A former New York City stripper who delighted social media users with wild tales from her life last year is back on the Humans of New York Instagram account with even more incredible stories.
In November of 2019, Tanqueray — whose real name, readers have now learned, is Stephanie — became one of the most buzzed-about subjects in Humans of New York history after photographer Brandon Stanton featured her on the account and gave her a chance to share her experiences, from making costumes for porn stars to wearing stolen designer clothes to punishing a fellow stripper with itching powder in her G-string.
Now Tanqueray, 76, is back on the account for a 32-part series being published this week, which has so far shown that Tanqueray’s life was just as fascinating from the beginning as it became during her 1970s heyday.
Viral hit: Last November, Humans of New York shared the story of a former stripper who went by the name Tanqueray
More stories: Now Tanqueray, 76, is back on the account for a 32-part series being published this week
Tanqueray captured the attention of social media users — including an enthusiastic Jennifer Garner — last fall, when Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton photographed her on the street and gave her an outlet to share her stories.
Stanton — whose book Humans comes out October 6 — went on to get her entire life story in a series of interviews.
Now, he said, ‘Stephanie’s health has taken a bad turn,’ so he’s sharing her story and raising money for her care on GoFundMe. In just a day, the fund has raised over $620,000.
In the first few posts that were shared on Monday, Tanqueray reflects on the early years of her life, describing a Catholic school upbringing in a white neighborhood, ballet classes, and a neglectful mother who landed her in prison.
Tanqueray, then just Stephanie, grew up an hour outside of Albany in a not-too-nice neighborhood made up of mostly Italians and Jews.
‘I was the fly in a bucket of buttermilk,’ she said.
‘My first crush was a boy named Neil Murray. He’s fat and bald now, but back then he looked like a Kennedy. Every day he’d carry my books home from school. Until one day the nuns gave us a lecture about how you can’t be interracial, so that stopped real quick,’ she recalled.
‘Fly in the buttermilk’: Tanqueray — whose real name, readers have now learned, is Stephanie — grew up an hour outside of Albany in a not-too-nice white neighborhood
Growing up: She went to a private Catholic school, where she read classic novels, went ice skating and horseback riding, and studied Latin
She went to a private Catholic school, where she read classic novels, went ice skating and horseback riding, and studied Latin.
‘No black kids were taking Latin in the 1940’s, but I was near the top of my class,’ she said.
She did ballet, too, and was on pointe at just six years old.
‘One Christmas they put me inside a big refrigerator box, and wrapped it up in wrapping paper. All the parents gathered around. Then the music started, and the box opened up, and there I was dressed like a doll. Standing on pointe,’ she said.
‘I began to dance, and the parents went crazy. My mom was so proud that day. Because none of the other kids could do it, even though they were white.
‘Sometimes on the weekends I’d go over to these kids’ houses, and they had families like you’d see on television. Everyone would be talking nice. Like they were happy to be together. Even the dog would be wagging its tail. But there was nothing like that in my house.’
Stephanie described the abuse she faced at the hands of her mother, who’d beat her with a belt if she found a speck of dust on the dining room table.
Early skill: She did ballet, too, and was on pointe at just six years old
Sad: Stephanie described the abuse she faced at the hands of her mother, who’d beat her with a belt if she found a speck of dust on the dining room table
‘I hated that woman. The only thing I liked about her was her style. She looked just like the movie star Lena Horne. And whenever she walked down the street, both men and women would stop and stare,’ she said, recalling how her mother, who worked as the special assistant to the Governor, used to do all her shopping at the upscale store Flah’s.
‘I’ve always wondered how she rose that high — but I certainly have my guesses. She fit in so well with white society that she wanted nothing to do with anything black. She never acted black. She never talked black. She talked about blacks, but never talked black. She used to tell me that I’d be a lot prettier if she’d married someone with lighter skin,’ she said.
‘And you know what else she tried to tell me once? She was crying about something, and she tried to tell me that she never wanted kids. But she had me anyway so that she could have someone to love. I looked at her like she was crazy. Cause she never showed me love. Not once.’
Stephanie recalled how she used to build a house of a blanket and an old car table, and would play with her dolls underneath. There, she ‘had a little family,’ and would recite this prayer: ‘Lord, please get me out of here so I can find a family that loves me.’
One day, her mother overheard. She burst into the room, kicked over the card table, and slapped Stephanie. The next day, she got rid of all the dolls.
Dreams: She’d watch movies with Esther Williams and dream about running away
Intimidating figure: Her mother was always well dressed and had an important job
‘All I ever thought about was getting out of that house. I’d spend hours watching those old black-and white Hollywood musicals — with Esther Williams doing ballet in the water.
‘I’d fantasize about running away from home and dancing right alongside them. That’s the problem with growing up in a white world. You think you can do anything that white people can do.’
Her life took a turn when she met her first boyfriend, a black man named Birdie who ‘was from the hood, but he didn’t act like a hood guy.’
‘I just remember that he told me he loved me — which I believed cause I was stupid. I didn’t know what the f**k love was,’ she said.
She soon found herself pregnant, and Birdie made a plan to move together to New York City. He left first to find an apartment, and Stephanie soon followed — but when she got there, he sent her back up to Albany.
‘Turns out he was already married, and his wife was some sort of invalid, so he decided that he couldn’t leave her. I was s*** out of luck,’ she said.
Stephanie, then 18, refused to move back home with her mom, but she did sneak into the house in the middle of the night to get the rest of her clothes. Unfortunately, her mom heard her and called the police.
Taking a turn: She met her first boyfriend and got pregnant, but soon found out he was married
Tough beginnings: She suck back into her mom’s house to get some of her clothes, and her mom had her arrested. She was thrown in jail as a teenager
In court, the judge gave her a choice: give her baby up for adoption and move back in with her mother, or go to jail. Stephanie agreed to the adoption, but chose prison over her mother’s house.
‘Since nobody from the outside was putting money into my account, I had to get a job in the prison factory. Back in the day all the bras and underpants were made by convicts — so that’s what we were doing,’ she said.
‘I’d always been good at art, so on the side I started making marriage certificates for all the lesbians. I’d use crayons to draw little hearts and stuff. Then I’d sign it at the bottom to make it look official. In return they’d give me cigarettes — which was money.
‘Pretty soon I had a little reputation. I was like the artist of the prison. The warden even asked me to choreograph a dance for the prisoners on family day.’
She was sure that her good behavior would mean she’d be out on parole after nine months, but the warden called her into her office with some bad news: Stephanie’s mother was sleeping with the head of the parole board, and didn’t want Stephanie to get out.
Moving on: She almost didn’t get parole because of her mother, but the warden helped her get out
Luckily, the warden had her back, and managed to get her parole hearing rescheduled for a month later, when a different panel would be deciding parole.
‘My test scores were off the chart. I was like the valedictorian of the prison. And the warden even wrote me a letter of recommendation, so my parole was approved,’ she said.
Before she left, she checked in on a fellow inmate named Roberta who was known for reading palms. She recalled how Roberta told her that her future was in New York City, that she’d only be in love once, and that she’d have a tough and lonely life — but once day, ‘a lot of people would know my name.’
Fast forward a few years, and Stephanie was in NYC, where, she said, ‘ten thousand men’ knew the name Tanqueray.
‘My signature meant something to them. They’d line up around the block whenever I was dancing in Times Square, just so I could sign the cover of their nudie magazine,’ she recalled.
‘I’d always write: “You were the best I ever had.” Or some stupid s*** like that. Something to make them smile for a second. Something to make them feel like they’d gotten to know me.’
Next step: She moved to New York City, where eventually she started stripping
For $20, they could then watch her dance on stage for 18 minutes.
‘That’s how long you’ve got to hold ‘em. For 18 minutes you’ve got to make them forget that they’re getting older. And that they aren’t where they want to be in life. And that it’s probably too late to do much about it,’ she said.
She liked to dance to the blues, because it’s ‘funky’ music and she can ‘really zero in on a guy.’
‘You look him right in the eyes. Smile at him. Wink. Put a finger in your mouth and lick it a little bit. Make sure you wear plenty of lip gloss so your lips are very, very shiny. If you’re doing it right, you can make him think: ‘Wow, she’s dancing just for me.”You can make him think he’s doing something to your insides. You can make him fall in love.
‘Then when the music stops, you step off the stage, and beat it back to the dressing room.’
Lots to tell! Tanqueray at the top of her game in the 1970s and has lots of amazing stories
Tanqueray has shared even more stories from her younger days when she was profiled last year. She revealed that after first moving to the big city, she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. She ‘hated’ it there, and was already working on the side, making costumes for strippers and porn stars in Times Square.
‘All my friends were gay people, because they never judged me. All I did was gay bars: drag queen contests, Crisco Disco; I loved the whole scene,’ she said. ‘And I couldn’t get enough of the costumes.’
She recalled a friend who use to sit at a bar and sell clothes stolen from the high-end department stores Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor, and thanks to those hot goods, she had quite a wardrobe herself. She recalled wearing mink coats, five-inch heels, and stockings with seams up the back.
‘I looked like a drag queen, honey,’ she said.
‘One night a Hasidic rabbi tried to pick me up because he thought I was a tranny. I had to tell him: “Baby, this is real fish!”‘
More, please! She first posed for Humans of New York last year and earned lots of attention
She shared story after outrageous story of mob-controlled clubs, eyebrow-raising stage acts, and even a former president of the United States who slept with one of her friends
The woman didn’t reveal her real name, but her stripper name was Tanqueray, and she says she was ‘the only black girl making white girl money’ in the ’70s.
‘I danced in so many mob clubs that I learned Italian,’ she went on. ‘Black girls weren’t even allowed in some of these places. Nothing but guidos with their pinky rings and the one long fingernail they used for cocaine.
‘I even did a full twenty minutes in the place they filmed Saturday Night Fever.’
She said she made her ‘real money’ traveling, making up to three thousand dollars on trips to places liked Fort Dix, where they’d call her ‘Ms. Black Universe.’
‘I had this magic trick where I’d put baby bottle tops on my nipples and squirt real milk, then I’d pull a cherry out of my G-string and feed it to the guy in the front row.’
Things were wild, but she never ‘used dildos on stage’ or had sex with booking agents or clients.
‘In fact, one night after a show, I caught another dancer sneaking off to the Tate Hotel with our biggest tipper. Not allowed. So the next night we put a little itching powder in her G-string.
Before it was cleaned up: Times Square used to be quite seedy and was packed with strip clubs and porn shops
On the scene: Tanqueray says she performed in the same nightclub where Saturday Night Fever was shot — a place that was known as 2001 Odyssey (pictured)
‘Boy, did she put on a show that night. Didn’t see her again until “The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds. So I guess she finally f***ed the right one.’
She also reflected on how the strip club scene was different then that it is now, noting that the adult clubs were all ‘mob-controlled’ — specifically by ‘Matty The Horse,’ the nickname for mob boss Matthew Ianniello of the Genovese crime family.
Ianniello did control the sex industry around Times Square in the ’60s and ’70s, but was in 1986 was convicted of bid rigging racketeering charges.
‘Honestly the mob guys never bothered me,’ Tanqueray said. ‘They were cool, and I liked how they dressed. They wore custom made suits. And they went to hair stylists, not barbers.
This guy: She said the strip club scene was ‘mob-controlled’ — specifically by ‘Matty The Horse,’ the nickname for mob boss Matthew Ianniello of the Genovese crime family
‘These guys wouldn’t even let you touch their hair when you were f***ing them. Not that I ever f***ed them. Because I never turned tricks.
‘Well, except for one time,’ she added.
She took a job from a woman named Madame Blanche who controlled all the ‘high dollar prostitutes’ at the time.
‘She was like the Internet — could get you anything you wanted. And all the powerful men came to her because she never talked,’ she recalled.
‘She set me up with a department store magnate who wanted a black girl dressed like a maid. I thought I could do it. But when I got to his hotel room, he wanted to spank me with a real belt. So that was it for me. I was done.
‘But Madame Blanche set my best friend Vicki up with the President every time he came to New York. And don’t you dare write his name cause I can’t afford the lawyers,’ she added.
Though she didn’t explicitly say this occurred in the ’70s, she referenced that decade several times in her stories. Presidents who served in the ’70s include Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Gerald Ford (1974-1977), and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).
‘He’d always spend an hour with her,’ she went on. ‘He’d send a car to pick her up, bring her to his hotel room, put a Secret Service agent in front of the door, and get this: all he ever did was eat her p***y!’
When Humans of New York shared the original posts, readers were left hungry for more. Celebrities like Hilary Swank, Busy Philipps, Phoebe Robinson, Matt Bomer, and Ireland Baldwin liked the posts, while Jennifer Garner demanded, ‘Why is this not a @netflix series?’