It was, as The Oregon Journal so delicately phrased it, a 'Battle of the G-strings.' The year was 1953, and after a brief fling at reform under Mayor Dorothy 'No Sin' Lee, Portland had not just one, but two downtown burlesque houses the Star on Northwest Sixth just north of Burnside and the Capitol at Fourth and Morrison.
Over at the Star, the main attraction was the Tantalizing Miss Candy Renee, a dark-haired, willowy woman who was, among other things, a personal favorite of the chief of police, 'Diamond Jim' Purcell.
And holding forth at the Capitol at least until she had to leave town after the scandalous story of her battle with Candy made the pages of Life magazine was Tempest Storm: the 4-D girl as she was billed.
It all started, as Tempest herself recalls in her autobiography, down in Los Angeles, where she'd been dancing at the Follies. At that particular time, she had just broken off an affair with Sammy Davis Jr. who, it should be noted for posterity, is one of a dozen or so former lovers, including Mickey Rooney, Elvis Presley, Engelbert Humperdinck, John Kennedy and, last but not least, Vic Damone, chronicled and examined in some detail in her memoir.
'As my passion for Sammy Davis Jr. cooled,' she says, 'I turned my affections toward John Becker, a former singer and burlesque straight man.' Becker, she explains, 'was very good as both a lover and a manager.' Unfortunately, however, John had an ex-wife, also a stripper, by the name of Arabella Andre, who wouldn't leave the happy couple alone.
• • •
To hear Arabella's version of it, Becker had married Tempest before their divorce was final thereby, in her mind at least, making her Becker's legal wife. She was a bit obsessive on the subject.
Once, to make her point, she put sugar in the gas tank of Tempest's new pink Cadillac. On several occasions, Arabella threatened Tempest that she would throw acid in her face, thereby scarring her for life.
So to get away from her, Tempest and John moved to Portland, where they purchased the Capitol Theater and went into business for themselves.
But if Tempest thought that they would find happiness and contentment on the banks of the Willamette, Candy Renee had other ideas. Which is surely not to suggest that Candy was acting on anything more sinister than good promotional instincts when she hired Arabella as a headliner at the Star or billed her on the marquee as 'John's Other Wife.'
One night the doorbell rang at Tempest and Johnny's Portland apartment, and Tempest opened the door to find Arabella standing there with a highball glass in her hand. Arabella threw the contents of the glass at Tempest. Tempest screamed, knowing that her stage career was over.
Actually, as it turned out, there was only water in the glass. But enough was enough. The Beckers called the police and had Arabella committed to a mental institution. After five days, Arabella, having been declared sane, was released. She sued the Beckers for false arrest, asking $35,000 in damages. A month later, the whole sordid tale, 'Burlesque wives war in Portland,' turned up in Life.
She and Johnny sold the Capitol and moved to San Francisco, where they subsequently dissolved their marriage. Tempest returned briefly in 1958 to announce a $1,000 settlement in the case and pose provocatively on her lawyer's desk. But by then, says Tempest, 'I'd had it with Portland.'