In the 1950s, when striptease artists such as Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr and Helen “Treasure Chest” West were regularly featured in tabloids and popular magazines, Tempest Storm may have been the most famous exotic dancer of them all.

In 1956, Storm signed a 10-year contract that paid her a minimum of $100,000 a year. Her breasts were reportedly insured for $1 million. She caused a stampede of 1,500 male students when she appeared at the University of Colorado.

 Tempest Storm, an 80-year-old burlesque dancer, tries on her feather boa in her apartment in Las Vegas in 2008. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press, file

“They must have been shut up for months without women,” she said. “They rushed me like a herd of cattle.”

Her Hollywood friends included Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Her many paramours, according to her 1987 autobiography, included Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy.

Storm, hailed as “The Last Queen of Burlesque,” died April 21 at her home in Las Vegas. She was 93.

The death was confirmed by her manager, Harvey Robbins, who declined to cite a cause.

For more than 25 years, Storm’s name appeared on the marquees of a nationwide network of burlesque theaters, a relic of 20th-century entertainment now vanished into the past. In Washington alone, she performed at such places as the Casino Royale, Silver Slipper, Gayety Burlesk and Le Crazy Spot.

“I did a class act,” Storm told Portland’s Oregonian newspaper in 2014. “Beautiful wardrobe. Big band. Opening act. It was sexy, teasing, but nothing vulgar.”

She trained with a choreographer, sewed her outfits herself and dyed her hair a fiery red. She walked onstage wearing a full-length gown, long gloves and a mink stole – and left it wearing considerably less.

“You haven’t seen stripping till you’ve seen Tempest,” Gayety Burlesk manager Abe Attenson told The Washington Post in 1966.

Storm found her niche in show business after fleeing rural poverty in her native Georgia. Divorced twice by the time she was 16, she made her way to Los Angeles and was working as a cocktail waitress when a customer suggested that she consider dancing at a nearby burlesque theater, the Follies.

She spent three weeks in the chorus line before she was asked if she would take a turn in the spotlight and do a striptease.

“I said, ‘Forget it,’ ” she told The Post in 1973. “Then they told me they’d raise my pay from $40 to $60 a week. ‘In that case,’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ ”

The manager at the Follies, Lillian Hunt, who ran what was sometimes called a “school for strippers,” suggested that Annie Banks adopt a more alluring stage moniker. She was given the choice of Sunny Day or Tempest Storm; she legally changed her name in 1957.

At first, Storm was self-conscious about appearing onstage because, while growing up in Georgia, she had been teased about her ample physical endowment. Hunt laughed and said, “They don’t make ’em too big in this business.”

Over the years, Storm acquired an array of suggestive nicknames, including “The Girl With the Fabulous Front.”

“Lillian Hunt, the choreographer at the Follies, directed my career, my personal life, everything, like I was her daughter,” Storm told The Post. “No drinking, she told me, no carousing, always look like a star, never let anyone on before you with the same color gown, things like that.”

During the 1950s, Storm appeared in a number of racy burlesque films, with titles such as “Paris After Midnight,” “Striptease Girl,” “Buxom Beautease” and “Teaserama,” which also featured cheesecake model Bettie Page. Storm first performed in Las Vegas in 1951 and was the headliner of “Minsky’s Follies” in 1957, the city’s first topless revue.

That same year, she began her romance with Presley, who once climbed an 8-foot wall to reach her hotel suite. Years earlier in Washington, Storm had met the young Kennedy, long before he was elected president in 1960. When asked what she and Kennedy talked about during their rendezvous, she said, “It sure wasn’t politics.”

In 1959, Storm married her fourth husband, Herb Jeffries, a singer with Duke Ellington and an actor known as the “Bronze Buckaroo” for his appearances as a cowboy in Black Western films of the 1930s. Their interracial marriage was considered shocking in Hollywood at the time and led to the cancellation of many of Storm’s engagements. Some of her friends and business associates deserted her.

After the marriage, Storm had a daughter, then carried on with her career, much to Jeffries’s consternation. They were divorced in 1967.

“I think what happens is a guy marries a girl in this business and he thinks he can handle it,” she told the Kansas City Star in 2014. “They love you when you’re engaged, but they can’t handle it when you’re married. All of a sudden they want you to wear dresses all the way up to your neck.”

Well into her 50s, Storm continued to tour the country, making $2,500 a week, often billed as “The Last Queen of Burlesque.” She avoided white flour and fatty foods to keep her waist at 21 inches.

“I’ll put myself up against a 22-year-old any day,” she told The Post when she was 45. “And I’ll tell you who’s going to come out on top.”

Annie Blanche Banks was born in Eastman, Georgia, on Feb. 29, 1928. (Because it was Leap Day, she liked to joke that she didn’t have her 21st birthday until 2012.)

She never knew her father and grew up with her mother, stepfather and several half-siblings on a small farm. She worked in the fields, in a hosiery factory and as a waitress. Her first marriage, when she was 14, was annulled within days. She married again at 15 and was divorced several months later.

In the early 1950s, she married her third husband, John Becker, who owned a theater in Portland, Ore. They later divorced.

Survivors include her daughter with Jeffries and a granddaughter. A 2016 documentary by Nimisha Mukerji explored Storm’s efforts to reunite with her estranged daughter.

Throughout her career, Storm emphasized that she always left something to the audience’s imagination in her performances. Even so, she was arrested several times for violating laws against nudity and topless dancing.

She was still a headliner in Las Vegas when she was 59 and formally retired at 67. She continued to make occasional appearances until she was 82, when she fell onstage and broke her hip.

In later years, Storm organized burlesque tours around the country, appeared at fan festivals and became a mentor to a younger generation of performers.

In a 1968 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, she recalled that the first time she performed a striptease, her outfit was not properly fastened.

“The instant the spotlight hit, my gown fell off,” Storm said. “I was still wondering whether I had the nerve to take it off, and it fell off. So that was when I learned the basic rule in this business: No matter what happens, keep moving.”


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