Tanqueray Looks Back at Her Grand and Gritty New York Life


Stephanie Johnson has had two moments of fame. The primary got here when she was a burlesque dancer who glided by the stage identify Tanqueray within the gritty Occasions Sq. of the Sixties and Seventies, a time when “10,000 men in New York Metropolis knew my identify,” as she as soon as put it. She re-entered the highlight three years in the past as an web sensation after she shared candid tales of her life with Humans of New York, a digital franchise with thousands and thousands of followers on Instagram, Fb, Twitter and Tumblr.

Since her return to the general public sphere, folks from her previous have sometimes tried to pop again into her life, together with a person who acquired in contact just a few months in the past.

“He calls me: ‘Don’t you need some nice intercourse?’” Ms. Johnson stated over lunch at Zia Maria, a restaurant close to her residence within the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. “I stated, ‘No.’ He’s aged horribly as a result of he did a whole lot of cocaine.”

Ms. Johnson grew to become a web based star after assembly Brandon Stanton, the creator of People of New York, by likelihood in her neighborhood. “Again within the ’70s,” she informed him, “I used to be the one Black woman making white woman cash. I danced in so many mob golf equipment that I discovered Italian.” Her colourful tales of a metropolis of mobsters, prostitutes, businessmen and politicians, together with Mr. Stanton’s arresting portrait of Ms. Johnson in a patchwork coat with fur-trimmed cuffs and a fur hat, entranced folks on social media.

In September 2020, almost a yr after her first People of New York look, Mr. Stanton offered extra tales of Tanqueray in a collection of posts that doubled as a fund-raiser for Ms. Johnson, whose well being situations required her to make use of a wheelchair. A GoFundMe marketing campaign raised over $2.5 million from supporters who needed to assist pay for her medical bills.

Now Ms. Johnson, in collaboration with Mr. Stanton, has written a frank, deadpan and sometimes melancholy memoir, “Tanqueray,” to be printed by St. Martin’s Press this week. The e-book describes an sad childhood in Albany, N.Y., and particulars her adventures as a dancer at New York golf equipment just like the Wagon Wheel and Billy’s Topless. Alongside the way in which, she tells of her encounters with mobsters, celebrities, male sexual harassers, feminine porn stars and varied denizens of clubland.

“The primary individual I ever met on the Wagon Wheel was a pimp named Silky,” she says within the e-book. “He was from Cleveland. No person knew why, however all of the pimps have been from Cleveland.”

Mr. Stanton referred to as Ms. Johnson “a random jukebox of tales.”

“There’s one thing a few 78-year-old lady who talks like a sailor, who has probably the most bare-knuckle means of describing issues, that’s simply so participating,” he stated.

On the restaurant in Chelsea, Ms. Johnson was wearing a camouflage Henley prime, an identical jacket and silver boots. Earlier than the menus arrived, she was speaking a few scorching, younger constructing superintendent who had been hitting on her.

“It’s very unusual,” Ms. Johnson stated. “He’s 38. I’m 78. And I’m in a wheelchair. What place do I get in?”

Within the subsequent breath, she informed a narrative about her good friend Vicki, a “tall, blond, beautiful” go-go dancer on the Peppermint Lounge who had labored for a madame named Blanche. One among Blanche’s shoppers was a U.S. president, Ms. Johnson stated.

“The Secret Service would choose Vicki up from her home on the East Aspect, go to the place he was staying, take her by the again elevators and stand out in entrance of the door whereas they did it,” she stated matter-of-factly.

Regardless of the circles she traveled in, Ms. Johnson considered herself as strait-laced in her private life. She stated she by no means smoked, did medicine or slept round. In her memoir, she is consistently turning down sexual advances from lecherous employers, lonely membership patrons and even a member of the Temptations.

Over lunch, Ms. Johnson stated she had been in love solely twice. The primary time was with a person from New Jersey named Carmine, whom she met at a membership and ultimately married.

“He was swinging for a white boy,” Ms. Johnson stated. “All his fits have been custom-made. His shirts got here from the {custom} store. Attractive hair. And, in these days, Italians didn’t go to the barber; they went to the hair stylist, who sprayed their hair. So if you happen to’re having intercourse — ‘Don’t contact my hair!’”

The wedding resulted in divorce, she stated, after he grew to become hooked on heroin. She later married an incarcerated man in New Jersey with whom she had struck up a correspondence. She divorced him, too, when she found that he was dishonest on her.

Her love of fashion has helped her by life’s ups and downs. She cherished garments as a toddler and later took programs on the Style Institute of Know-how. Throughout her Tanqueray years, she made her personal stage put on, full with beads, glitter and rhinestones. After she stop dancing within the early Eighties, she supported herself by making costumes for porn stars like Vanessa del Rio, drag queens, cross-dressers and grownup males who appreciated to decorate as infants.

“I used to go all the way down to Hellfire, a fetish membership,” Ms. Johnson stated. “There was this man strolling round in diapers and rubber pants. I stated to him, ‘Are you incontinent?’ He stated, ‘No, I’m an grownup child.’ ‘Nicely, why don’t you will have a costume?’ He stated, ‘No person makes them in my measurement.’ Howdy! I do.”

It was Ms. Johnson’s patchwork coat, which she designed herself utilizing upholstery cloth, that caught Mr. Stanton’s eye and led him to strike up a dialog in 2019. “All my life, I get issues from how I costume,” Ms. Johnson stated, “as a result of I don’t costume like anyone else. I’ve my very own model.”

Within the epilogue to the memoir, Mr. Stanton writes that Ms. Johnson has two sons, that means she was a single mom for a lot of the time she was dancing as Tanqueray. The disclosure means that, regardless of her candid method, components of her life story have gone untold.

Mr. Stanton theorized that Ms. Johnson’s wild tales could also be a protection mechanism. “A whole lot of the persona of Tanqueray, that’s not one thing that she lives daily of her life,” he stated. “It’s one thing she makes use of to distract from the circumstances of her life.”

These circumstances have improved in some methods since her story went viral. The fund-raising marketing campaign allowed Ms. Johnson to have reconstructive hip surgical procedure to alleviate excruciating ache. And he or she reconnected with one in all her sons after just a few years of estrangement. Mr. Stanton brokered a telephone name between them.

Ms. Johnson stated that when she first met Mr. Stanton, she was experiencing an excessive amount of unhappiness from being lower off from her household — so she opened as much as him. “As a result of I used to be depressed, I began telling him stuff I’ve by no means informed anyone in my life,” she stated. “Then I completely forgot about it.”

Ms. Johnson appeared unfazed by the twists and turns her life had taken, together with her newest chapter as a viral sensation.

“How can I say it?” she stated. “I did it my means and it labored.”

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