Annie Blanche Banks, better known as “Tempest Storm,” is an American actor and burlesque star. She was at the prime of her career during the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. She was also considered one of the best American burlesque celebrities. Born in a humble environment in Georgia, she quit school when she was in the seventh grade. Her parents had separated before she was born. She also married two men for a short period of time in her teenage years, mostly to free herself from her parents. She arrived in Los Angeles at the age of 17 and started working as a server. A customer suggested that since she had a great body, she could make much more money as a striptease performer. Tempest took the advice seriously and started her career in the Los Angeles clubs. She became popular as she performed at clubs across California and Oregon. She received a place in the ‘Burlesque Hall of Fame’ in the late 1980s. She officially retired in 1995 but continued performing occasionally even after she turned 70. In 2016, she made a screen appearance in the documentary film made on her life titled ‘Tempest Storm.’
Childhood & Early Life
Tempest Storm was born Annie Blanche Banks, on February 29, 1928, in Eastman, Georgia, into a middle-class family. Her biological father had separated from her mother even before she was born. She had a stepfather who was mean to her and treated her poorly.
Tempest was bitten by the Hollywood bug early in her life. She considered the world of entertainment a great escape from all the miseries that she had been subjected to in the past. During her early teenage years, she decided that she would run away to Hollywood someday and work in films.
Her academic performance was not too good. She dropped out of school in the seventh grade and never attended school after that. By the time she was 14, she had been sexually abused quite a few times. Those traumatic times had a bad influence on her psyche.
Soon, she moved to Columbus and started working as an inspector at ‘Archer Hosiery Co.’ She was just 15 years old at that time. Her salary was meager, and it became increasingly difficult for her to support herself. It seemed that her big Hollywood dreams would remain unfulfilled.
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Her parents constantly asked her to return, but she knew that if she did that, she would not be able to get away from them again. In order to get her parents out of her life once and for all, she got married to a marine. She was 15 years old then and got the marriage annulled just a day later. However, the Georgia law back then stated that once a person was married, the person’s parents would lose complete hold over him/her.
She worked at a hosiery mill for a while. She also started dating the brother of one of her female co-workers. He was a shoe salesman. They got married soon after. Getting married for the second time at the age of 15 was still scary for Tempest. The marriage lasted for six months.
By then, Tempest had started losing all hopes. Her Hollywood dreams, too, seemed to be moving further away from her, as she continued to make bad choices in life.
Somehow, Tempest Storm saved $600 and made the bold move to Hollywood. She was still young and had a hard time saving herself from the anti-social elements on the streets of Los Angeles.
She did a number of odd jobs in the beginning and frequently lied about her age to get more jobs. At 17, she began working as a cocktail waitress. Soon, one of her customers told her that she deserved to be somewhere better. He suggested that she become a stripper. Tempest thought he was joking, but she continued to think about what he had said.
Lillian Hunt met Tempest through the same customer. Lillian was the talent manager at ‘Follies Theater.’ Tempest missed the first interview, as she was unsure of becoming a stripper. However, she was hired as a chorus dancer for $40 a week. The pay was unexpectedly good.
A few weeks later, as she started to become more popular, she was offered a $20 raise per week to perform as a stripper. She started stripping for money. Within a short time, she understood the rules of the profession and became a thorough professional.
1956 was a major year for her. She was offered a huge deal by the ‘Bryan-Engels Burlesque’ chain. They offered Tempest $100,000 a year to work for them. Hence, she became the highest-paid stripper across the country.
For the next few decades, she continued working as a burlesque star. One of her most-frequented venues was a burlesque theater in Oakland named ‘El Rey.’ She was also invited regularly by clubs across the US, especially those in Las Vegas.
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Throughout the 1950s, she appeared in various magazines. She also started her film career in the same decade. She appeared in films such as ‘French Peep Show,’ ‘Paris after Midnight,’ and ‘Teaserama.’
She also got married in the prime of her career, in the early 1950s, and moved to Oregon, where she found steady work at ‘Star Theater.’ She then moved to ‘Capital Theater,’ which was ‘Star Theater’s main competition. She started working for the latter because her then-husband, John Becker, had acquired it.
However, this started a rivalry between the two theaters. ‘Star Theater’ hired John’s ex-wife, Arabelle Andre, as their main stripper. To further fuel the rivalry, they gave her the stage name “John’s Other Wife.” This burlesque war between the two giants of the industry was highly publicized in the media and ‘Life,’ a popular American magazine, published a number of stories on it.
Tempest started billing herself as the “$50,000 Hollywood Treasure Chest,” but the “Treasure Chest Girl” Evelyn West sued her and Tempest had to refrain from using the phrase to promote herself.
She performed regularly outside the country. She performed at the burlesque clubs of UK and Canada, too. She also got her breasts insured by a UK firm for $1,000,000.
Retirement & Later Life
Tempest Storm officially retired from burlesque in 1995, at the age of 67. However, even after that, she performed on special occasions. In 1999, she performed at ‘O’Farrell Theatre’s 30th anniversary party.
She appeared as herself in the 2016 documentary ‘Tempest Storm,’ based on her life. Several other films have been made on her life.
She has also been inducted into the ‘Burlesque Hall of Fame,’ and one of her G-strings is displayed at the museum.
Tempest Storm lived a colorful life. Rumors claimed that she had been romantically involved with Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., Mickey Rooney, and Louis Armstrong. Her alleged affair with infamous gangster Mickey Cohen also made it to many tabloids.
She married four times. Her first two marriages took place when she was a teenager. After becoming famous, she married a businessman named John Becker. However, she divorced him shortly after.
She then fell in love with singer Herb Jeffries and got married to him in 1959. She was warned by her companies that they would cut all ties with her if she married him, but she did not care and went ahead with the marriage. She had a daughter with Herb. However, they divorced in 1967.