Cbr14bingo Funky (I mean, look at photos of this glorious, gorgeous lady. FUNKY!)
If you follow Humans of New York on social media, you probably already have some familiarity with Tanqueray/Stephanie Johnson. HONY creator Brandon Stanton featured her on his site a few years ago, and a star was re-born. Given her fascinating life story, flamboyant style, and colorful storytelling, as well as the great popularity of her story on HONY, Stanton felt strongly that he should get Stephanie the book deal she always knew she deserved. This book is short, just under 200 pages and easily read in an afternoon, but it really is an extraordinary look at a dynamic and resilient woman.
Through Stanton, Stephanie tells her stories of childhood in Albany, becoming a runaway teen, finding love in New York and learning to do what was necessary to survive. Stephanie’s childhood in 1940s Albany was unusual and often painful. She detests her mother for being so cold toward her, but she also recognizes that through her mother and father, she learned her appreciation of fashion and how to get along in a white world. After becoming pregnant as a teen and winding up in jail thanks to her mother, Stephanie gave up her baby and moved to New York, a place of fashion and opportunity. She worked for a while in the garment district and her talents as a seamstress have always been her fallback in financially tough times. But Stephanie quickly figured out that better money could be made in dancing/burlesque shows. Her descriptions of the clubs, the mobsters there and the racism against black dancers are fascinating to read. Stephanie was sort of the “Jackie Robinson of burlesque,” breaking the color barrier to get headlining jobs at better paying clubs.
Through her connections in NYC’s dance club scene, Stephanie was introduced to all kinds of interesting people and opportunities. She met the love of her life, Carmine, the only person who ever really loved “Stephanie” as opposed to her stage alter ego “Tanqueray.” But Carmine’s drug abuse played a key role in the end of that relationship. Stephanie also met a porn star who edited High Society magazine and hired her to write a column called “Tattle Tails by Tanqueray,” in which Stephanie took actual events in her life and turned them into titillating sexual adventures. As Stephanie grew older and the opportunities for dancing dried up, she found success as a phone sex operator and as a seamstress to the gay/trans community as well as creating plus-sized lingerie.
When Brandon Stanton met Stephanie quite by accident on the street one day, she was already in her 70s and her health was in decline. She did, however, love to tell her stories and believed that she was meant to write her story. Brandon agreed and has spent years getting to know her and write it all down. As a result, Stephanie made enough money to get the health care she needed and she has reconnected with her son. This is a great story. Stephanie deserves every success, and I hope it never ends.