A little more of the old Baltimore I knew faded away last week with the death of burlesque queen Blaze Starr. I met her once in Atlantic City when I was about six years old. Pop-Pop brought me to a restaurant that had a cabaret nearly every afternoon and we would watch the acts as I drank my soda and ate peanuts or pretzels. He knew many of the performers in the show from his days on the radio when he had played in a quartet with his brother and brothers -in -law.
I didn’t pay much attention to the woman who sat down to talk to him. She smiled at me when Pop-Pop introduced her, but I turned back towards the show never giving her another glance. They chatted for a few minutes then she patted me on the head before leaving. The lady was a very famous dancer, Pop-Pop told me on our walk back to where we were staying. He said she had a nightclub not far from our house. I wanted very much to see her dance when our vacation was over, but I was told she only danced for adults. It seemed to me everything was for adults.
I longed to be older and able to go out in the evening like my grandparents. Nana belonged to a club with some other women she had known nearly all her life. They called themselves The Glamour Girls. I wanted to ask Nana if the famous dancer was one of her “glamour girls”, but Pop-Pop said I shouldn’t. He told me they knew Blaze Starr because of her connection with a singer named Marian Dawn. The story was that Nana’s brother Al, who was a bandleader, fell in love with a young woman who sang with his band. This woman was Marian. They had an affair, of course Pop-Pop said they dated. Things did not work out between them and Marian left the band and went on to perform with Blaze Starr. Al, broken-hearted, died a short time later. Nana held this Marian woman responsible for Al’s death and it was not until many years later I realized that Uncle Al had taken his life over his broken engagement to Marian.
Blaze Starr owned and performed in The Two O’Clock Club on Baltimore Street, or The Block as it’s called around here. We would drive by every night on our way to pick up Dad from work. Headquarters was around the corner, a prime spot for the police. In the winter when darkness fell early, I loved to see all the flashing neon lights as we drove past. My mother would instruct us to keep our eyes down. Each time we went by I hoped I would see the dancer but I never did.
After Pop-Pop died, Nana didn’t go out at night much. She traded in the glamour girls for the golden -agers and spent her time going on bus trips with new friends. I never met or saw Blaze Starr again, but learning of her death brought back to me all things I missed about my grandparents and an age that has long passed.