Unprompted: Bumps and the Grind 

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You probably don’t think much about Blaze Starr, and with good reason. Anyone younger than 50 probably has no idea who she was, or is. But she very much was, and last time I checked she was still alive, so therefore she still is.

Although at one time rich and famous, Blaze never did anything useful that I know of. But that’s not to say she didn’t do anything. She forced her way into newspapers and television, she became rich and famous, and what’s bad about that? Depends on your point of view.

Blaze crosses my mind occasionally. I interviewed her a couple of times, and hung out at her 2 O’clock Club on East Baltimore Street from time to time. It was a Baltimore entertainment venue geared toward men, and during those years I found attraction in watered-down drinks and women in similar condition. But Blaze seemed to like me and it was a fun place to go after the late news. Hey, I was young and eager to find out about things I didn’t learn about growing up as a preacher’s kid. Dad told me about great missionaries. He did not tell me about great strippers.

Known to her mother as Fannie Bell Fleming, Blaze grew up in an obscure West Virginia holler. Then one day she looked around at Twelvepole Creek, her home, and said, “I gotta get the hell outta here.” And get outta here she did get.

Blaze was pretty, blessed with award-winning physical stuff, and had a pleasant personality. She was well on her way to a wonderful career as a stripper when she encountered Louisiana Gov. Earl Long. Earl liked Blaze. The two developed what is known today as “a relationship” — good for Gov. Long because it satisfied his immediate needs, good for Blaze because it propelled her beyond what she might otherwise have expected in life.

So what did Blaze and I talk about? Simple things, mostly. You see, I too survived West Virginia from a little town not far from where Blaze lived. When I told her about our similar roots, she seemed glad to while away the late-night hours with a fellow West Virginian. It didn’t hurt that I was on television at the time, WMAR-TV, and she had some interest in publicity. So one day I invited her to be my guest on a midday talk show, hoping to cement our relationship but more interested in spiking our low ratings. Across town at WJZ-TV, a woman named Oprah Winfrey was sucking up all the viewers.

That was a long time ago but it’s one of those things in my spotted past that creeps up from time to time. And it reminds me of something that either she taught me or I simply learned by accident.

I refer to the commonly heard refrain, “You can be anything you want to be.” Well, that’s noble sounding but untrue, unless you want to be what you can be. For example, I couldn’t be shortstop for the New York Yankees, but I could be a local television news anchorman who survived below the radar for a number of years until I was advised to seek as my next career retirement.

Today’s lesson: I have seen what happens to dirt-poor girls and boys who are unfortunate enough to be reared in dirt-poor places. They go into each day hoping to stay warm and find something to eat that’s usually washed down with Mountain Dew just before their teeth fall out. Most of this wonderful life is supported by welfare checks. Poverty will eat away at whatever you have left.

So as I said, Blaze said I gotta get the hell outta here, and we did. Blaze didn’t have much going on between her ears but she knew enough to realize that she had a pretty face and an outstanding body.

Young people should have dreams, but we who guide them should preach the value of realistic dreams. There’s a big wide wonderful world somewhere between playing shortstop for the Yankees and stripping on East Baltimore Street. And in that vast expanse there are dreams worth having. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at @genecoxrva.

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