Blaze Starr, the one-time paramour of Louisiana Gov. Earl Long who made her dalliance with the governor into a modest cottage industry, should best be remembered for pioneering what’s now become a celebrated American art form: the use of scandal for fun and profit.
Starr, who died this week at 83, caught Long’s eye in 1959, when she was working as a burlesque stripper in New Orleans. Their subsequent affair confirmed the view of the governor’s critics that his flamboyant and frequently erratic behavior was embarrassing the state. Long’s family briefly committed him to a mental institution, from which he sprung himself with his usual political skill. He served out his term and died in 1960 while seeking a seat in Congress.
The publicity surrounding Starr after her affair with Long helped her career as a night club performer and also led to a 1974 memoir of her relationship with the governor. Then Hollywood came calling, paying for the movie rights to Starr’s book for the forgettable 1989 film “Blaze.” She used part of the proceeds to buy a five-bedroom house and even secured a cameo role in the production.
It was a nice dividend for weathering the winds of a sex scandal, although Starr’s profit from her notoriety was probably small change compared with what she might get today. In her years after Long, she ran a celebrated night club in Baltimore and also sold jewelry.
We can only imagine the kind of entertainment deals Starr might have gotten in today’s media environment after her affair with Long. Just ask Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, whose penchant for publicly behaving badly has landed each of them multimillion-dollar reality shows and endorsement deals.
But Starr rose to celebrity in a different era, and she was enough of a performer to know that in life as on the stage, timing is everything. She shared with Long a consummate sense of theater, and in Uncle Earl she probably found the only entertainer capable of upstaging her.