Update (September 29, 2020: The internet immediately fell in love with a woman nicknamed Tanqueray after she told a series of fascinating stories about the underbelly of New York City in the 60s, 70s and 80s to photoblog “Humans Of New York.”
Since telling her story, she has become an icon in New York City and to "Humans Of New York" fans. After partaking in a 32-part series with the photoblog, which doubled as a fundraiser for medical expenses, her GoFundMe page has surpassed its goal of $1 million, raking in more than $2.5 million as of Tuesday.
In an interview with The New York Times, Tanqueray, whose real name is Stephanie Johnson, said she plans to donate whatever is left of the money to the Association to Benefit Children once she dies.
The nonprofit association helps underprivileged children in New York City.
“I look at people and they don’t have food, they are homeless or whatever is going on, and if I am fortunate to do this, why wouldn’t I donate it? I don’t even want a car,” Johnson said.
After the initial posts featuring her photos and anecdotes drew massive fanfare, both Johnson and “Humans Of New York” founder Brandon Stanton said they received multiple offers for television shows and more. But she told the New York Times that she had built a connection with Stanton and wanted him to tell her story.
They decided to do a podcast on her stories but Johnson fell very ill after an admittedly hard life. Stanton said in the GoFundMe post that Johnson fell in her home and was stuck on the floor for more than three days. EMTs had to break down her door and since she fell, she has not been able to walk or even stand.
Stanton has worked to hire people to clean her apartment, hire a live-in home aide and bring in a physical therapist, but he said “her health is not improving as quickly as we'd like.”
“Unfortunately her unorthodox lifestyle hasn't qualified her for social security. And she doesn’t currently have insurance. (Though we're trying to get her signed up for Medicare.) Her care is extremely expensive. So far I’ve been using funds from the HONY Patreon, but it’s not sustainable long term,” Stanton wrote.
“Instead of selling advertising, or selling it to a publisher, we’re asking for voluntary contributions from anyone who’s gotten value from Stephanie’s narrative. If the story of her life has made you laugh, or cry, or think—please consider compensating the person who lived it. Because right now her story is the one thing she has to offer,” Stanton wrote on the GoFundMe page.
They have decided to put her stories — titled “Tattletales From Tanqueray” into a series of Instagram posts in the “Humans Of New York” feed, and the response has been massive. Even major stars, like Jennifer Garner, have chimed in to note how fascinating Johnson’s stories are.
Stanton told The New York Times that it isn’t just her stories that bring people in. Its the way she tells them.
“The telling of the story becomes part of the story itself. One of the most fascinating things that has happened to me is meeting her,” he said to the New York Times.
“She’s lived such a life and she has such a voice. She describes things in ways and puts together strings of words that I have never heard someone say before.”
Original (September 24, 2020): Humans of New York legend Tanqueray, who went viral after stories of her illustrious career was shared by the Instagram account, is following up on her popular debut with a week-long series detailing her life in hopes of fundraising money to help with her living expenses.
Since being introduced to the Instagram account's 10 million followers, the former entertainer, also known as Ms. Stephanie, has fallen ill and is seeking assistance. Due to her work history, she doesn't have a steady source of income from programs like social security, according to a GoFundMe campaign established by HONY founder Brandon Stanton.
In each post, Stanton comments, asking people to consider making a donation to the GoFundMe set up for Ms. Stephanie who he says has been experiencing pain since he first met her.
She recently experienced a bad fall that has left her unable to walk or stand. Through funds in the HONY Patreon, Stanton and his team have been able to hire a team of medical professionals to care for her in her home. But he said the funds raised so far are not sustainable for the long term.
As Blavity previously reported, the first peek into her story last November left many fans hoping for movie and book deals.
"Back in the seventies, I was the only black girl making white girl money. I danced in so many mob clubs that I learned Italian. 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. But I made my real money on the road. Three grand on some trips. Every time Fort Dix had their payday, they’d bring me in as a feature and call me ‘Ms. Black Universe’ or some sh*t like that," she told Humans of New York last year.
Following her successful debut on the social media platform, Tanqueray indicated the plan was to adapt her story into a podcast, but due to recent developments with her health, plans shifted to sharing her story in a series of posts.
“Tanqueray, whose real name is Stephanie, sat for a series of twenty interviews with me,” Stanton wrote in a post announcing the collaboration. “Stephanie is a born performer, so we were initially going to make a podcast out of it. But unfortunate circumstances have required a change in plans. Stephanie’s health has taken a bad turn, and she’s in a really tough spot. So I’m going to tell her story right here, right now. It’s the most ambitious storytelling I’ve ever attempted on the blog. It will unfold over the course of 32 posts.”
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Many of you will remember this young lady. Tanqueray caused quite a stir a few months ago when she dropped some truth bombs on us, while wearing a hand-beaded faux mink coat that she made herself. What you don’t know is what happened afterward. Tanqueray—whose real name is Stephanie—sat for a series of twenty interviews with me, during which time I transcribed her entire life story. And whoa boy, what a story. Stephanie is a born performer, so we were initially going to make a podcast out of it. But unfortunate circumstances have required a change in plans. Stephanie’s health has taken a bad turn, and she’s in a really tough spot. So I’m going to tell her story right here, right now. It’s the most ambitious storytelling I’ve ever attempted on the blog. It will unfold over the course of 32 posts. But if there’s anyone who can hold an audience for an entire week—it’s Tanqueray. As her story is shared, we will be raising money to ensure that Stephanie can live the rest of her life in comfort and dignity. Stephanie has a lot of urgent needs, so her care will be expensive. But her story is priceless. If the series adds any value to your life over the next seven days, please consider making a contribution to our fundraiser through the link in bio. ‘Tattletales From Tanqueray’ will begin tomorrow.
In the first installment of Tattletales From Tanqueray, the former exotic dancer recalled the height of her popularity where men would line up for her autograph because of her renowned performances.
“My signature meant something to them,” she said. “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. I’d always write: ‘You were the best I ever had.’ Or some stupid sh*t like that. Something to make them smile for a second. Something to make them feel like they’d gotten to know me. Then they’d pay their twenty bucks, and go sit in the dark, and wait for the show to start.”
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(1/32) “Tanqueray, Tanqueray, Tanqueray. When this photo was taken, ten thousand men in New York City knew that name. 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. I’d always write: ‘You were the best I ever had.’ Or some stupid shit like that. Something to make them smile for a second. Something to make them feel like they’d gotten to know me. Then they’d pay their twenty bucks, and go sit in the dark, and wait for the show to start. They’d roll that magazine up tight and think about their wives, or their work, or some of their other problems. And they’d wait for the lights to come up. Wait for Tanqueray to step out on stage and take it all away for eighteen minutes. Eighteen minutes. That’s how long you’ve got to hold ‘em. For eighteen 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. It’s only eighteen minutes. Not long at all. But there’s a way to make it seem like forever. I always danced to the blues. Cause it’s funky and you don’t have to move fast. You can really zero in on a guy. So that it seems like you’re dancing just for him. 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.”
In the succeeding post, Tanqueray revealed more insights into her relationship with her mother. The former dancer said she dealt with a great deal of colorism growing up and was beaten for not keeping the house clean.
"My mother would come home after work and run her hand along the dining room table. Then she’d look at the tip of her finger. If she saw a speck of dust, she’d beat me with a belt. I hated that woman. The only thing I liked about her was her style," she recalled.
“[My mother] 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,” Tanqueray added.
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(2/32) “I grew up an hour outside of Albany. The neighborhood wasn’t too nice, but it was better than the black neighborhood on Hill Street. Right now the house looks like shit, but back then it was completely clean. And my job was to keep it that way. My mother would come home after work and run her hand along the dining room table. Then she’d look at the tip of her finger. If she saw a speck of dust, she’d beat me with a belt. 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. There used to be a store in downtown Albany called Flah’s. And in the 1940’s if you didn’t buy your clothes from Flah’s– you weren’t affluent. My mother only shopped at Flah’s. She bought the best of everything: silk blouses, thirteen pairs of shoes, a hat for every day of the week. No matter how much I hated her—and I hated her – I always wanted to dress like her. My mother might have been the only black woman in the capitol that wasn’t working as a secretary. She was special assistant to the Governor. 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. 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. The only time we spent together was when I took ballet. I was on pointe at six years old. They won’t even let kids do that anymore. My mother came to all of my lessons and danced right alongside me. It was the only time we ever bonded. But she couldn’t do pointe. Not even close.”
Last year, the former dancer shared that she was thrown out of her house at 17 years old for getting pregnant and her mother conspired to have her arrested.
“My mom threw me out of the house at seventeen for getting pregnant, then had me arrested when I tried to get my clothes. Then she f**ked the head of parole to try to keep me in jail," she told Stanton.
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“My mom threw me out of the house at seventeen for getting pregnant, then had me arrested when I tried to get my clothes. Then she fucked the head of parole to try to keep me in jail. She was some prime pussy back then. But the warden did some tests on me and found out I was smart, so I got a scholarship to go anywhere in New York. I chose the Fashion Institute of Technology, which I hated. But by that time I was already getting work making costumes for the 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. And I couldn’t get enough of the costumes. My friend Paris used to sit at the bar and sell stolen clothes from Bergdorf and Lord and Taylors, back before they had sensor tags. So I had the best wardrobe: mink coats, 5 inch heels, stockings with seams up the back. I looked like a drag queen, honey. 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!”
In a post shared Monday afternoon, Tanqueray also shed light on her first relationship with a Black man and the allure of Black culture for someone growing up in a white community. She said she was so "white" that Rhapsody In Blue was her favorite album growing up.
"I began to feel like I didn’t belong, which is probably why I fell in love with the first black guy who would talk to me. His name was Birdie," she began.
She said he was a guy from the streets that she invested in because she felt alone and lacked the emotional support to navigate his guise.
"I didn’t know what the f**k love was. I was all alone. There was nobody to discuss girly stuff with: this happened, that happened, none of that stuff. So when Birdie told me that all I had to do was pee after sex, I believed him. And you can guess what happened. Three months later I was pregnant," she continued.
Tanqueray said Birdie met her mother and impressed her with a large, fake diamond ring. He told her mother he had aspirations to move her pregnant daughter with him to New York.
Four months pregnant, Tangueray arrived to the train station only to be told to go back home because he was already married and wasn't going to leave his wife.
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(4/32) “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. She’d be surrounded by rows and rows of smiling white women, kicking their legs high in the air. 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. By the time I was a teenager, the only black person I knew was an old lady at our church. I didn’t know anything about black culture. I didn’t know anything about black music. I had an entire record collection, and my favorite album was Rhapsody in Blue– that’s how white I was. I began to feel like I didn’t belong, which is probably why I fell in love with the first black guy who would talk to me. His name was Birdie. And he was from the hood, but he didn’t act like a hood guy. He had a car. He took me places. I don’t remember much else about him. I just remember that he told me he loved me– which I believed cause I was stupid. I didn’t know what the fuck love was. I was all alone. There was nobody to discuss girly stuff with: this happened, that happened, none of that stuff. So when Birdie told me that all I had to do was pee after sex, I believed him. And you can guess what happened. Three months later I was pregnant. I knew my mother was going to kill me. But Birdie came to my house, and showed her this big, fake diamond ring. He spun this story about how he was going to bring me to New York and give me this great life. My mother actually seemed impressed. I think she was happy to be getting rid of me. And I was excited too. The plan was for Birdie to go ahead to New York and find us an apartment. I’d drop out of school and follow behind a few weeks later. I remember arriving in Penn Station, four months pregnant, thinking I was about to have The American Dream. Birdie showed up with flowers in his hand. Then he gave me a kiss and told me to go back upstate. 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 shit out of luck.”
As more details into her story are disclosed this week, fans will be tuning in to learn about her upbringing and racy scandals like the one she shared about a madam hooking her friend up with an unnamed president.
"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 said. “But he’d always spend an hour with her. 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!”
“The scene was different back then. All the adult clubs were mob controlled…" pic.twitter.com/gLVqB7bYMz
— Brandon Stanton (@humansofny) November 20, 2019
If Tanqueray's story has moved you to action, she and Stanton ask that you please consider making a contribution to their GoFundMe campaign.