The governor and the stripper: A Louisiana love story
In 1959, Gov. Earl K. Long and his retinue wandered into the Sho-Bar on Bourbon Street, where Blaze Starr was stripping before an appreciative audience, climaxing her act on a love seat where a concealed smoke pot made the sofa appear to catch fire. The married governor was enamored. After the show, he visited her dressing room and asked her to dinner, leading to an affair that lasted until his death in 1960.
Nearly six decades after this affair, the tale of the governor and the stripper has become part of Louisiana political lore. In 1989, filmmaker Ron Shelton further cemented its place in history with “Blaze,” a movie based on Starr’s memoirs and starring Paul Newman as Long and Lolita Davidovich as Starr.
- Blaze Starr was born Fannie Belle Fleming in Newground Hollow in West Virginia. She left home at 14.
- When Long and Starr connected, she was about three dozen years his junior.
- The affair unfolded when Long’s advisers were concerned that the governor, known for his eccentric behavior, might have what is now called bipolar disorder. No mental malady ever was diagnosed.
- The eccentric Long was eventually confined to Southeast Louisiana Hospital, a mental hospital in Mandeville, in 1959. To get out, he ordered the firing of the head of the state hospital system and replaced him with an ally who had him released.
- When Iris Kelso was assigned to cover the Legislature for The States-Item, she wrote extensively about Long’s behavior, interviewing him once while he was wearing long underwear. In an interview, she said she saw the tragedy as well as the wackiness of the situation. “I was so touched by the sight of this old crazy man and the tragedy of what was happening to him,” she said. “It was just a very emotional thing for me.”
- In September 1960, Long died. He was 65. In a People magazine interview, Starr said, “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.”
- “Uncle Earl,” as the folksy Long was known, served three terms as the governor of Louisiana. Among the buildings to bear his name is the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans.
- Long and his wife, whom he called Miz Blanche, separated but never divorced. She died in 1998.
- Starr died in 2015 at age 83. In her obituary in The New York Times , she said she and Long had planned to be married. The Times reported that she wore a five-carat diamond ring that, she said, Long had given her.
It’s not hard to see why some at the time were embarrassed by Earl Long’s unapologetic shenanigans. There’s a fine line, after all, between eccentricity and lack of dignity. But the passage of time has a way of taking the sting out of such indiscretions. (A Paul Newman movie doesn’t hurt, either.) In 1993, Uncle Earl — who continued the Long legacy started by big brother Huey — was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. Today, he stands as yet one more memorable figure in Louisiana’s singularly colorful political past.