История ее жизни вдохновила один из величайших мюзиклов, когда-либо написанных, в котором она откровенно изображена во время своего легендарного карнавального тура
Она не умела ни петь, ни танцевать. Ее отвергла собственная мать как “толстую” и “неталантливую”. Но в 15 лет Джипси Роуз Ли стала национальным достоянием, сделав то, на что мало кто осмеливался: она сняла с себя (почти) всю одежду. К 1949 году Ли уже была самой известной стриптизершей в мире, когда она отправилась в путь, чтобы принять участие в карнавале. Журнал LIFE (авторитетный еженедельник) отрядил своего ценного фотографа Джорджа Скаддинга в командировку на неделю в турне с 38-летней звездой бурлеска, когда она дефилировала по сценам по всей стране едва одетой.
В результате получился потрясающий набор снимков, запечатлевших Джипси Роуз Ли в ее самые откровенные моменты. Несколько смелых снимков, сделанных за бархатным занавесом, описывают её в момент рабочего беспорядка. Когда она делает прическу, накладывает макияж, примеряет костюмы и находится под влиянием амфетаминов. На одном выразительном снимке Джипси Ли запечатлена в момент безмятежно-спокойного размышления за кулисами. В других интимных сценах она снята в минуты отдыха между представлениями со своим сыном на аттракционах.
Все знают сценическую версию “Цыганки”, в которой рассказывается о том, как Ли прошла путь от бедного ребенка-актера водевиля с “отсутствием таланта” до суперзвезды бурлеска под руководством своей амбициозной “матери со сцены из ада”. Этот беллетризованный мюзикл, основанный на истории жизни самой Ли, стал одним из величайших бродвейских хитов всех времен.
Однако эти редкие снимки из журнала LIFE показывают другой, менее известный образ Джипси Роуз Ли. Образ женщины, которая предстаёт перед вами, когда гаснет свет и толпа расходится по домам. Мы знакомимся не с просто красоткой в сексуальном неглиже: она остра на язык, является писательницей и исполняет важный жизненные роли жены и матери.
Цыганка Роуз Ли уже была самой известной стриптизершей в мире, когда в 1949 году она присоединилась к спектаклям Royal American Carnival Shows. Родившись в семье амбициозной “матери со сцены из ада”, Джипси провела всю свою юность в разъездах, выступая в водевилях как ребенок-актер. Она дебютировала на сцене бурлеска, когда ей было 15 лет, по просьбе своей матери. Выше Ли исполняет стриптиз перед восхищенной публикой в день открытия Мемфисского хлопкового карнавала в мае 1949 года.
Журнал Life Magazine отправил своего фотографа с хорошей репутацией Джорджа Скаддинга запечатлеть Джипси Ли во время гастролей по Америке. Скаддинг был более известен тем, что фотографировал американских президентов, но серия его снимков Джипси Ли показала другую сторону, о которой знали лишь то, что она умеет красиво раздеваться. На снимке выше, Цыганка распутывает ожерелье в своей гримерке во время редких моментов спокойствия между выступлениями.
Звезда бурлеска Джипси Роуз Ли представляет зрителям карнавала своих коллег перед началом своего пикантного вечернего шоу. В 1949 году за участие в карнавале ей платили 10 000 долларов в неделю – примерно 110 000 долларов по сегодняшним меркам. Начиная с 1937 года, Ли неоднократно пыталась отойти от эротических танцев, но ее всегда тянуло обратно на сцену. “Я всегда иду туда, где есть бабки”, – заметила она. Ли заслужила свой легендарный статус как утонченная и остроумная исполнительница стриптиза. В отличие от “развязных” выставлений плоти на потребу зрителям, практиковавшимися другими танцовщицами, она изобрела новый стиль, который был “больше скрывал, чем открывал”, и зритель постоянно держался в состоянии одидания чего-то большего.
Джипси Роуз Ли сидит возле своего вместительного трейлера с 4-летним сыном Эриком Ли Премингером после долгого вечернего выступления. “Я люблю вести домашнее хозяйство, – сказала Ли репортеру, – а гастроли с Royal American Shows дают мне возможность вести домашнее хозяйство в моем трейлере”. Как написала LIFE: Ли вела “счастливую жизнь, как это бывает у артистов карнавалов. Она живет в собственном трейлере со своим третьим мужем, известным испанским художником Хулио де Диего. С ними ее 4-летний сын Эрик и его няня. Джипси, обожающая рыбалку, возит с собой набор рыболовных снастей, и всякий раз, когда шоу проходит рядом с рекой, выходит на берег и цепляет рыбу на крючок так же ловко, как своих зрителей”.
Цыганка Роуз Ли родилась с именем Роуз Луиз Ховик в Сиэтле в 1911 году. Пухленькая и неуклюжая в детстве, Ли была полной неудачницей на сцене и была вынуждена играть вторую скрипку по сравнению со своей младшей сестрой Джун, которая обладала природным талантом к выступлениям. Их мать, Роуз, натравливала сестер друг на друга, что привело к соперничеству, которое определило всю их дальнейшую жизнь.
Джипси нашла свое призвание в качестве танцовщицы бурлеска в 15 лет – гадкий утенок превратился в статного лебедя с красивейшими длинными ногами, изящной шеей и тонкими чертами лица. Хотя она жила под светом прожекторов с самого своего рождения 8 января 1911 года и выросла в маленьком глинобитном домике в Сиэтле, большую часть своей юности Джипси Роузпровела в дороге, вращаясь в жестоком и грязном мире водевиля в качестве актера-ребенка.
Ее семейная жизнь была неспокойной. Отец, местный газетчик, ушел из семьи, когда Джипси было всего три года. Ее мать, Роуз Ховик (известная по мюзиклу как “мадам Роуз”), была непримиримой, безжалостно амбициозной женщиной, одержимой идеей сделать из своего ребенка звезду. Но Джипси Роуз не проявила никаких ранних талантов, и ее мать вскоре сосредоточила свои усилия на младшей сестре, Джун. Джун Хавок – настоящее имя которой было Эллен Джун Эванджелин Ховик – родилась в конце 1912 года. Блондинка, с голубыми глазами в форме блюдца и природным талантом к выступлениям – она была всем тем, чем не была Джипси. Хавок сказал Vanity Fair в 2003 году: “Если бы моя сестра (Джипси) показала хоть какие-то перспективы в качестве зарабатывателя денег, я бы никогда не родилась. Потому что матери не нужен был бы еще один ребенок, и она не стала бы со своим мужем заводить еще одного ребенка”. Маленькая Джун стала кормилицей матери Роуз. К двум годам она уже танцевала на пуантах, и ее называли “самой маленькой танцовщицей на пуантах в мире”. Тем временем Джипси считалась “лишним багажом”, и в семье ее прозвали “Затычка”.
С помощью своего нового любовника (который подрабатывал менеджером) Матушка Роза соорудила захудалый водевильный номер с маленькой Джун в качестве звезды. Джипси заставили переодеться в мальчика и оттеснили за кулисы. Они проводили ночи в сомнительных отелях, кочуя из одного шоу в другое, и в конце концов стали ведущими артистами, зарабатывавшими 2 000 долларов в неделю (примерно 31 000 долларов в сегодняшних деньгах). Джипси Роуз обижалась на свою младшую сестру, которая стала известна как “любимица водевиля”, в то время как сама она была полным ничтожеством на сцене. Школьное образование и такие основы, как гигиена зубов, ушли на второй план, поскольку мать Роуз сосредоточилась на том, чтобы протащить своих девочек в шоу-бизнес. (Когда девочки наконец обратились к дантисту, у Джун было десять кариесных зубов, а у Джипси – щербатый рот). Роуз так часто врала об их возрасте – подделывала свидетельства о рождении в зависимости от правил использования детского труда в каждом городе, где они оказывались, – что никто из них никогда точно не знал, сколько им лет. “Она была абсолютно беспринципной”, – сказала ее племянница в биографии, опубликованной на канале A&E. Матушка Роза частенько воровала реквизит для выступлений типа костюмов и париков у других артистов.
The ‘stage mother from hell’ was also prone to violent outbursts: she once pushed a hotel manager out a window to his death when he threatened to evict her over complaints that she was housing dozens of people in one room. She claimed self-defense and walked off scot-free. Later in life while running a seedy boarding house for lesbians – Mother Rose shot dead one of her tenants (a rumored lover of hers) for making a pass at Gypsy. The incident was publicly explained as a suicide.
Mother Rose’s plans for fame and fortune were dashed in 1927 when her golden-egg, June – at the age of 15, eloped with one of the dancers in her act.
At about the same time the Great Depression hit and the family fell on hard times.
Rose tried to create a new show centered around Gypsy but the effort failed without June. By then, Gypsy had ballooned to 160 pounds, was awkward on stage, and totally bombed in the spotlight.
Vaudeville was dying too – the talkies were taking over – but Rose insisted: ‘Nothing will ever take the place of flesh.’
It was by accident that Gypsy found her calling as a striptease artist.
Travelling with Mother Rose and living in tents, they unwittingly booked their failing revue into a racy burlesque theater in Kansas City, Missouri. Gypsy recalled in her 1957 memoir that the headlining stripper named Tessie the Tassel Twirler, took one look at her and drawled, ‘And they wonder what happened to vaudeville.’
They offered her $75 a week ($2,500 today) to perform; and in a move that could have been ‘professional suicide’ – Gypsy shimmied out of her dress, stepped onto the stage and dove headlong into the tawdry world of striptease.
‘My mother always said she got into stripping through the starvation route,’ said Erik Preminger. The family’s financial prospects dried up after June Havoc eloped with one of the dancers from her troupe at age 15. Vaudeville was dying out and being replaced by the cinema. Gypsy and her Mother were living in tents and struggling to make ends meet with a failing act when a racy burlesque theatre in Kansas City offered Gypsy $75 a week ($2,500 in today’s money) to take off her clothes. Gypsy shimmied out of her dress, stepped onto the stage and dove headlong into the tawdry world of striptease. Above, Gypsy Rose Lee poses in front of her dressing room trailer on tour with the carnival in 1949
Gypsy Rose Lee (left) dictates a letter to her secretary Brandy Bryant, who was also a backup dancer in Gypsy’s carnival stint. In 1941, Lee published The G-String Murders, a best selling pulpy crime caper about a group of strippers that were strangled by their own G-string panties. She went on to write three more books and several screen plays that were produced on Broadway. Though nothing was as successful as her 1957 memoir Gypsy, which became one of the greatest musicals ever written, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Above, Gypsy Rose Lee tells bawdy jokes with a sharp comedic timing while soaking up cheers from the crowd imploring her to ‘take it off.’ She was famous for teasing and could spend 45 minutes taking off a glove. When she wasn’t delighting the audience with lines like ,’To the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky / They never yell ‘take it off sky’ – she was playing coy with a split second glimpse of her black lace G-string: ‘Oh, boys, I can’t take that off. I’ll catch cold!’
Backstage in Memphis, Gypsy (center) fastens a barely-there skirt to one of her dancers. The legendary burlesque dancer was involved in every aspect of her show from the creative concept to costume design. She shunned the use of zippers, buttons and eye-hooks in favor of sewing pins which made it easier for her to disrobe. Far be it from her to suffer an untimely zipper jam during a scintillating performance
Downtime between shows were spent enjoying the fairground’s attractions with her son, Erik Preminger and third husband, the Spanish painter Julio de Diego. Erik was 17 when learned that the true identity of his father was Otto Preminger. Until that point, he believed his father was Gypsy’s second husband actor Alexander Kirkland, who had split with the entertainer shortly before his birth
Tessie the Tassel Twirler also gave some good advice: ‘In this business talent don’t count for a hill of beans.’ It was music to Gypsy’s ears, ‘I could be a star without any talent at all!’ she wrote in her memoir.
‘Burlesque was not a family affair,’ said Havoc to Vanity Fair. ‘The women, they’re doing vile things. But, you know, desperate people do desperate things. And they were desperate times.
‘She stood and watched the strippers, who got all the billing and all the money, and they were stars,’ said Havoc with a hint of jealousy. ‘They didn’t have any talent, nobody sang or danced too well, and there were no gimmicks except Ann Corio, a girl with a snake.’
By 1931, Gypsy was a bona fide star. Where she failed in vaudeville, she succeeded in taking off her clothes.
She was selling out shows across America and became the headlining act at Minsky’s Burlesque- New York’s brashest and most popular burlesque club where ushers in French-maid outfits sprayed the audience with perfume. She was billed as ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World!’ and offered a lucrative $1,000 per week contract. ($17,000 in today’s money).
Gypsy, once a gawky, talentless, ugly duckling that was overshadowed by her sister – had turned into a swan.
Unlike the herky-jerky movements of other dancers, Gypsy developed her own style that was more sophisticated than sleazy. She was famous for teasing and could spend 45 minutes taking off a glove.
She told bawdy jokes with cunning comedic timing while playfully peeling back her clothing. The New York Times called her the ‘intellectual stripper’ and wrote that ‘she eschewed the traditional crudities of burlesque. Instead of stripping perfunctorily, she divested herself of her garments (or virtually all of them) with a high degree of panache.’
More ‘tease’ than ‘strip.’ Gypsy preferred to leave things to the imagination, ‘Bare flesh bores men,’ she wrote in her memoir.
But that’s not to say her routines didn’t make hearts race.
One bit saw her slowly and excruciatingly, pluck out the pins that held together her paper-thin dress. Gypsy dropped them one-by-one into the bell of a tuba – plink, plink, plink. Kicking off the dress she turned around to let the lingerie fall to her hips before spinning back to the audience to reveal her bare torso, her breasts barely covered by her arms.
Audience members were struck by flirty quips like: ‘When I raise my skirts with slyness and dexterity / I’m mentally computing just how much I’ll give to charity.’
Far from a common stripper, she was a brainy striptease artist who delighted audiences with lines like ‘To the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky / They never yell ‘take it offsky.’
Her popularity wasn’t just due to good looks and an amazing figure it was her ability to work the audience.
‘My mother’s act was comic rather than sexy,’ said her son Erik Preminger. ‘She took her clothes off but never showed the audience her full nakedness. She was known for her wit as well as her body.’
Reporters loved her one-liners too. ‘I wasn’t naked,’ she said coyly after being arrested one night for breaking obscenity rules at Minsky’s. ‘I was completely covered by a blue spotlight.’
Soon louche life gave way to the luxury life. After a four year residency at Minsky’s, Gypsy was invited to perform at the Irving Place Theater – or what Vanity Fair called, ‘the Metropolitan Opera of burlesque.’
The audience was a cut above the Times Square crowd. It was society men with their wives, ‘the Otis Chatfield-Taylors, gossip columnist Walter Winchell and visiting English titles like the Earl of Gosford.’
By then, Gypsy had amassed such a large fortune that she was able to afford herself a 17-room apartment in Gramercy. She also dressed the part of ‘woman about town’ wearing custom Charles James gowns and traveled in a vintage Rolls Royce.
She later graduated to a palatial 26-room townhouse in the Upper East Side that was previously owned by the Vanderbilts. (It has since been owned by Jasper Johns, and after him Spike Lee). Gypsy decorated the walls with paintings by Picasso, Chagall and Miro. She remodeled her bathroom in black and gold with a matching bathmat and toilet-seat cover made from mink.
With Gypsy’s newfound success; her sister June fell out of favor with Mother Rose.
In a stunning role reversal, June was now the ‘excess baggage’ sibling who struggled to catch a break as a model and actress while making ends meet on the marathon dance circuit. She despised Gypsy’s tawdry line of work.
A rivalry that formed in childhood, carried over into adulthood. Each felt that one another’s interests were a rebuke of their own pursuits. Such as herself, June hoped that her sister might indulge in higher-brow performative arts like acting. And Gypsy took offense to this, citing: ‘If you are Gypsy Rose Lee, you don’t have to act…. People pay to see me, June, not the character.’
She was too pragmatic for June’s idealistic, starving artist devotion to theater. Money was always her bottom line. Speaking of herself she said: ‘If you’re Gypsy Rose Lee, all you have to do is keep your strength up so you can carry your money to the bank.’
The froiduer between the two sisters lasted until Gypsy’s death from cancer in 1970.
Gypsy officially crossed over into mainstream success in 1936 when she headlined the Ziegfeld Follies alongside comics Fanny Brice and Bobby Clark. One year later, the feather-fanning vedette made her debut in Hollywood after Darryl Zanuck signed her to a four picture movie deal.
Like they did with so many other starlets, the studios thought it would be good for Gypsy’s image if she was married. They arranged for her to wed Arnold ‘Bob’ Mizzy, a well-meaning but boring dental-supplies manufacturer. Their relationship barely outlived the honeymoon.
Her brief stint in Hollywood was also flop. Gypsy returned to New York feeling humbled but not defeated.
Gypsy’s burlesque career eclipsed the childhood success of her younger sister, June Havoc, who was struggling as an adult to catch a break as a serious actress. This also meant that June had fallen out of favor with Mother Rose. June resented Gypsy’s tawdry line of work and hoped that her sister might pursue higher-brow art forms. Her advice fell on deaf ears, the only thing that mattered to Gypsy was money, she said of herself: ‘If you’re Gypsy Rose Lee, all you have to do is keep your strength up so you can carry your money to the bank’
Burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee (left) helps dancer Florence Bailey perform a reverse striptease act during Lee’s carnival tour across the country. The finale of her show, according to the Tulsa World newspaper, was the story of Cinderella, with Lee as the Fairy Godmother, wearing a 97-pound dress containing over one million hand-sewn rhinestones
Blighted by the rejection she felt as a child from her mother who deemed her ‘untalented’; it was music to Gypsy’s ears when a veteran stripper gave her advice: ‘In this business talent don’t count for a hill of beans.’ She wrote in her memoir: ‘I could be a star without any talent at all!’ Above, Gypsy Lee rides the Little Dipper with her son, Erik, and her third husband, Julio de Diego
On opening night, the Gypsy Rose Lee show caused a minor riot as several thousand people tried to attend the performance, the Tulsa World reported. ‘The midway became so packed with visitors waiting for the show it was virtually impossible to get through the midway area’
It was then, that she met the legendary producer Mike Todd (third husband of Elizabeth Taylor). They carried out a torrid affair while producing a string of smash hits on Broadway, all starring Gypsy Rose Lee.
Gypsy was madly in love but Todd refused to leave his first wife. Hoping to jolt him into jealousy, she announced her engagement to the actor William Alexander Kirkland in 1942. On the day of her wedding, she delayed the ceremony by hours, thinking Todd might have a last minute change of heart. The relationship with Kirkland was over within three months.
Meanwhile, Gypsy added another feather to her cap in 1941 when she published The G-String Murders- a pulpy crime caper about a group of strippers that were strangled by their own G-string panties. She spent the war years toiling away on a type-writer while living in a Brooklyn brownstone with other literary greats like Carson McCullers, W.H. Auden, Jane and Paul Bowles. George Davis, the former editor of Harper’s Bazaar (also in residence), finessed Gypsy’s work into the best-selling novel.
Although she tried to branch out, writing two murder mysteries, several plays and acting in a handful of Hollywood movies, Gypsy’s bread and butter was burlesque until she was 42.
Her son Erik was born in 1944 when Gypsy was 33, and until he was 17 he believed his father was her second husband Alexander Kirkland, who she split up with shortly before Erik was born. When Erik found out Kirkland wasn’t his dad, he asked his mother who the real father was. It was only after Erik promised that he would never contact him, did Gyspy reveal his true identity.
In 1949, she joined the ‘world’s largest carnival’ and hit the road with five-year-old Erik and third husband, the Spanish painter Julio de Diego. ‘I’m probably the highest paid outdoor entertainer since Cleopatra,’ she’s quoted as saying in LIFE Magazine. ‘And I don’t have to stand for some of the stuff she had to.’
The circuit was grueling, but Gypsy was a sensation. Thousands of people, ‘all across the country to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’ turned out to see the legendary bead-shaker perform her striptease 8 to 15 times a day.
‘For $10,000 a week, I can afford to climb the slave block once in a while.
‘Funny thing about show people or just plain fans,’ she explained to LIFE. ‘They think if you’re not in Hollywood or on Broadway making a couple of thousand a week taking guff from everybody and his cousin in the west, and sweating out poor crowds on Broadway you’re not doing well. But I’ve been touring the country playing nightclubs and making twice as much as I made in the movies, and having more fun! I get a lot more fishing done, for one thing, and I can live in my trailer and see the country.’
Chaos and debt followed Mother Rose wherever she went and Gypsy tried to appease but distance herself from her toxic mother. She threatened Gypsy with blackmail if she didn’t get what she wanted. In an effort to keep Mother Rose fulfilled, Gypsy rented her a 10-room apartment in the Upper West Side that she ran as a lesbian boarding house. It was at one of her parties that Rose shot her lover for making a pass at her famous daughter. Later, Rose operated a lesbian farm at her country house upstate, (that was also paid for by Gypsy). Above, Gypsy enjoys a hot dog while on tour with the carnival in 1949
Just a few years after her debut on the burlesque stage, Gypsy was a bona fide star. By 1931, she was selling out shows across America and became the headlining act at Minsky’s Burlesque in New York City. She was billed as ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World!’ and offered a lucrative $1,000 per week contract. ($17,000 in today’s money)
Gypsy officially crossed over into mainstream success in 1936 when she headlined the Ziegfeld Follies alongside comics Fanny Brice and Bobby Clark. One year later, she made her debut in Hollywood after Darryl Zanuck signed her to a lucrative four picture movie deal. She filmed five movies but failed to become a box-office draw on the silver screen
A certified perfectionist, Gypsy controlled every aspect of her shows right down to costume fittings. Above, she pins an added layer of lace onto her backup dancer’s panties to avoid censorship. It was her inexhaustible attention to detail that made Gypsy one of the most famous and wealthiest women in America. Her fan base reached all the way to The White House, when on the eve of her Broadway premiere, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt telegrammed to wish her luck: ‘May your bare a** always be shining’
She told LIFE Magazine: ‘I’m probably the highest paid outdoor entertainer since Cleopatra and I don’t have to stand for some of the stuff she had to’
Sailors in the audience are spellbound by the Gypsy Rose Lee burlesque show in Memphis. After headlining a four-year-long residency at Minsky’s, Gypsy was invited to perform at the Irving Place Theater – a high-class playhouse patronized by American aristocracy where she rubbed shoulders with members of cafe society, like ‘the Otis Chatfield-Taylors, gossip columnist Walter Winchell and visiting English titles like the Earl of Gosford.’ This afforded Gypsy a colossal 17-room apartment in Gramercy, a wardrobe full of bespoke Charles James gowns and a custom Rolls Royce
Mother Rose died in 1954, freeing Gypsy to publish her tell-all eponymous memoir in 1957.
Until that point, Gypsy exhausted her resources to keep Mother Rose satisfied and at bay. But nothing was ever enough. ‘Rose was a user of people,’ said Erik Preminger.
In old age, the thrice-divorced matriarch had, as June would write, ‘turned toward her own sex.’ In an effort to keep Mother Rose fulfilled, Gypsy rented her a 10-room apartment in the Upper West Side that she ran as a lesbian boarding house. It was at one of her parties that Rose shot her lover for making a pass at her famous daughter. Later, she operated a lesbian farm at her country house upstate, (that was also paid for by Gypsy).
Chaos and debt followed Mother Rose wherever she went. A notorious chiseler, she skinned her daughters for more money but had two of everything – TVs, washing machines, pianos, cars. Sometimes, she would don raggedy clothing and show up at the theaters where the girls were performing to play the part of ‘abandoned mother’ for sympathy.
When Gypsy finally put her foot down, Rose threatened blackmail with a tell-all. ‘Louise (Gypsy) please remember you brought any thing unpleasant into our lives before I ever even knew about it. Drink, night clubs, bad company; reefers, French moving pictures. Fags, and all these people you hate so today.’
‘Mother resented that she had been cut off from Gypsy,’ said Havoc to Vanity Fair.
On her deathbed in 1954 Rose clutched on to her daughter: ‘You’ll never forget how I’m holding you right this minute, wishing with all my heart I could take you all the way down with me.’ She added, ‘Wherever you go … I’ll be right there. When you get your own private kick in the ass, just remember: it’s a present from me to you.’
She told Look magazine in 1966, ‘I’m really a little prudish…. I’ve always been a daytime person living in a nighttime world.’ In her older years Gypsy moved to Beverly Hills where she purchased a 17-room mansion that she described as ‘early Gloria Swanson.’ She blossomed in California, turning into an eccentric ‘Auntie Mame’ character with a menagerie of animals. She even fenced off half of her living room for an aviary. In her free time Gypsy collected Victorian tattoo drawings, cherubs and paper dolls from the 1800s. She also worked tirelessly to get her favorite dog breed (Chinese Cresteds) recognized by the American Kennel Club
Years after Gypsy’s death, her sister, June Havoc still smarted over their lifelong sibling rivalry. She told the Daily Express: ‘Gypsy was the first person who was famous for being famous.’ Her assistant added, ‘That’s all that she was. June actually did things.’ It was intended to be an insult. Havoc never forgave Gypsy for her ‘unfair’ portrayal in both her memoir and subsequent Broadway musical. ‘The way the play is written erases my life, degrades my childhood,’ said Havoc to Vanity Fair with a tinge of jealousy
Burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee (left) and other dancers prepare backstage for their performance in Memphis.
Gypsy Rose Lee soaks her feet off-stage. Later in life, Erik Preminger revealed that his mother relied on amphetamines to maintain her slim figure and hectic schedule. He said: ‘She was a workaholic and fulfilling her obligations was grueling. She also had incredible drive and energy – she could go 48 hours without stopping’
Gypsy was optioned by Broadway producer David Merrick and adapted by Arthur Laurents (who was still buzzing from the box-office success of West Side Story, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
On the eve of its premiere, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt telegrammed Gypsy to wish her luck: ‘May your bare a** always be shining.’
The show was an instant box-office hit when it debuted on Broadway in 1959 and is frequently considered one of the crowning achievements of the mid-twentieth century’ music theater art forms. Critics and writers refer to it as ‘the greatest American musical.’
But there was one person who resented it. ‘I disappear,’ said June in an interview with The Express. ‘Nothing is ever mentioned about the fact that I went out and became somebody.’ She felt as if her sister unfairly erased her childhood and made a joke of her early career.
‘Gypsy was deliriously happy,’ said Havoc, who almost sued her over the play’s misrepresentation. When Havoc asked Gypsy if she was ‘okay’ being remembered as someone with nothing but a cheap trick. ‘She said, ‘I don’t care what they say about me as long as my name is up there.’ How are you going to quarrel with that? You can’t. I gave up. I always gave up. Because she was my sister,’ said Havoc to Vanity Fair.
The musical ends with Gypsy Lee enjoying her stardom and breaking free from the grip of her overbearing mother – something the real Gypsy never truly managed to do.
She also followed her mother in other ways. Both women were married three times (although Gypsy broke new territory by having a chimpanzee as ring bearer at one of her weddings). Neither found true happiness in their careers. For as much as Gypsy tried, she was never able to break free from burlesque.
History also repeated itself with her son. Though Erik adored his mother, their relationship was complex and at times strained. They fought bitterly over money; while she treated herself to two Rolls-Royces and priceless antiques, she felt like Erik should support himself. ‘I never finished college because we argued over paying the fees.’
Gypsy Rose Lee’s remarkable rags to riches story has fascinated the public for years. She possessed a preternatural gift of knowing what people wanted and like all great American legends – she was her own magnificent invention. A poignant line from her LIFE Magazine profile reads: ‘It is safe to assume no culture but our own could fashion such a unique national character as Gypsy Rose Lee. She cannot sing, dance or act but she earns more on the stage than Helen Hayes or Katherine Cornell.’
A lifetime of smoking 150 Turkish cigarettes a day caught up with Gypsy in 1969 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died in April 1970. On her deathbed she told June: ‘This is my present, you know. My present from Mother.’
‘They think if you’re not in Hollywood or on Broadway making a couple of thousand a week taking guff from everybody and his cousin in the west, and sweating out poor crowds on Broadway you’re not doing well,’ said Gypsy to LIFE Magazine. ‘But I’ve been touring the country playing nightclubs and making twice as much as I made in the movies, and having more fun! I get a lot more fishing done, for one thing, and I can live in my trailer and see the country’
Gypsy Lee Rose was married three times. Her first marriage to Arnold Mizzy was arranged by studio executives in Hollywood to chasten her image. Her second marriage to the actor William Alexander Kirkland was done out of spite, hoping that it would make her married lover, (famed producer Mike Todd) jealous Her third marriage to the artist Julio de Diego lasted the longest. Above, the couple shares affections after a rollicking performance at the carnival
‘Bare flesh bores men,’ wrote Gypsy in her memoir. That’s not to say she didn’t show a lot of skin. While Gypsy’s peers tested the limits of taste, her dances focused more on the tantalizing art of slow disrobing than tassel twirling flesh
Gypsy Rose Lee walks the midway with friend and carnival freakshow star, the Bearded Lady Percilla Bejano, during her traveling carnival engagement across America
Цыганка Роуз Ли пользовалась всеми атрибутами славы и богатства. Газета “Нью-Йорк Таймс” запечатлела ее торжественный въезд на концерт в Лас-Вегасе в 1956 году: “Она приехала в специально построенном бордовом и сером “Роллс-Ройсе”. В нем было 27 мест багажа, ее 11-летний сын, пять сиамских кошек, морская свинка, две черепахи в аквариуме и сетчатая сумка для покупок, наполненная апельсинами, желейными бобами, кошачьим кормом, сушеными жуками для черепах, крекерами и журналами. Ее чемоданы были впереди нее.
Gypsy Rose Lee treated herself to all the trappings of fame and fortune. The New York Times clocked her grand entrance to a Las Vegas gig in 1956: ‘She arrived in a specially built maroon and gray Rolls‐Royce. It disgorged 27 pieces of luggage, her 11‐ year‐old son, five Siamese cats, a guinea pig, two turtles in a fishbowl and a net shopping bag filled with oranges, jelly beans, cat food, dried bugs for the turtles, graham crackers and magazines. Her trunks had preceded her’
Цыганка Роуз Ли позирует с карликом на карнавале вместе с девушками, одетыми в ее блестящие костюмы, сделанные из стратегически расположенных листьев и лоз. В одной из ее сценок были такие строки: “Я одинокая маленькая Ева. / Все, что я делаю, это сижу и горюю. / Как Ева, я ношу это яблоко каждую ночь / В поисках Адама с аппетитом”.
Gypsy Rose Lee poses with a carnival midget alongside some showgirls wearing her sequined costume designs that were made of strategically placed leaves and vines. One of her skits included the lines: ‘I’m a lonesome little Eve. / All I do is sit and grieve. / Like Eve I carry round this apple every night / Looking for an Adam with an appetite’