Published on June 13th, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Tempest Storm
When we last spoke with Canadian filmmaker Nimisha Mukerji, she was in production on a new documentary about Tempest Storm, an iconic dancer, burlesque performer, and show business personality.
The time has come for the release of the documentary, Tempest Storm, including a special run at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver from June 18th to June 21st.
We spoke to the lady herself, Tempest Storm about her illustrious career and the process of sharing her most memorable life experiences on screen.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and how you became involved in this documentary?
I’ve been a burlesque performer since 1951, but I think of myself as an icon of show business, not just burlesque. I’m a performer, a public speaker, a dancer. I make appearances around the world. How did I become involved in this project? Number one, my manager Harvey Robbins suggested I should do a documentary. I said “I don’t think so.” But he said it would be good for me, but I was worried about telling my life story and re-living it all. He more or less talked me into it, so I said ok I’ll go for it. I met Kaitlyn Regehr in Toronto – she’s one of the producers, and she mentioned how much people would love to hear about my story and how I became a star. I thought ok, maybe I can do this.
What can you share about the process of working with director Nimisha Mukerji?
In the beginning I was a bit nervous about making a film and didn’t want to talk about certain things. I started to trust Mish – that’s what I always call her. She likes to listen and was very respectful. We had a lot of girl talks together with Lindsay (the cinematographer). They followed me on the road, they traveled with me back home to Eastman, Georgia. Mish brought out a lot in me. I will never forget the expression on her face when we saw the film together for the first time at Hot Docs in Toronto. She was waiting for me to say either it sucks or it’s great. I’m my own worst critic. And I waited until the credits were over and I turned to her and said – the film’s great! And her whole expression changed. She was so happy.
What was the most enjoyable part of this experience for you?
I think it was going back in time, going through the memories. Seeing my ex-husband Herb was incredible. He looked great at the age of 102. It meant a lot to me to see him after all those years. I loved his new wife too, you know usually ex wives and the new wives don’t get along but I really liked her a lot.
What was the most challenging part of this project and how did you deal with it?
We had our ups and downs, but eventually you iron it out. It was hard to talk about my private life, but then I thought it’s important to talk about the hard times and the obstacles I faced. People assume that because I’m an entertainer that I have everything in my hands, that I have it made. They don’t realize it was very hard getting to the top. There were many times I didn’t have food, didn’t have money, didn’t have friends. There were times along the way I thought about going back home to Georgia, but then I toughed it out. I went without. I think anybody who is facing problems can overcome it. But you have to be very strong.
What can audiences expect from the film?
The public often doesn’t realize what it costs to become a star. I’m really glad that I did this documentary because it gave me a chance to tell people the things that I went through and how I made it. If you put your mind to it, you can survive anything.
Were there any documentaries that you watched before participating in this one or do you have any favourite ones from the past?
I saw parts of Bettie Paige Reveals All and I appear briefly in the documentary Behind The Burly Q. I like the idea of seeing films that capture real lives.
You have a long history in burlesque. How do you think burlesque has changed over the years and where will it go next?
I think over the years it has changed a lot. They’re trying to revive it, but I don’t know how it will come back because when burlesque started disappearing is when the hard core movies started to release. The question is how do you compete with that? The art of tease tells a story though, and people are really starting to appreciate it again. I was just at Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and it was sold out. Men and women came out and enjoyed the show. Whenever I go on stage at BHoF the minute my two feet hit the stage people stand up screaming and applauding. It’s just incredible.
Are there any entertainment-related books that have inspired you along the way?
Garry Marshall autographed a copy of his book My Happy Days in Hollywood before he gave it to me and I treasure it. He said he had a crush on me for years which I thought was just adorable! Garry has a great sense of humour as he talks about his career. He really paints a picture of the people he encountered, and his childhood growing up in the Bronx.
Looking back on your impressive legacy in entertainment, how would you most want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a beautiful, classy lady.
Where can people find out more about you and the film?
The trailer, showtimes, everything’s on the website – TempestStormFilm.com
Thanks to Tempest Storm for speaking with us!
You can see the film from June 18th to June 21st at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver with a special Q&A with Tempest Storm and director Nimisha Mukerji on June 18th and June 19th. For tickets, please visit riotheatretickets.ca.