Stars of Vaudeville #102: Gypsy Rose Lee (and June Havoc)

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My readers undoubtedly know this particular biography better than I do. I post it solely in honor of Gypsy’s birthday.

At first Rose Hovick placed her hopes and dreams on her younger daughter June, who had a kid act called “Daisy Jane and her Newsboy Songsters”. At age 13, June eloped and left the act (going solo and renaming herself June Havoc even though punk rock wouldn’t start for another 45 years). So the older daughter Rose Louise, who had always been a supporting player, was drafted to be the center of the act, now called “Rose Louise and her Newsboy Songsters”.

From here the act got more grown up. As vaudeville died and bookings became impossible, and as Rose Louise, blossomed into womanhood, the act sank into burlesque, becoming Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blonds. By age 17 was a headliner with Minsky’s. Smarter and classier than a lot of the woman around her in burlesque she managed to distinguish herself by hanging on to her integrity. She never did actually strip – merely worked her audience into a frenzy with the subtle art of her movement, which was not vulgar, but more suggestive, in the fashion of a Hollywood movie star. Because she had the last laugh, outsmarting both puritans and pornographers she remains a hero to a lot of people to this day. She also managed to land a lot of “legitimate” work, unavailable to some of her more compliant coworkers. For example, she performed in the 1936 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies, as well as the Broadway shows Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), and My Lucky Star (1938). In 1939, she headlined at the New York World’s Fair. In later years, she wrote novels and plays, acted in films and on television. she passed away in 1970. Her sister June was in the 1997 PBS documentary Vaudeville — impossibly youthful and charming for a woman in her 80th year.

Here’s a clip of Gypsy in action in the 1943 wartime film Stage Door Canteen, performing a sort of parody of her normal burlesque routine:

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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 And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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8 Responses to “Stars of Vaudeville #102: Gypsy Rose Lee (and June Havoc)”

  1. […] his domineering stage mother Sarah (a.k.a Sadie) was one to rival Ma Janis and the Mother of the Hovics. Sadie would be looking over Milton’s shoulder well into his reign as Mr. […]

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  2. […] to genuine pain on several occasions, but shies away, keeping the proceedings light in the same way Gypsy Rose Lee kept most of her clothes on. This is appropriate in the night club environment that is Joe’s. Her […]

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  3. urdead2me Says:

    RIP – June Havoc, 97, started in vaudeville as Baby June, & was immortalized in the musical “Gypsy” based on the life of her real-life sister, the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. June loved her sister, but said, “I loathed her life.” http://urdead2me.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/rip-june-havoc/

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  4. […] theatres, where his father worked as a “tit singer”. And more, more, more! About Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, Ann Corio, Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, Blaza Starr, and on and […]

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  5. […] known to fans of Gypsy, it was Rose who, fresh from a divorce, contrived to support her girls June and Louise in vaudeville. In order to escape the grind (and Rose’s iron will), June eloped at age 15, […]

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  6. […] rare treat happening at Caroline’s tonight: a reading of the original unedited version of Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1943 play The Naked Genius. Originally titled The Ghost in the Woodpile, the Broadway production […]

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  7. Ah, stay tuned, folks! My book, “MAMA ROSE’S TURN: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mother” will be published by University Press of Mississippi in November, 2013, and contains a lot of never-before-told stories about what really motivated Rose Thompson Hovick!

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  8. Can’t wait to read it!

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