January 8, 2011 marked the 100th birthday of Gypsy Rose Lee. Most of you have heard of her – her name being synonymous with burlesque striptease. Let me say here that Gypsy’s act was tame compared to what we see on “Dancing With the Stars.” She put the ‘tease’ in striptease, covering strategic areas with fans or flashing a body part or a bit of skin as she dashed off stage. A line attributed to her is, “That’s all there is, there isn’t any more.”
Gypsy Rose Lee was born Rose Louise Hovik in Seattle in 1911. (She died in 1970 of lung cancer.) When her parents divorced Louise and her younger sister June supported the family by appearing in vaudeville. Baby June was the star with Louise in the background.
Mama Rose Hovik was the poster girl for stage mothers. When 15-year-old ‘Baby June’ eloped with a dancer Mama was left with Louise, the child with lesser talent, just as vaudeville was gasping it’s last breath. (June went on to have a career in movies as June Havoc. ) When Louise was booked into a burlesque house by mistake, she got the idea to re-invent herself. Billed as Gypsy Rose Lee, she stepped out on stage and was an instant hit … without Mama Rose’s help or pushing.
After Rose Hovik died, Louise wrote Gypsy, a memoir which was soon made into a play (and later a movie). It opened on Broadway in 1959 starring Ethel Merman as Mama Rose … because though the show was named Gypsy, it was really Rose’s story. The play ran on Broadway for 702 performances and has been revived several times with such greats as Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone playing Rose.
I remember this play with fondness because I saw it performed a few years ago at Oak Ridge (TN) Playhouse starring my beautiful daughter Kathy Tallent as Rose. This was a good role for her and she so nailed it.
I know one is not supposed to cry during “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” but I did.
(Thanks to Reggie Law, Artistic Director Oak Ridge Playhouse, for the picture.)