Johnny Caps1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s, burlesque, ferris bueller's day off, Miss Exotic World, Over The Top, Planes Trains And Automobiles, Steph's Happy Dogs, Stephanie Blake, The Invisible Maniac, The Sure Thing, Top Banana Burlesque0
I was first introduced to Stephanie Blake, my newest interview subject, when I saw Ferris Buller’s Day Off for the first time in the mid-90s. She had a small, but memorable, role as the Singing Telegram Nurse. Many years later, I was reading up on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on YouTube, and I saw Stephanie Blake’s name in the credits. I looked up her IMDB page, and found myself fascinated by her filmography. I then looked up her burlesque work on YouTube, and I was stunned by her moves. We talked recently about everything from burlesque to acting to her current work in the field of pet care, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know this beautiful and versatile talent.
Say hello to Stephanie Blake!
Johnny: Hello, Ms. Blake.
Stephanie: Hi! How are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Stephanie: Oh, no worries. I always enjoy being interviewed (laughing).
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go…
Johnny: Starting with this: What led you to become interested in dancing?
Stephanie: Oh, my mother did it, and when I was 15, she thought that I would probably never be capable of doing anything else, so she stuck me onstage and I went from there. She gave me costumes and stuff, but she never gave me much information. I learned by doing it.
Johnny: Okay. Who were your biggest influences as a dancer when you first started out?
Stephanie: Well, it was all burlesque, strip clubs and whatever but, actually, my favorite was someone named Legs Diamond. She worked in this theater I worked in in Kansas City. It was a theater where I had to do four shows a day, one at Noon, one at Four, one at Eight and one at 12. I was 16 when I was working there because I finally got old enough to drive a car, so I could get to work. Her in-laws owned the theater, and they had porno movies that ran between the shows. Anyway, Legs worked there often, and I watched her. She was a statuesque redhead who did all these poses, and she just had the perfect body, and was so classy that that’s who I originally thought was the best I’d ever seen.
Johnny: Cool. I’ve noticed in recent decades that burlesque has come to be seen as a form of female empowerment. Would you say that’s true?
Stephanie: Um, I guess it is, although more and more men are involved in it now, and that’s fine. I mean, I’ve seen some amazing acts where guys do stuff that’s worthy of being in the Olympics (laughing). I guess it is women empowerment, but I always felt empowered just because I was female because I could call the shots on just about everything. I mean, when I lived in Vegas, nobody ever said no to me, and that was just incredible. L.A’s a whole different story (laughing).
Johnny: What’s been the most unusual song you’ve ever put together a routine to, and what’s been the sexiest song?
Stephanie: The music I used? Oh, gee, there are so many. If I had to pick the sexiest, I did use The Captain and Tenille’s Do That To Me One More Time, and I thought that was a really great song for being onstage and what I was doing. I’ve always enjoyed old Sinatra classics because I grew up with his music. I had a stepdad who thought he WAS Frank Sinatra (laughing), so I had that music all of my life, and it was just amazing to actually be onstage with it.
Johnny: Okay. We recently lost burlesque legend Tempest Storm. Did you ever cross paths with her, and if so, did she have any advice for you?
Stephanie: We did cross paths. My mother actually worked with her when I was really little. She worked with her in Denver. She didn’t really give me any advice, but I was on a panel with her a few years ago, maybe five or six years ago, in Kansas City at the Kansas City Burlesque Festival. We were both there to do a show, and to do a question-and-answer panel, and to judge (laughing). I was sitting next to her, and she did talk about dating Elvis. She said that she never drank, she never smoked, she never did drugs, and she said that if she’d stayed together with him that, most likely, he would still be alive because she wouldn’t put up with that.
Johnny: Interesting. Returning to you, you won the Miss Exotic World title two years in a row, 1997 and 1998. What were the dances you put together that won you those honors?
Stephanie: Oh. Well, actually, the first year I did it, I didn’t think of myself as competing, but that’s kind of what they do when you’re in the show there. You’re kind of competing (laughing), so it was kind of a surprise that I won anything. I used James Bond themes like Nobody Does It Better. The music from the James Bond films was so incredible. I thought that that music alone probably pushed me over the top.
I actually wore a dress I had given to my mother, but I covered it in sequins, so that’s what I had on the first time I won. I didn’t have pasties with me. I didn’t even think about bringing pasties, and Dixie Evans, who was in charge of it all, was told by someone that I was going to be up there and be totally nude. That was crazy because I was never one to be totally nude (laughing) onstage, so I said, “No, I’m not going to do that”.
I started asking around, “Does anyone have an extra pair of pasties because I don’t have any”, and nobody did, so I didn’t even take off my top. I wore clothes through the whole thing, and I still won, and maybe that’s why. I don’t know. It was a whole different things to not take it off (laughing). I mean, I took off stockings, I took off my dress, but the bra stayed on.
Johnny: Well, that’s definitely a very cool way to win a competition like that.
Stephanie: (Laughing) Yeah, I was surprised.
Johnny: To go to an early credit, many people were, if you’ll pardon the turn of phrase, first exposed to your work in an early 80s HBO burlesque special hosted by the late Jack Carter, a special which featured a routine where you played a Salvation Army member who performs a scintillating striptease to Blues In The Night. What was it like to be performing on national television?
Stephanie: That was wonderful. We did it at the theater in Pasadena. The show was called Top Banana. HBO was doing a lot of those shows at the time, and I was lucky enough to be seen by Barry Ashton, who used me in every single show that came up. In the Jack Carter show, Barry actually came up with that idea of the Salvation Army routine. They fitted me with the costume. They did my hair and makeup, and it was just amazing that it was shown on TV.
I mean, that was one of the first things I ever did. When I first got to L.A, I got hired for HBO, Showtime, and by the Quinn Martin production company, Michael Brandman, all these people, but Barry Ashton gets the credit for the Salvation Army routine, and for some other routines that I did on some shows.
Johnny: Well, I have seen that footage on YouTube, and you definitely did some amazing work.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, you’re very welcome. As mentioned, that HBO special was hosted by Jack Carter. As a faithful listener of Gilbert Gotffried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Jack Carter, and the great bulk of them portray him as bitter and volatile. Was that true wen you worked with him?
Stephanie: When I worked with him, he was very nice and very polite. I never saw that. His humor onstage was always like that, but in person, at least to me, he was very sweet and very polite. The same thing with Don Rickles. When I saw him onstage, I would cringe at how mean he could get, and then in person, he was a sweetheart. I think a lot of people are like that, not that they’re nice to everybody.
When I worked with Sid Caesar, he was very nice to me all the time, but the makeup guy, his personal assistant, Sid was very evil to him. I didn’t like the way he treated his assistant at all because his assistant was there with a towel to wipe off his sweat when he was dripping, and he would say, “Get the blank away from me”, when he was trying to help him. I’ve seen a lot of big stars with different personalities depending on what they’re doing at the moment (laughing).
Johnny: Alright. Jumping onto the big screen, you played a barmaid in 1985’s The Sure Thing. What are your favorite memories of that shoot?
Stephanie: That was wonderful because Rob Reiner had originally hired me to be a stripper in the film, and then he went, “Oh, this is for kids, basically, so we’re going to change your part”. He could’ve given the part to someone else because it became a cocktail waitress, but he let me keep it.
We flew out to location in Stockton, California, and we were all in there doing the bar scene, and Rob Reiner goes, “You know what? Let’s just tear up these pages, and we’re going to improv the whole thing”. That was the most fun I ever had because I was working with these character actors and John Cusack, and the stuff everybody came up with? I could barely keep a straight face during the whole shooting of the film (laughing). I would get a couple of takes on it, and Rob goes, “That’s fabulous. Okay, moving on”, but that was so much fun. John Cusack had come into the trailer, too, to say hi, and introduce himself. He was very sweet.
Johnny: I’m glad to hear you had such a good experience on that movie. To go to my next question, one of your most notable roles was the brief, but memorable, role of the Singing Nurse in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’ve interviewed several veterans of John Hughes movies including Jean Louisa Kelly, Liane Curtis, and Larry Hankin, and they generally spoke of him fondly, although Larry did mention that Hughes also had an angry side. What were your experiences like in working with him on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Stephanie: Well, originally he had me come to Brentwood, where they did the pool scene, and pick up my script. He hands me my lines with no music and goes, “Here, you’re going to do this, and we’ll see you on the set”, and I’m like, “Oh, no”, so I worked on it. It was just the lines that you heard, and I’m going, “Oh, no. I’m not a singer. I don’t know quite what to do with this”, but I worked on it, and then I had to go to Long Beach to shoot it. When I was in the trailer there, Matthew Broderick came by and said hi. He was a sweetheart, too.
I walked up to the door where I was going to do the lines, and Louie Anderson was there, and he whispered in my ear. He goes, “You’d better get this right the first time because I want to get the F out of here”. I’m like, “Oh, my god. I’m nervous enough”. I mean, I’m in my 20s, and I’ve not got experience, and I’ve got this guy who does that to somebody who’s coming on the set to work, so anyway (laughing)…
John Hughes goes, “Okay. Well, let’s do it”, and I told the assistant, “I’m going to move. I’m not just going to stand here and do nothing”. He goes, “She’s got choreography!”, and John Hughes goes, “Well, let’s see it”. I did it, and then the door slammed. Everybody cracked up, and I thought, “Okay, I’ve got this” (laughing). Louie and I never talked again, but that’s when my girl friend who had worked with him at The Comedy Store said, “That’s really unusual for him to be mean. He must have had a fight with his boyfriend, and maybe that’s why he was in a bad mood”. I thought maybe that was it, and it wasn’t my fault.
However, later on, just a few years ago, I learned that originally Louie had lines in the film. John Hughes had also hired me to be a stripper in this movie, but then he also decided I should do something else since they are catering to teenagers. He changed my part to a singing telegram, and he knocked out Louie’s lines. He took them away from him, and that’s why Louie was so mad at me.
Johnny: Hmm, interesting.
Stephanie: Yeah. My feelings would’ve been hurt, too, I guess, if somebody had taken my lines, but I wouldn’t be mean to the person who had taken them because that’s not really where it came from (laughing).
Johnny: Perfectly understandable. Although your scenes were deleted, you worked with Hughes again the following year on Planes, Trains and Automobiles, working alongside another friend and former interview subject of mine, Debra Lamb. Have you ever been able to track down your scenes from that movie?
Stephanie: No. Actually, I wasn’t in that movie. I had a nightclub in Hollywood at the time, and they shot and filmed part of the scenes there. They did some of the scenes in my nightclub, so I did get to hang out with John Candy and Steve Martin, but I was not originally in the movie, so that wasn’t the case with that one.
Johnny: Oh, I’m sorry.
Stephanie: Oh, that’s okay because, I mean, I was there (laughing).
Johnny: Okay. Well, we’ll go to another credit from 1987. You had an uncredited role as a Ticket Agent in Over The Top. You’re the latest in a long line of former interview subjects of mine who worked for Cannon Films at one point or another, and opinions on Cannon have been mixed, to say the least. Over The Top was not only produced by Golan and Globus, but directed by Menahem Golan, so what were your experiences like in working with Cannon?
Stephanie: Well, I had to go back to Vegas for that. I was at the Vegas airport. Of course I was the Ticket Agent, and the little boy in the film came up to me to buy a ticket. I did my scene with him, and then Menahem said, “You know what? You’ve got to act like you at least like the kid” (laughing). I was just being business-like, I think, but I guess he wanted me to be a little warmer towards the little boy. I did it a few more times and, of course, that’s the scene that got cut out, I think. I’ve never seen it.
Johnny: Alright. Well, to go to a movie where your presence was definitely known, in 1990, you played Mrs. Cello in The Invisible Maniac, credited under the name Stella Blalack. An unusual combination of the horror and sex comedy genres, what do you recall the most about working on that movie?
Stephanie: That was so much fun. We were in a school that wasn’t in business, that was closed down or something, and everyone on that set was amazing. Tony Markes was one of the casting directors, and he actually gave me the opposite note of what I’d gotten before. He told me I needed to be meaner to the kids in the school (laughing) because I was the principal. I had the best time working on that. Everybody was so nice, and I loved the part. That was one of my favorite parts because it was a lead, and I got to do pretty much whatever I wanted. I didn’t get a lot of direction. Adam Rifkin was the director, although he was under a pseudonym for that film.
We just didn’t know what was going to happen with that film, but I ended up going to the Cannes Film Festival, where it screened. I sat in the audience with my girl friend, and all these Japanese people were in there. As they were walking out, they started pointing at me because they had just seen the film, and I wish I could understand what they were saying (laughing).
Johnny: Well, I have heard that Vinegar Syndrome may be releasing The Invisble Maniac on Blu-Ray, so if those rumors are true, and they do so, would you be interested in participating in extras if they’d invited you?
Stephanie: I’d love it (laughing). Yeah, anything to do with anything I’ve done, I’m in.
Johnny: Well, I certainly hope those rumors will come true, but in the meantime, you had a role as a Stripper At Big T’s in the 1991 Ken Russell film Whore. You’re the second talent who’s worked with the late Mr. Russell that I’ve interviewed, the first being Ginger Lynn, but I didn’t ask her this, so I’ll ask you: What was it like to work with a director like Ken who was well-known for pushing film to its’ outer limits?
Stephanie: It was great. He called me Diamonds during the film because I wore this sparkly rhinestone bra and G-string. I was covered in rhinestones, and he just called Diamonds the whole time. He’d come up and give me a hug, and he’d go, “Okay, we’re going to do this again. I want you to stay”. He kept me on the set. It was a SAG film, and he kept me on the set for 12 hours. I mean, I went into Golden Time, and he knew it and he didn’t care. He’s like, “Okay, I want you to stay a little longer. We’re all good with your scene, but hang on, just in case I think of something else”. Just a sweetheart (laughing).
Johnny: Well, that’s nice to hear. He definitely was a very talented filmmaker. On a note away from entertainment, you have a pet-sitting business, Steph’s Happy Dogs. What led you to become interested in pet-sitting?
Stephanie: I love animals. As far as taking care of them, I was living in Sherman Oaks, and I had a townhouse. My neighbor, who had two Yorkies, said, “I forgot to book a place for my dogs. My wife and I are going to New York for Christmas”. I said, “Well, let me take care of them”. He said, “Really?”, and I went, “Yeah”, so I did, and then when they got back from New York, they told everybody, and then everybody wanted me to take care of their dogs when they traveled or they went somewhere.
I knew I was going to need a bigger place, and that’s what brought me to move and get a house where I could have a corral, and plenty of room for the dogs to run around, plus I wanted cage-free boarding and daycare. I’m doing all that, and I also foster with my husband, David Gladhill. We’ve been together 20 years, and he runs the doggie business with me, and goes to burlesque shows where I judge. He also took some of these photos.
All of my personal dogs are rescues. I’m really big on finding homes for shelter dogs. I network every morning for that. I just think breeders should stop until every dog has a home, and then we can breed again. I mean, I have nothing against puppies, but I do love older dogs. Just last week, last Thursday, I adopted two dogs whose mom passed away. One of them is eight years old, and one of them is ten years old, and they are just the sweetest doggies in the world (laughing).
Johnny: That’s very noble of you. Which have been the most unusually named pets you’ve cared for?
Stephanie: Oooh. Oh, wow. We’ve had so many come through here. Right now, we have this big, shaggy dog named Acorn (laughing). I think we had a Safeway, and then there are the common names. There’s lots of Maxes, lots of Jacks, lots of Daisys…A lot of those names, but if I looked in my doggy book, I would see tons of names.
Right now, we have a Banjo here, and I thought that was unique (laughing). In fact, I make videos and send them to the people whose pets board here. I was in the corral with all the dogs, and I could not think of Banjo’s name. I’m going, “Come here, Sweetheart. What is it?”. It was so unusual. I’d never heard of it before (laughing).
Johnny: I was just asking because I find it interesting what names can be given to pets, like you’ll see a cute little puppy, and his name will be something like Rambo, The God Of Destruction.
Stephanie: (Laughing) I personally had a Rambo, and he was a little white fluffy guy. Yeah, I know people do that, and it’s funny to give little dogs big names (laughing). Some more unusual dog names are Tortilla, Nimbus, Toro, Dallas, Shuki, Zaza, Whiskey, Machi, Mateo, Wizard, Roczen and Peanut.
Johnny: Yeah. Going back to burlesque for a question, as you retired from burlesque a few years ago, is the retirement permanent, or could you see yourself doing the occasional performance in the future?
Stephanie: Well, what I wanted to do was stop while I was on top, before people go, “Why is she still up there?” (laughing), so that’s what I did. My last show was in New Orleans in 2018, and I got a standing ovation. I was very happy with the show. It went perfectly as far as I was concerned. My husband had been onto me to quit before, I guess, I get to that stage where people go, “I don’t really want to look at that” (laughing), so I did. I just went, “Okay, let’s stop now before people tell me I should stop”.
I know some fabulous performers who are older than I am, but they’ve got other stuff to do. I mean, they do magic. They sing. One of them could be mistaken for Shirley Jones in her prime. I mean, she’s such a phenomenal singer and dancer, so there are people out there who can keep doing it, and do keep doing it. It’s just not for me, and plus, at this point, I was taking, like, four to six months to prepare for a show because I’m such a nut about everything being perfect, so it’s so much work (laughing).
Johnny: Understandable. Well, that does lead me to ask: If I may be so bold, you’re a great beauty, and you’ve aged very well. What’s the secret to your looks?
Stephanie: Oh, thank you. Well, I’m not a big drinker, and I never smoked, and I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat. Once in a while, a piece of fish, but I’m almost vegan, and working out. I try to stay moving all the time because I think that has a lot to do with it. The clothes I wear…I try to wear younger clothes, and I keep my hair long because many women get older and think they’re supposed to cut off their hair, and let it be gray and curly or something. That just doesn’t work for me. I’m going to be a redhead for a lot longer (laughing).
Johnny: Well, keep working it.
Stephanie: Thank you (laughing).
Johnny: To go to my next question, we’re gradually making our way back to normalcy, but coronavirus has made an impact on all of us, so how has it impacted your work?
Stephanie: Well, The Burlesque Festival stopped, so I couldn’t go and see live shows, and that was horrible because I love going and judging, and being a part of everything, and being fussed over because I won twice…Things like that. Now, in August, I am going to Utah because I’ve been mentoring someone who is doing a show there. They have an Egyptian Theater in Ogden, Utah, and I’m going to be there next month to watch the show and see her win, so I’m hoping that Gigi O’Lovely, the person I’m mentoring, wins.
Other than that, it’s been a long, boring year-and-a-half not traveling. I haven’t seen my mother, or been to Kansas City, in two years. I’m from Kansas City, so I’ll be going back there in August, too, to catch up with everybody and see my high school friends.
Johnny: Alright. Well, I certainly wish you luck with that, and I’m looking forward to getting back out and doing things myself. Speaking of which, that leads me to my next question. If an autograph convention like New Jersey’s Chiller Theatre or California’s The Hollywood Show reached out to you about attending to sign autographs and meet fans, would you consider it?
Stephanie: Sure. Of course I would. Yeah.
Johnny: Alright. Let’s see. How can I wrap this up? I’ll wrap it up with this question: What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to start burlesque dancing? What advice would you give them to help them on their way?
Stephanie: Well, I would say make sure you take care of yourself and work out. Try to eat right. Don’t overdrink, and more is more: The more rhinestones, the better. Razzle-dazzle them (laughing). If you give them lots of sequins, lots of rhinestones, lots of sparkle, then the audience is still going to be excited to see you onstage, and hopefully put a lot of consideration into what you’re doing up there.
Look at the audience and pay attention to them, because when you look at the audience, if you can make eye contact with every person, which is what I try to do, I try to look at every person in the audience, then they will be entertained, and they will feel like you care that they are there, and that makes them love you even more.
Johnny: That’s excellent advice.
Stephanie: Thank you (laughing).
Johnny: Oh, no problem. That does it for my questions. Thank you again for taking the time to speak to me. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to whatever you’ll be doing next.
Stephanie: Oh, thank you, and it was a pleasure getting to know you for a moment on the phone, and thank you for thinking of me.
Johnny: Oh, you’re very welcome. I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.
Stephanie: You, too (laughing).
Johnny: I will.
Stephanie: Okay. Bye bye.
I would again like to thank Stephanie Blake for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more about Ms. Blake’s pet care service, you can visit her at the website for Steph’s Happy Dogs.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with legendary comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and three-time Academy Award-winning makeup artist Ve Neill. Thank you as always for your time.