Gypsy Rose Lee



Gypsy Rose Lee was born as Rose Louise Havoc, by the age of fifteen she had toured all over the United States with her overprotective stage mother Rose Havoc and her sister June in their vaudeville act. When Louise was an adolescent the act had a group of boys join them and June was as always the star. Louise became "Gypsy" at the age of fifteen, and started her career in burlesque as a "literary stripper" reciting humorous lines, telling elaborate jokes and not revealing much skin until the end of her act. Her debut in 1929 was at the Kansas City Missouri Theater was followed by engagements at other small theaters. Her first official striptease was at the Gayety Theater in Toledo, Ohio. Gypsy's acts were comprised of the same bawdy nature that the tradition of burlesque started in, but there was that literary, brainy, but still working class element present. This example demonstrated her ability to laugh at people's curiousities about her is shown in the following speech/ song:

"Have you the faintest idea of the private life of a stripteaser?

My dear, it's New York's second largest industry.

Now a strip-teaser's education, requires years of concentration

And for the sake of illustration, take a look at me.

I bagan at the age of three, learning ballet at the Royal Imperial

School in Moscow. And how I suffered and suffrered for my Art.

Then of course, Sweet Briar, ah those dear college days.

And after four years of Sociology

Zoology, Biology, and Anthropology

My education was complete.

And I was ready to make my professional debut on 14th Street

Now the things that go on, in a stripteaser's mind,

Would give you no end of surprise,

But if you are psychologically inclined,

There is more to see than meets the eye.

Gypsy starts to undress, her stockings come first:

For example- when I lower my gown a fraction,

And expose a patch of shoulder,

I am not interested in your reaction,

Or the bareness of my shoulder.

I am thinking of some paintings,

By Van Gogh, or by Cezanne

Or the charm I had in reading Lady Windemere's Fan

And I lower the other side, and expose my other shoulder,

Do you think I take the slightest pride, in the whiteness of my shoulder?

I am thinking of my country house

And the jolly fun in shooting grouse.

Faster music begins:

And the frantic music changes, then off to my cue,

But I only think of all the things I really ought to do.

Wire Leslie Howard, Cable Noel Coward

Go to Bergdorf's for my fitting, buy the yarn for mother's knitting

Put preserves up by the jar, and make arrangements for my church bazarr.

The music is slower and Gypsy's top is thrown at the orcestra pit, but she has a black bow across her chest:

But there is the music, and that's my cue,

There is only one thing left for me to do, so I do it.

And when I raise my skirts with shyness and dexterity,

I am mentally computing just how much I'll give to charity.

Though my thighs I have revealed, and just a bit of me remain concealed,

I am thinking of the life of Duce

Or the third chapter of 'The Last Puritan."

None of these men whose minds are obscene,

They leave me apathetic, I prefer the more Aesthetic,

Things like dramas by Racine..."Gone with the Wind"

And when I display my charms in all their dazzling splendor,

And proved to you conclusively that I am of the female gender.

I am really thinking of Elsie de Wolff, and the bric-a-brac I saw.

And that lovely letter I received from Mr. Bernard Shaw.

I have a town house on the East River, because it's so fashionable

To look at Welfare Island. coal barges, and garbage scows.

I have a chincilla, a Newport Villa,

While unhooking her skirt, Gypsy has someone in the audience scream out "No!." The audience and Gypsy laugh and she steps behind the curtain, giving everyone a view of her G- string.

And stand there shyly with nothing on at all.

Clutching an old velvet drop, and looking demurely at every man.

Do you believe for a moment I'm thinking of sex?

Well I certaintly am."

(Shteir,Striptease, The Untold History of the Girlie Show,185-186)


There were failed Broadway chorus girl roles, such as the Ziegfeld revue Hot- Cha in 1932. Throughout the 1930s, Gypsy went from burlesque to Broadway, her life was eventually put in the open onstage in Strip Girl, telling the story of a burlesque dancer and a con man who forged checks. The act in the thirties and forties was multilayered, elaborate and visually interesting to the eye beyond the obvious goal. There was singing, intellectually stimulating references, and a comical attitude about herself and her profession, all combined with the entertainment of the tease in burlesque.

In 1937 Gypsy was offered film roles, but had to use the name Louise Hovick, all five were failures because of the reputation that she had as a burlesque dancer and the movie industries image of her as a direct result. Gypsy went back to the stage and in 1939 she wrote her autobiography, which in 1959 was turned into a broadway play and in 1962 a movie. In the coming years of 1943, she wrote articles for the New Yorker, and the G- String Murders, the story of a working class girl who became a success through burlesque and gets involved in a murder mystery. The book to follow was Mother Finds Body another murder mystery published in 1942. She returned to acting for a brief period of time in "Wind Across the Everglades" (1958), "The Stripper" (1963), and "The Trouble With Angels" (1966) and hosted the "Gypsy Rose Lee Show" in 1958, then "Gypsy" in 1965.

Gypsy Rose Lee is one of the more well known burlesque dancers from the glamorous age in the 1930s and 1940s because she had many talents and used them to their full potential, all the while maintaining a good reputation within the industry. She married and divorced three times, the first time to Robert Mizzy in 1937, then William Kirkland in 1942 and lastly Julius De Diego in 1948. The second marriage resulted in her son Erik Lee, but his father was Otto Preminger the man with whom she had an affair. She died in in 1969, in her fifties.
(Striptease the Untold History of the Girlie Show, 177-192)
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