Hell's Belle

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Before she started taking off her clothes for a living, Walker barely had enough cash to afford clothes, period. In 1961, she was living in a grimy $5-a-week hotel room, working as a telephone operator and secretary for a clothing manufacturer.

One Friday, she checked out an amateur strip night at the Moulin Rouge, a North Beach nightclub, along with some female co-workers. Gussied up in makeup and fancy frocks to look older, and wielding fake IDs, Walker and company slipped into the show.

Female audience members would hop onstage, doff their dresses, and sashay in their skivvies, and whoever got the loudest applause won a crisp C-note. Given her buxom 44-24-34 measurements and Priscilla Presley-style looks, Walker figured she'd win easily. She did.

"I thought to myself, 'Hmm, now these are the kind of careers they should have taught us about in school,'" she jokes. "I mean, if any girl could just get down to her underwear and a slip and make $100, then I could do it."

Walker returned the next six weeks and won every time. The club's owner offered her a $600-a-week job, and she ditched the Girl Friday gig to reveal her lacy bra, panties, garter belt, and stockings to the audience. She says her charm school experience, particularly ballet and tap dance classes, helped her move about stage with poise and grace to such instrumental numbers as Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne."

"My teachers at the House of Charm would've probably flipped their wigs if they ever learned how one of their ex-students was getting naked for a living," she says.

After making some serious scratch, Walker bought flashier outfits and became more of an exotic dancer at The Moulin Rouge and other North Beach clubs like Chi Chi's and Chez Paris, wearing sequined miniskirts and low-cut tops, allowing her pasty-covered bosoms to swing free. Most upscale joints like the Moulin Rouge kept its girls in panties with their nipples covered until the mid-'60s, as it was illegal to go fully nude.

As she became popular around town, the bump-and-grinder spiced up her act with tassels, landed shows at big nightspots like The Condor Club and The Galaxie, and took on a sassier moniker. She'd been playing off her middle name with such noms de guerre as "Angel Dahl" or "Tassel-Tossing Angel," but wanted something zazzier, like Satan's Angel.

The hellish handle seemed apt, since she debuted her flaming tassels soon afterwards to upstage fellow dancers in their cutthroat profession of seeking the audience's attentions. One such competitor was Tura Satana, the Japanese-American femme fatale who stripped throughout the Golden State before starring in Russ Meyer's cult film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

"In some ways, Tura was my archrival. She was doing the twirling tassels thing, so I figured I had to set my ta-tas on fire to win the crowd over, which it did," Walker says. "Sometimes you needed to do stuff no one else was."

Like her all-girl topless rock band from the mid-'60s, The Hummingbirds. Fronted by Walker, who also played bass, the fivesome packed in customers nightly at Tipsy's in North Beach, performing covers of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

"Girl musicians weren't the in thing then, so the guys were coming to see us, or, more specifically, our ta-tas," she says.

And they brought plenty of gifts with them, as Walker frequently received candy, flowers, and even lavish fur coats from her suitors.

"Everyone wanted to be with you, they surrounded you with attention, gave you gifts, and fed you the finest food, and the best wine," Walker says. "I didn't sleep with 99 percent of them, cause they were all old, sixties and seventies, and I wasn't sure I wanted men." (She didn't lose her virginity until the age of 20, she says, giving it up to a bartender at the Condor Club.)

Not surprisingly, Walker's mother took a dim view of her daughter's career path. Walker attempted to keep things on the down-low, until her mom turned up in the audience.

"I looked down and there was my mom in the front row. I screamed and ran offstage and she chased me to the dressing room," Walker says. "I really broke her heart that night."

While at the time, Lobo wanted her daughter out of the lifestyle, she's currently more conciliatory.

"After the initial shock, I accepted things, since she is the way she is, always has been," Lobo says. "Not everyone can be a movie star or a millionaire, I guess."

No, but Walker claims to have been with plenty of them.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.