John Carlson: It’s a fact! Burlesque is back!

The Star Follies included some beautiful young dancers. Photo by: Robert DirdenThe Star Follies included some beautiful young dancers. Photo by: Robert Dirden

By: John Carlson—

One recent Saturday night, Nancy and I and a couple hundred other people attended the Star Follies burlesque show. I am pretty sure the production made a nice haul for Muncie Civic Theatre, and in doing so fulfilled a worthwhile goal.

Was it fun? Sure.

Was it shocking? Naaah. I mean, it was racy enough that I wouldn’t have wanted to be there with either of my late grandmothers. Somehow it just stood to reason that proper ladies named Millie and Hulda would have been shocked. But you didn’t see much of anything at the Star Follies that you don’t see on the beach, Netflix, or even regular network television these days.

Anyway, the show reminded me of when my adolescent hormones were kicking into gear on the west side of Cleveland back in the early-to-mid-1960s. At that time, Cleveland was fully living up to its reputation as “the mistake by the lake,” an era which ultimately resulted in the Cuyahoga River catching fire. Burning water was sort of a brand new concept in environmental maladies at the time.

Such travails were fully reported by The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which for the better part of a year I carried up and down Pasadena Avenue about 5 o’clock every morning. This was fine in the light of spring and summer dawns, especially early in the week, when 50 slender newspapers would fit in the bag slung over my shoulder. It was less fine in the fall and winter, especially towards the end of each week, culminating with the Sunday newspaper.

First, it was spookily dark outside, even under a full moon, and I was still recovering from having watched Boris Karloff in “The Mummy’s Ghost” at my buddy Kenny’s house. That movie scared the bejesus out of me. While dead leaves scuttled across the pavement, I saw the ghosts of mummies around every corner. Second, each Sunday’s Plain Dealer must have weighed 10 pounds. Fast as I wanted to deliver those suckers and skedaddle, there was no throwing them on porches. Pushing them in a homemade wooden cart, it took a good hour or more before I made it safely back home.

That’s neither here nor there, though. Once back inside our house, I would open my first 16 ounce Pepsi of the day and sit down with our copy of the newspaper. Seeing this always warmed the cockles of my parents’ hearts. Yes, in school their son was a confirmed dope. Academically, I had a long way to go to reach moron-status. But so ardent was my studying of the morning newspaper, they knew I at least had a strong interest in current affairs, like the Cuyahoga River burning.

Except, I didn’t. Little did they know that what I was so studiously scrutinizing each morning was the entertainment page, seeing who was being featured at which strip club that day. Among all those clubs, one stood out: The legendary Roxy. So titillating was its very name to me, when a girl in my high school turned out to be named Roxanne, but went by Roxy, I fell madly in love – or something sorta like it  – with her.

“H-h-h-hello, Roxy,” I’d nervously stutter walking into our biology class, grinning while waving my pinky fingers her direction.

You had to figure deep down inside she was attracted to me, but was playing hard-to-get by whispering back sweet nothings like, “Go away,” and, “I hate your guts,” and, “Seriously, Carlson, you make me want to vomit.”

Eventually she got over me and I moved on. That would have happened much sooner, however, had there been a girl in my class named Blaze.  That’s because the name that showed up far more often than any other in those Roxy strip club ads was Blaze Starr’s, who soon set my hormones ablaze like the Cuyahoga River.

Never did get to see her in action, though. If I had, my fundamentalist Baptist Dad would’ve dragged me out of the Roxy by my heels, though probably not before sticking around for three or four hours just to check exactly how sinful the place was.

I hadn’t thought about Blaze in years before the night we went to Civic’s burlesque show. Pondering writing a column about the experience, I looked up Blaze Starr on Google and saw far more of the stripper than I had ever seen in those old Roxy ads. Those ads were so innocent looking. Blaze could have been just another housewife urging fellow housewives to buy Ball jars, except for her lusty facial contortions apparently brought on by the thought of canning succotash.

Of course, now that I’ve searched for Blaze, computers being what they are, I might become inundated by posts regarding other famous strippers of that era. Who? Ladies like Tempest Storm, Lili St. Cyr, Zorita and Gypsy Rose Lee, to mention four. Then, of course, there was “The Bazoom Girl,” whatever that means.

It’ll all be for naught, though. Stripper-wise, my heart still belongs to Blaze who, much to my chagrin, died of heart failure in 2015 at the age of 83.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.