the head of the state hospital system, fired and replaced him with a supporter, who had Long released. Bill Dodd, who had periods of positive association with Long followed by alienation, defended Long over the mental hospital confinement. So too did long-time State Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa, a personal and philosophical ally of Long’s.
Earl and Blanche separated at that time. He died before their divorce was completed.
Long was reluctant to appoint a successor as governor in 1952 and 1960, for he hoped to return to office in 1956, which he did, and in 1964, but he died in 1960. William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, in The Louisiana Election of 1960 described Long in the following way:
“Long knew that a term of office on the part of a relatively inactive and conservative administration would create the type of situation for which his [populist] appeals were ideally suited. Furthermore, he had always played down the race issue (after all, there were [then] 150,000 Negro voters in the state), and he certainly clearly foresaw that the issue could furnish only a limited amount of mileage for political travel in the face of current national developments. In point of fact, his victory in the congressional primary [in 1960] within nine months of the second gubernatorial primary was indicative of the shrewdness of his calculation. If Earl Long had not died immediately following that congressional race … few observers doubted that he would have been an odds-on favorite to rebuild his machine sufficiently to capture the governorship in 1964. As it happens, the death of Earl Long leaves a tremendous hiatus—in a sense deliberately created by Earl himself—in the leadership of the Long faction. . . . “
Stripper Blaze Starr Recalls Her Affair with the Governor
Both Earl Long and Blaze Starr knew how to work a hungry crowd to advantage. As the populist Governor of Louisiana in the 1940s and ’50s, Long won votes by handing out sacks of food to the poor. Starr, perhaps the most celebrated stripper of the era, stirred the longings of fans with a rose nestled in the cleavage of her 38DD bust. When the “ungovernable Governor”(as LIFE called him) and the stripper fell in love, their affair proved both a scandal and a comic burlesque.
Such is the stuff of which movies are made, and now one has been—Blaze, starring Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich, which opens this week and chronicles (he affair and its raucous denouement: In May 1959, after ranting and screaming during a debate over voter registration in the Louisiana legislature and then trashing the governor’s mansion, Long was committed to three mental institutions by Blanche, his wife of 27 years. The Governor, insisting his wife was merely jealous, had himself released by firing hospital administrators. “Goddamn,” he said. “All because of a woman.”
One of 11 children, Blaze Starr was born Fannie Belle Fleming and grew up in little Newground Hollow in the hills of West Virginia, 50 miles from the nearest high school. She left home at 14, beginning an educational odyssey both lengthy and varied. Now 57, she gave up striptease five years ago and lives in Carroll County, Md., where she makes and sells jewelry in a local mall. She spoke with correspondent Margie Bonnett Sellinger.
I was 15 and working as a waitress at the Mayflower Donut Shop in Washington, D.C., when a man named Red Snyder told me I was pretty and ought to be in show business. I said I had been raised to believe it was sinful to dance, but I could play the guitar. “Good,” he said. “I’m going to make you a star.” Red said he wanted me to dress up as a cowgirl, play the guitar a little and then strip. I had never heard of striptease before. But Red sweet-talked me and said the girls who did all had to be really beautiful.
When you have never even shown your belly button, the thought of stripping is scary. So when I went onstage for the first time in my red-and-white cowgirl outfit, I used my hat to cover myself. After the show I threw up. It wasn’t that I thought there was anything wrong with stripping. I was just overwhelmed by the emotion of getting into show business.
After that I took a job at the 2 O’Clock Club in Baltimore. I hadn’t yet turned 16, but I dressed so I looked really grown up. I wore a short black skirt and held a long cigarette holder. Soon I began making guest appearances in several cities along the East Coast. I always tried to inject a lot of humor into my striptease routines. Once I had this erotic dream about making love so passionately everything started smoking. I woke up laughing. And that inspired one of my favorite bits of stage business: I set-up a reclining love seat rigged with a smoke pot. As I’d get to the end of my act, I’d stretch out on the couch, wiggle and look kind of seductive. When I was down to my last pieces of clothing, I’d set off the smoke pot. The audience would become hysterical.
I began working at the Sho-Bar in New Orleans in 1959. That’s where I met Gov. Earl Long. He wandered in one night with his entourage. After watching my burning couch routine, he came back to the dressing room and introduced himself. As I headed onstage for the finale, I could hear him hollering, “Will you go to dinner with me?”
“Can I trust you,” I said.
“Hell, no,” he replied.
During the next few weeks Earl came in every night. Finally I did go out with him, and he really started to get to me. He was so kind. We dated for two months before he made a move. Then one night he took my hand and said, “I’d rather roll in the hay with you than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life.” When we were getting undressed, Earl grabbed a bedspread, wrapped it around his shoulders and said he didn’t want me to see his ugly body. Then he was too excited to make love. We just went to sleep. But the next morning he was ready for me.
Afterward Earl said he wished he was married to me. But I sloughed it off because he was in politics. A governor just doesn’t divorce his wife for a stripper. One night before he was President, Jack Kennedy came to the club and watched the show from the balcony with Jackie. I had met Jack in Washington before he married. We’d gone out and to his apartment a few times. But neither of us let on that we knew each other when Earl made introductions. That night we all went to the Roosevelt Hotel. Jackie left, and while Earl was elsewhere, I wound up having a quickie in a closet with Jack.
Several months later Earl passed out in the Sho-Bar and had to be taken to the hospital. He was sure someone was trying to poison him, and he was always complaining of pains in his stomach. He’d say, “I’m awfully sick. Something is happening to me.”
In May 1959, Earl got into a shouting match with some legislators during a debate in the State House, and he had a wild argument with his wife at the mansion. Then he went to bed, and the next thing he knew they were carting him off to a mental institution. When he finally got to a telephone a few days later, Earl called and said he had told another inmate he was Governor of the great state of Louisiana and the guy replied, “Yeah, I used to think I was President Eisenhower.” Of course, Earl really was the Governor. He got out of the hospital by firing the doctors, replacing them with new ones who would vouch for his sanity. Suddenly I felt totally different about Earl. I was very protective. He had taken a big chance with his career by choosing me over his wife. He said she’d sent him to a nuthouse because of me. Before I met Earl, nobody gave up a damn thing for me. And he was willing to give up everything.
By law, Earl was not eligible to seek reelection when his term ended later that year. He was miserable not being Governor. He’d say, “I’m nobody. I’m nobody.” He had filed for a legal separation [as had his wife], and he promised to marry me after the divorce. In the meantime his friends convinced him to run for Congress, and we agreed it was better if I was out of the picture for a while. I went back to work in Baltimore, and he came to visit every few days.
In August, Earl won the Democratic primary. When he called to tell me, he said he wasn’t feeling well but would be up to see me as soon as he could. He didn’t tell me he was in the hospital. Ten days later I was shocked to hear on the radio that he had died from heart disease. While his body lay in state at the Capitol, I walked right up and put a rose on his casket with my head high and walked out.
I felt lost without Earl and for a while had little desire to take up with another man. Then five years ago I finally stopped stripping because it got to be so raunchy. There was no more burlesque. Anybody could get up and wiggle and get totally nude. The shows offered sadistic porno flicks between acts. During one final series of shows in New York City, San Francisco and Miami, I wore a beautiful see-through negligee and dropped my panties for a finale. I got $5,000 a week. But after that I hung up my G-string.
I still dream about stripping sometimes. When I do, Earl is in the audience watching me do my thing. Then I wake up and feel sad. I miss Earl and I miss being on that stage.