Gypsy Rose Lee
Gypsy Rose Lee
Gypsy Rose Lee in the film Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Rose Louise Hovick
January 8, 1911
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
|Died||April 26, 1970 (aged 59)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Actress, author, playwright, vedette, dancer, entertainer|
|Spouse(s)||Robert Mizzy (1937–41)|
Alexander Kirkland (1942–44)
Julio de Diego (1948–55)
Gypsy Rose Lee (born Rose Louise Hovick, January 8, 1911 – April 26, 1970) was an American burlesque entertainer and vedette famous for her striptease act. Also an actress, author, and playwright, her 1957 memoir was adapted into the 1959 stage musical Gypsy.
Gypsy Rose Lee was born in Seattle, Washington, on January 8, 1911;[note 1] however, she always gave January 9 as her date of birth. She was known as Louise to her family. Her sister, actress June Havoc, was born in 1912. Their mother, Rose Thompson Hovick, forged various birth certificates for each of her daughters—older when needed to evade varying state child labor laws, and younger for reduced or free train fares. The girls were unsure until later in life what their years of birth were.
Their mother had married Norwegian-American John Olaf Hovick, a newspaper-advertising salesman and a reporter at The Seattle Times. They married on May 28, 1910, in Seattle. They divorced on August 20, 1915. Rose Thompson married her second husband, Judson Brennerman, a traveling salesman, on May 26, 1916, at a Unitarian church in Seattle, with the Rev. J. D. A. Powers officiating.
After Hovick and Brennerman divorced, June supported the family by appearing in vaudeville, being billed "Tiniest Toe Dancer in the World" when she was only 2 1⁄2. Rose and June went to Hollywood for two years where June appeared in short films directed by Hal Roach. Louise was left behind while June and her mother were on the road. She had an elementary education, unlike June who was taught to read by stage-hands. Much to her mother's displeasure, June eloped with Bobby Reed, a dancer in their act, in December 1928, and went on to pursue a brief career in marathon dancing, a more profitable vocation than tap dancing.
Louise's singing and dancing talents were insufficient to sustain the act without June. Eventually, it became apparent that Louise could make money in burlesque, which earned her legendary status as an elegant and witty striptease artist. Initially, her act was propelled forward when a shoulder strap on one of her gowns gave way, causing her dress to fall to her feet despite her efforts to cover herself; encouraged by the audience's response, she went on to make the trick the focus of her performance.
Her innovations were an almost casual stripping style compared to the herky-jerky styles of most burlesque strippers (she emphasized the "tease" in "striptease"), and she brought a sharp sense of humor into her act as well. She became as famous for her onstage wit as for her stripping style, and—changing her stage name to Gypsy Rose Lee—she became one of the biggest stars of Minsky's Burlesque, where she performed for four years. She was frequently arrested in raids on the Minsky brothers' shows. During the Great Depression, Lee spoke at various union meetings in support of New York laborers. According to activist Harry Fisher, her talks were among those that attracted the largest audiences.
In 1937 and 1938, billed as Louise Hovick, she made five films in Hollywood. But her acting was generally panned, so she returned to New York City where she had an affair with film producer Michael Todd and co-produced and appeared in his 1942 musical revue, Star and Garter.
Lee viewed herself as a "high-class" stripper, and she approved of H. L. Mencken's term "ecdysiast", which he coined as a more "dignified" way of referring to the profession. Her style of intellectual recitation while stripping was spoofed in the number "Zip!" in Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey, a musical in which Havoc had appeared on Broadway, opposite Gene Kelly. Lee performed an abbreviated version of her act (intellectual recitation and all) in the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen. Her routine starts at about 1 hour 29 minutes into the film and lasts about six minutes.
In 1941, Lee authored a mystery thriller called The G-String Murders, which was made into the sanitized 1943 film, Lady of Burlesque starring Barbara Stanwyck. While some assert this was in fact ghost-written by Craig Rice, there are those who claim that there is more than sufficient written evidence in the form of manuscripts and Lee's own correspondence to prove that she wrote a large part of the novel herself under the guidance of Rice and others, including her editor George Davis, a friend and mentor. Lee's second murder mystery, Mother Finds a Body, was published in 1942. In December 1942, preliminary papers alleging breach of contract were filed in the Supreme Court against Lee by Dorothy Wheelock, associate editor of Harper's Bazaar alleging that in August 1940 she and Gypsy entered into what Wheelock described as "an oral agreement to collaborate on a joint venture involving the conception, construction, development, writing and exploitation of a literary work with a burlesque background. The agreement, Miss Wheelock went on, called for a 50:50 split on all income from sale of the book. She charged that she had lined up a publisher for the book when, in November 1940, Gypsy called off the collaboration ... Lee said she turned over notes and other material to Miss Wheelock and that the latter had then written 'a sample book'. However this sample book is not the book that was published, Gypsy declared. She denied any resemblance between Miss Wheelock's book and the book published under her own name, except such similarities as might stem from the notes Gypsy turned over to Miss Wheelock. Simon & Schuster agreed to publish the book, Gypsy said, after the first three chapters were shown to them by Janet Flanner, a New York writer". The case was settled out of court.
In Hollywood, she married Arnold "Bob" Mizzy on August 25, 1937, at the insistence of the film studio. She obtained a divorce in 1941, claiming cruelty, although biographer Noralee Frankel suggests the couple agreed that Lee could bring false charges so the divorce could go through uncontested. In 1942, she married William Alexander Kirkland; they divorced in 1944. While married to Kirkland, she gave birth on December 11, 1944, to a son fathered by Otto Preminger. Her son was named Erik Lee, but has since been known successively as Erik Kirkland, Erik de Diego, and Erik Lee Preminger. Gypsy married a third time in 1948, to Julio de Diego, but that union also ended in divorce.
In 1940, she purchased a townhouse on East 63rd St in Manhattan with a private courtyard, 26 rooms and seven baths. Mother Rose continued to demand money from Lee and Havoc. Lee rented a 10-room apartment on West End Avenue in Manhattan for Rose, who opened a boardinghouse for women there. On one occasion in the 1930s, Rose shot and killed a woman who was either a guest at the boardinghouse or a guest on the farm in Highland Mills in Orange County, New York, that Rose owned. An historical website for lesbians cites varying reports of which place was the scene of the crime. According to Gypsy's son Erik Lee Preminger, who is the author of several books, the murder victim was Mother Rose's female lover, who had allegedly made a pass at Gypsy. The violent incident was investigated and reportedly explained away as a suicide. Mother Rose was not prosecuted. Mother Rose's biographer strongly refutes the notion that this woman, Genevieve Augustine, was Rose's lover, and doubts Rose's complicity in her death in light of Augustine's previous suicide attempts. Rose Thompson Hovick died in 1954 of colon cancer.
After the death of their mother, the sisters now felt free to write about her without risking a lawsuit. Gypsy: A Memoir was published in 1957 and served as inspiration for the Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents 1959 musical Gypsy. Havoc did not like the way she was portrayed in the piece, but she was eventually persuaded (and paid) not to oppose it for her sister's sake. The show and the 1962 movie adaptation assured Gypsy a steady income. The sisters became estranged for a period of time but reconciled. June, in turn, wrote Early Havoc and More Havoc, to relate her version of the story. Gypsy Rose Lee went on to host a morning San Francisco KGO-TV television talk show, Gypsy. The walls of her Los Angeles home were adorned with pictures by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Dorothea Tanning, all reportedly given to her by the artists themselves.
Like many other Americans, and well-known artists such as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, Gypsy Rose Lee was a supporter of the Popular Front movement in the Spanish Civil War and raised money for charity to alleviate the suffering of Spanish children during the conflict. "She became politically active, and supported Spanish Loyalists during Spain's Civil War. She also became a fixture at Communist United Front meetings, and was investigated by the House Committee on un-American activities." Lee was a Democrat who supported the campaign of Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 presidential election.
- The song "Zip" from the musical "Pal Joey" (written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart) imagines the thoughts and musings that go through Gypsy Rose Lee's mind while she strips onstage as recounted by way of an interviewer who sings of their encounter with Miss Lee as being "the greatest achievement" they'd had. Elaine Stritch regularly performed this song (as the interviewer) for many years.
- Punk band The Distillers wrote "Gypsy Rose Lee", a song for their debut album in 2000.
- In 1973, Tony Orlando and Dawn recorded "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose" by W. M. Irwin Levine & L. Russell Brown. (The song uses her name and profession, but relies on a fictitious prior life.)
- In January 2012, Seattle Theater Writers (a group of arts critics for various publications) awarded the first Gypsy Rose Lee Awards, celebrating excellence in local theatre.
- You Can't Have Everything (1937)
- Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937)
- Sally, Irene and Mary (1938)
- Battle of Broadway (1938)
- My Lucky Star (1938)
- Stage Door Canteen (1943)
- Belle of the Yukon (1944)
- Babes in Bagdad (1952)
- Screaming Mimi (1958)
- Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
- The Stripper (1963)
- The Trouble with Angels (1966)
- Around the World of Mike Todd (1968)
- Think Fast (1949)
- What's My Line? (1950 lost episode #4, Season 1)
- The Gypsy Rose Lee Show (1958)
- Fractured Flickers (1963 episode 3—interview)
- Who Has Seen the Wind? (1965)
- Gypsy (1965)
- Batman (1966)
- The Pruitts of Southampton (1966)
- The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969)
- The Hollywood Squares (1969)
- The G-String Murders (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1941). Ghostwritten by Janet Flanner
- Mother Finds a Body (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1942). Ghostwritten by Janet Flanner
- Gypsy: A Memoir (New York: Harper & Bros., 1957)
- The Naked Genius (1943) (filmed and released as Doll Face in 1946). Her original title for the play was The Ghost in the Woodpile
- Abbott (2012) presents a photocopy of an apparently non-certified certificate of live birth with some handwritten parts, from the King County Health Department, Record# 193, File # 1388, indicates January 8, 1911, although Lee always gave January 9 as her date of birth.
- Karen Abbott (2010) American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, New York: Random House; ISBN 1-4000-6691-3; OCLC 608296594
- Birthdate given as January 8, legacy.com; accessed September 16, 2015.
- Abbott, Karen (March 2012). American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. Random House. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-8129-7851-3.
- Laura Jacobs (March 2003) "Taking it all off", Vanity Fair, Vol. 511, p. 198.
- "This is a story of three women whose dreams clashed" (July 16, 1980), Boston Globe, p. 1.
- Noralee Frankel (2009) Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, Oxford University Press US; ISBN 0-19-536803-7; ISBN 978-0-19-536803-1
- Erik Lee Preminger (2004) My G-string mother: and home and backstage with Gypsy Rose Lee, Frog Books; ISBN 1-58394-096-0, ISBN 978-1-58394-096-9, p. 186.
- King County Department of Executive Services, Records and Licensing Division, Marriage Returns, 1891-1947, Marriage Certificates, 1855-1990, Office of the Secretary of State, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, Source: King County Auditor, Marriage Certificates, 1855-1969; Marriage Returns, 1891-1947. King County Archives, Seattle, WA.
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Roll #: 2708; Volume #: Roll 2708 - Certificates: 513300-513899, February 12–14, 1925; Ancestry.com (U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925).
- Ancestry.com. Washington, Marriage Records, 1865-2004 from Washington State Archives. Olympia, Washington: Washington State Archives.
- Helen Welshimer (February 14, 1937) "Burlesque's strippers graduate to Broadway", Laredo Times (Texas), p. 13.
- Fisher, Harry (1998) Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War, p. 10, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln ISBN 978-0-80322-006-5
- "Gypsy Rose Lee", IMDb.
- Profile, historylink.org; accessed August 7, 2014.
- Stage Door Canteen available on Amazon.com; accessed August 11, 2015.
- Tippins, Sherill. February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company Publishing, 2005. ISBN 9780618711970
- Hubin, Allen J. Crime Fiction, 1749–1980: A Comprehensive Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1984, p. 243 ISBN 0824092198
- Nevada State Journal, 24 December 1942
- (New York) Daily News, 24 December 1942
- Frankel, Noralee (2009). Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee. Oxford University Press. p. 68. ISBN 0199709785. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
- Noralee Frankel (2009) Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 62, 68, 121–2, 147, 154–66, 195–6.
- Zemeckis, Leslie (2013). Behind The Burly Q Check, Delaware, US: Skyhorse Publishing; ISBN 978-1-62087-691-6
- Anonymous (July 9, 2015). "Lost Womyn's Space: Rose's Lesbian Boarding House". Retrieved June 28, 2017.
- Jacobs, Laura (March 2003). "Taking It All Off". Vanity Fair.
- Quinn, C. (2013). Mama Rose's Turn: The True Story of America's Most Notorious Stage Mother. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781617038532., pp. 152–64.
- "The Monday Interview with Karen Abbott". Publishers Weekly. January 3, 2011.
- Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 27219-27220). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- "A Guide to Rodgers & Hart's 'Zip'". Playbill. January 6, 1998. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- Amador, José (January 26, 2012). "The First Annual Gypsy Rose Lee Awards Have Arrived". The Seattle Star. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- TV.com. "What's My Line?: EPISODE #4". TV.com. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
- Oakland Tribune, 4 November 1943
- Preminger, Erik Lee (1984). Gypsy & Me: At Home and on the Road with Gypsy Rose Lee. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-71776-2. OCLC 10877424. Reprinted as My G-String Mother: At Home and Backstage with Gypsy Rose Lee. Berkeley, Calif.: Frog. 2003. ISBN 1-58394-096-0. OCLC 671810568.
- Frankel, Noralee (2009). Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-536803-7. OCLC 223876642.
- Abbott, Karen (2010). American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. New York: Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6691-3. OCLC 608296594.
- Strom, Robert (2010). Lady of Burlesque: The Career of Gypsy Rose Lee. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN 0-7864-3826-6. OCLC 601050289.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gypsy Rose Lee.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Gypsy Rose Lee|
- Gypsy Rose Lee at the Internet Broadway Database
- Gypsy Rose Lee on IMDb
- Gypsy Rose Lee at TVGuide.com
- Gypsy Rose Lee at Washington State History Online Encyclopedia
- Rose and June Hovick
- Gypsy Rose Lee papers, 1910-1970, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts