Betty, a barmaid I used to work with on Blaze Starr's former stomping ground, the World-Famous "Block" in Baltimore, once told me, "You should've been around when Blaze was around. She was magnificent, everything top-notch."Betty, a 1950s stripper-turned-barmaid, was one of Blaze's contemporaries.Milton Carter, some 70 years old by the time I knew him, in 1978, knew the great Blaze Starr, too.To Betty's praise, he replied with a dismissive wave of one hand."She made a big to-do out of everything."It was a slow summer day at the Block's Stage Door Bar, and the three of us were passing the time shooting the breeze.I was a wet behind the years teenage stripper, and Betty and Milton were Block veterans of the finest stripe.I fell in love with old burlesque the minute I walked into the Stage Door, and soaked up the old-timer's tales of the good old days like a sponge.I was 3 years too late to have known Blaze Starr, however.She retired in 1975, and I didn't show up on the Block until 1978.

Thirty-five years have passed and I've just now read Blaze's memoir, MY LIFE AS TOLD TO HUEY PERRY.I'm amazed at how correct both Betty and Milton Carter were.Blaze's story is one sensationalized drama after another — from her brief entanglement with Philadelphia Police Captain Frank Rizzo to her long-term affair with Louisiana Governor Earl Long — but she worked every brush with the press to her advantage. She upheld high standards, both for herself and for the strippers in her employ at Baltimore's Two O'clock Club, and the reward of her labor was an early, comfortable retirement, something that precious few famous strippers can claim. Though her constant claim that NOTHING she did was a publicity stunt rings false as hell, I've come away from her memoir with a respect for the woman who was born dirt-poor in the West Virginia hills and made a fortune as a burlesque entertainer while never forgetting where she came from or abandoning her obligation to family.

If you like literature set on Baltimore's Block, visit www.margochristienovelist.com