By Manifesto Joe
Saturday would have been the 100th birthday of Rose Louise Hovick (1911-1970), better-known by her stage name of Gypsy Rose Lee. Daughter of a certifiably crazy stage mom and sister of the child star who later became actress June Havoc, Rose spent her youth on the Vaudeville road. Along the way, she discovered that audiences responded delightfully to a Burlesque "stripper" who actually talked to them and made jokes rather than just doing the old bump-and-grind.
By 1931, she was a headliner in New York Burlesque theaters. For four years she was a main attraction at the Minsky brothers' famous theaters. By 1936 she was "mainstream" enough to be in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, and a personality on NBC radio. Rose finally hit the wall after going to Hollywood in 1937. She was likely a victim of the "code" back then, as the producers out there wouldn't even let her use her stage name. (They billed her as Louise Hovick.) The movies didn't pan out well, so she returned to New York. By the early 1940s she was a bestselling novelist and playwright, while continuing to do her stage act for as long as she had the body and looks.
Because I was born in 1956, my main awareness of Gypsy Rose was as a comic TV personality in upper middle age, one of those quick wits who was a regular on the daytime game show Hollywood Squares in the late 1960s. I also saw the movie version of Gypsy, the musical based on Rose's famous 1957 memoir. It was much later that I learned more of the story behind this one-of-a-kind showbiz legend, who in the 1930s counted H.L. Mencken among her many fans. She was a much more complex and troubled person in private than her public ever knew.
Here's a link to an NPR piece about a much-reviewed new book, Karen Abbott's American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare — The Life And Times Of Gypsy Rose Lee.
And, you can actually catch a clip of her very sanitized act on YouTube. Here goes:
Something tells me that the routines she did at Minsky's were a lot more risque. (She was arrested at least once.) But even with that in mind, you could see a whole lot more nowadays, 24/7, in any pole-dance joint in Dallas -- and perhaps not be as entertained.
Here's to you, Rose.
(P.S.: For readers expecting more serious and political content here, never fear. There's one like that coming soon, on a subject you can likely guess.)
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.