InMarket: Tammi tells it True: Myers takes it all off, one story at a time

Robert Francis

It’s been a long, interesting trip for Nancy Myers, born 76 years ago at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth. Along the winding corkscrew road of her life, Myers has seen fame, infamy and thumbed her nose at the well-heeled bluenoses who have looked down on her. She’s also taken very good care of her family, thank you very much. Myers, better known by her stage name, Tammi True, was there – there being the bustling, neon-lit cauldron of gambling, drinking, strip bars and sin that simmered beneath the thin, brittle veneer of the sexually repressed, button-down society of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As Tammi True, Myers headlined at the Carousel Club, the strip venue in downtown Dallas owned by Jack Ruby. Her career as a burlesque dancer took her around the country, performing with a live band. Her nickname was Miss Excitement. She looked a bit like a cross between Kim Novak and Mamie Van Doren.

“I had a time. I’m still having a time,” she says. Now living in Grand Prairie, Tammi has graced the stage again, albeit now tossing off stories of Texas’ Mad Men era hijinks and salacious scandal instead of items of clothing. It started with a revival of old-style burlesque in Dallas a few years back and the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Now she has a book, co-written by D magazine writer David Hopkins, and a movie, True Tales, a docudrama about her. Va-va voom, indeed. I spoke with Myers a few weeks back as she took part in an oral history program at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. If only other museums had treasures as lively as this. She may not be strutting the stage in high heels to a bass drum beat and beckoning customers with come hither looks, but she’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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Among her stories: • Myers attended Fort Worth’s Our Lady of Victory, but got expelled, the beginning of her bad girl reputation. She then went to St. Mary’s. • Myers loved to dance and she met a bandleader, Guy Parnell, from Carswell Air Force Base. The twist was popular then and the band wanted the curvy Myers to dance for them. Parnell wanted her to strip, but the Catholic girl was hesitant. Myers’ friend Elizabeth Klug encouraged her and offered to make a costume. They didn’t know about breakaway zippers, so they had hooks and eyes all the way down the side of the little dress. “It took forever to get that dress off,” Myers says. • Jimmy Levens, the owner of the Skyliner Ballroom on Jacksboro Highway, saw Myers dance. The Skyliner had a strip show on Friday and Saturday nights. “Sherry Lynn, who was a stripper from Dallas, saw me and offered to train me. That helped a lot,” says Myers.

• Myers became Tammi True, grabbing the name from the popular movie Tammy Tell Me True, starring the straight-laced Sandra Dee and giving the name that perfect ironic twist.

• Then Jack Ruby came calling. Ruby had his new Carousel Club, across from the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. The club began as a supper club, but that hadn’t worked and Ruby was converting it to a striptease venue. Lynn recommended Myers to Ruby. “Jack hired me sight unseen over the phone,” she says. “He offered me more money and even a little bit more because I was going to have to drive from Fort Worth and I went.”

• Myers sued Skyliner owner Levens. Following an argument, Levens had turned the spotlight off while Myers was performing and a customer pinched her, a big no-no in those days. Though Myers couldn’t recall who represented her in the lawsuit, the late Fort Worth attorney Charlie Baldwin was a friend and likely helped Myers file the $150,000 suit against Levens. Myers filed it “just to make Jimmy mad” but a wire service at the time, UPI, picked up the story and Tammi True was suddenly in the headlines. “Ruby called me up and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this?’ Since I was kind of in the news, he made me the headliner. That lawsuit was worth $150,000 in publicity,” she says.

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• True and Ruby’s other dancers made about $150 a week. They ended their acts with bare breasts, but pasties were strategically placed to keep Johnny Law satisfied. True’s act used a three piece band and she had her own charts. Her routines included a Latin number, a Southern Belle number and “a plain ol’ strip.” The songs she used were Let Me Entertain You, Summertime, Old Fashioned Gal, Night Train, Satin Doll and Blues in the Night. She loved the blues from when she was a child listening to KNOK in Fort Worth. T Bone Walker and Lloyd Price were favorites. “If I ever went out on tour and had to use a house band that didn’t read my charts, I’d get them to play Summertime and some blues. I just loved the blues. Still do,” she says.

• Ruby was a “great boss,” Myers says. “Feisty and now they would say he had Attention Deficit Disorder or something.” He helped her get an apartment to live in while she was working in Dallas and was always looking out for her. She also saw him give people who were down on their luck a job. But he liked to pretend he was tough, she says. “He would always meet with these guys in the club and he’d tell us they were from Chicago – you know, trying to show he was a tough guy,” she says. “But I met one of those guys after work one time and asked him where he was from and he said, ‘I’m from Tyler, Jack just likes us to say we’re from Chicago.’ Now I did see Jack beat a few people up, but they all deserved it.”

• When President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, Ruby was distraught, particularly feeling sorry for Jacquelyn Kennedy, Myers says. He closed the club and was upset that other club owners in the area didn’t do the same. On the morning of Nov. 24, Ruby, along with his favorite pet dachshund, Sheba, headed downtown to wire some money to a stripper stranded in Fort Worth. A familiar figure to the cops, Ruby entered Dallas police headquarters just in time to shoot and kill accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. “I was shocked but I wasn’t surprised. I could see him doing something like that,” she says. Myers puts much of the blame on the Dallas police. “I blame them for a lot of it. I don’t think they should have grandstanded and paraded him [Oswald] around like they did just for show.”

• According to Myers, Ruby’s action was rash and spontaneous. Jack was a hothead, she said. Sheba is the key, according to Myers. “Jack would never have taken his dog if he was planning to do something like that. He loved those dogs, particularly Sheba,” she says.

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• Unlike some of the strippers at Ruby’s club, Myers avoided the limelight – and the Secret Service – as much as she could. She had a family to feed and care for. She took her act all over the country before finally settling down to several office jobs.

Until now, that is. Interviewing the 76-year-old great-great grandmother backstage is one thing; watching her when the spotlight comes on and she takes the stage is another. The tricks of the trade learned so long ago in the smoky backrooms of sin and vice are not easily forgotten.

“Oh, I won’t lie,” she says. “I enjoyed being on stage. Still do.”