Hell's Belle

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With the help of Kitty Lynne, another legend working Vegas, Walker was cast by big-name burlesque promoters like Barry Ashton, Ann Corio, and Harold Minsky, whose showcases played the big casinos as well as venues around the U.S. and the world, including Broadway. She even got ink in Walter Winchell's famed New York Times gossip column, as well as in the pages of Time magazine.

Off the stage, Walker lived a nonstop party. She attended plenty of cocktail parties and other exclusive events, frequented by members of the Rat Pack and other top-shelf celebs of that era. At one such fete in the early '70s, she met Frank Gorshin (who starred as The Riddler in the campy Batman TV series). Walker says she started a fling with Gorshin soon afterward.

He wasn't the only beau who used her as arm candy back then, as Walker says she'd separately date four or five men at a time. Her supposed conquests also included Bobby Darin, TV actor David Janssen, and even Don Knotts (whom she calls "a weird little man").

Walker described an amusing adventure to Bizarre magazine in which the erstwhile Barney Fife wanted a seafood breakfast one morning in the early '70s, and they jetted off to San Francisco for lobster. It was par for the course, Walker says, for her never-ending party life.

"Every night we'd drink, stay out partying for 12 hours, crawl in bed in the morning, get up and do a show, and then start all over. We did this every single night, year after year," she says. "I'm surprised I still have a liver."

Her family was a little starstruck by her lifestyle. Her younger brother Ray, now 49 and a truck driver in New Jersey, remembers how his sister not only sent money home to her family, but also brought them out to Vegas in his teens. They stayed in fancy hotels and supped with Walker and her famous friends, such as former heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis.

"I met a lot of people and got a lot of autographs," says Ray. "I remember one morning I came down and she gave me a personalized autograph from Elvis. It was pretty cool; nobody else I knew had a sister that was a burlesque queen or dated celebrities."

After the booming Las Vegas scene busted in the late '70s, Walker found herself looking for a more lucrative source of cash, such as road gigs around the country, which paid more.

Her payola prayers were answered by a jarhead named Ron, whom she'd met while making appearances at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. (Walker had briefly been hitched in 1969 to middleweight boxing contender Bobby Trujillo, but they divorced after he made her leave Vegas.)

"I kept seeing him, and finally I introduced myself and he told me he was about to get out of the Marine Corps and become an air traffic controller," Walker says. "My little brain went, 'Cha-ching, that's good money a year,' so we started dating and got married a few months later in 1980." (They divorced almost 18 months after the nuptials.)

She moved cross-country with her new meal ticket, working clubs on the East Coast, and updated her act to cash in on pop culture trends. Walker busted out with a Wonder Woman costume or studded leather gear inspired by Kiss.

While she tried keeping up with the times, Walker felt the business was moving beyond her tastes by 1985. She'd considered hanging up her tassels, since her looks were fading with middle age, and the nastier acts she witnessed helped make up her mind.

At a divey strip bar in Paramus, New Jersey, she co-headlined with '80s porn star Vanessa Del Rio, whose act consisted of having sex with a midget onstage. In New York City, she saw a nude performer crouch at the end of a stage and allow customers to lick her naughty bits for a buck.

It was a little much, even for Walker.

"So I went to the owner and told him that I can't and I won't work with these people," she says. "He said I either did my number or I'd never work in burlesque again. I just told him [off], walked out, and I was done. I quit right then and there."

With only a high school diploma and a prurient past, Walker worked jobs requiring little experience, such as waitressing or bartending at dank taverns. At one such hardscrabble establishment in Wilmington, Delaware, she met her third husband Ed, a trucker and biker with a taste for hard drugs.

Many of their friends either dealt or sampled narcotics, so it's no surprise that one of them coaxed her into freebasing some cocaine in 1985. After that first hit, Walker couldn't quit, snorting coke for most of the next three years, draining her bank account and taxing her body. She tried rehab a few times, but before long found herself back on the blow.

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