1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Some fascinating research, but the author's style sometimes hinders,
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This review is from: American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee (Hardcover)
In a style which layers separate time frames, Rose Louise Hovick's really horrendous childhood in vaudeville being dragged around by her mother is juxtaposed against the adult Gypsy who has already found fame and fortune as a striptease artist. The two timeframes don't always synch seamlessly, but the word picture which emerges about the true story of how Louise becomes Gypsy (the famous musical "fable" is just that) really describes just how damaged the performer was by her monster of a mother.
I had already read several books about Gypsy Rose Lee's life, including her own book, "Gypsy" and her son's memoir of his mother, which is definitely more gritty. I had also read both of June Havoc's memoirs, which really do not concern themselves with her childhood very much at all and that, in itself, is telling. So I was looking for new insight with this book, and the author does offer quite a lot. She relates gems of information about Gypsy's writing skills (she authored novels and plays as well as that famous autobiography) and her enduring romantic attachment to showman Mike Todd (who later became Elizabeth Taylor's husband.) She also reveals some truly hideous information about Mama Rose.
However, I did not find this a five-star read. The conclusions that the author draws always seem to fall just a little short of being satisfying. Much is left to interpretation by the reader, which can be frustrating in a biographical work. I also do not think that the author gleaned very much of value from her interviews with June Havoc before her death.
But there is enough here that for readers who are drawn to this mythic performer, the book is worth the investment of time and money.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 28, 2011 1:17:10 PM PDT
R. J Ridley says:
Having just read the book, I thought your review was spot on.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 7:18:01 PM PDT
R.J. Ridley -- Thank you so much for your comment. I always appreciate it when readers take the time and trouble to leave feedback, positive or negative. Ms. Lee was a fascinating person.
Posted on Aug 24, 2011 4:43:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 24, 2011 4:50:25 PM PDT
I didn't rate this book a "4 star" -- I gave it a 1 or 2 (IIRC) because the chapters jumping forward and back across decades were SO frustrating.
Also, when you say "The conclusions that the author draws always seem to fall just a little short of being satisfying. Much is left to interpretation by the reader, which can be frustrating in a biographical work" -- I VERY much agree. Another reviewer referred to the same style as going "nudge-nudge, wink-wink."
Abbott leaves us guessing as to whether, when Momma Rose fired shots out through their tent wall, she killed a "cow" (or some other smaller creature) which they buried that night, digging its grave largely with their hands (really? A cow?).
And the "accidental?" fall to his death of a hotel's night manager was from Momma Rose's room? after confronting her over a rule violation. What's the evidence, the source? No other bio that I'm aware of covers these events.
I much preferred Noralee Frankel's "Stripping Gypsy" which I read after reading "American Rose." I thought it was far better researched.
Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011 7:38:01 PM PDT
Thank you for you comment. I like your Monty Python reference, and I agree that trying to decipher vague insinuations in biographical work is frustrating. I think that the author was trying to go for a certain style in arranging the time frame as she did, and I do agree that it didn't quite work, but I liked the book quite a bit more than you did.
My interpretation is that she got her information about the never-before-mentioned "darker" side to Mama from things June Havoc said to her during that last interview. And since June then died, it is handy for this author that she is not around to confirm or deny the more harrowing of these insinuations. But you are indeed correct that the author does not back up any of these horrid anecdotes, and surely there is someone still around who would have heard rumors, at least. I mean, murder? Really? And nobody ever questioned it?
Thank you, too, for the link to another Gypsy book. I have not read this one, and will give it a try.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 31, 2011 10:01:00 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 1, 2011 4:57:10 AM PDT
I hope you'll read "Stripping Gypsy" and am looking forward to your comments on it. If you read my Amazon user review of it, IIRC, I called the writing somewhat "text-booky"--but well researched and very worthwhile.
Another fascinating book which you might find interesting iis "February House;" this describes the situation in which Gypsy (Louise) found her "voice" as an author, to become the writer she always wished to be. This describes, in a sense, the functioning of a "commune" of writers (e.g., WH Auden), composers (Benjamin Britten, e.g.), artists, etc., in which Gypsy lived and fully participated for a couple years just before Pearl Harbor (07Dec41) and America's entrance into WW-II.
Also, you said "My interpretation is that she got her information about the never-before-mentioned "darker" side to Mama from things June Havoc said to her during that last interview."
A problem with that is that June was very ambivalent about her relation with Gypsy so what she said depended completely on what mood she was in. In general, Gypsy helped her and June was grateful & appreciative for those kindnesses Gypsy showed her.
But remember, June had been the unquestioned star from the time she was 2 to when she eloped at around 14 to escape her mother's tyranny. During all that time, her sister, Louise/Gypsy, was a nobody, an unvalued cast member.
After the "caterpillar" Louise suddenly morphed into the "butterfly" Gypsy, very soon achieving international fame, June had a VERY long struggle trying to regain a semblance of the stardom, the adulation, she so much treasured as a child and young adolescent. And, for the remainder of her life, seldom was the name "June Havoc" ever mentioned without these words being appended: "sister of the famous Gypsy Rose Lee."
My strong hunch is that June sometimes felt quite resentful about their reversal of fortunes--and expressed that.
So one finds quotes by June, after Gypsy's death, equating Gypsy as being, in essence, indistinguishable in character from their horrid mother, Rose.
To properly understand those statements, one must view June's whole life and relationships, and what we know from other sources of the relationship between June & Gypsy.
For example, Gypsy (although recently jilted by Mike Todd, the lover she yearned for) used her influence to get June a position in Todd's "Mexican Hayride." When June's costumes made it impossible for her to dance as needed for some numbers in an out of town tryout, June called Gypsy. Gypsy immediately went the same day from NYC to Boston, sewed all night, and made June's costumes serviceable, danceable, for the next day's performance. That type kindness would be completely unthinkable, unbelievable, against the grain, for Momma Rose to do.
There are several instances of such helpfulness of Gypsy to June (and although I don't recall any of the reverse, I'm sure they occurred).
Unquestionably, Gypsy DID pick up from Momma Rose a stinginess, a horror of not having enough money, that influenced some of her dealings with Erik (in particular) and many other decisions all her life.
But Gypsy was quite undeserving of some of June's sporadic negative characterizations of her, especially those that equate her with Momma Rose. IMO, those comments were made in June's most bitter moments.
(FWIW, I'm a retired clinical psychologist with long experience in both marriage & family therapy as well as psychotherapy with children and adults cognizant of family and intergenerationally transmitted family effects. While that CERTAINLY does NOT make MY viewpoints true or correct, they have experienced 36 years of use-testing.)
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2011 6:04:28 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 1, 2011 6:05:53 PM PDT
Thank you again, for a fascinating post. Your educational and work background bring a context to your interpretations which I value.
Have you read June Havoc's memoirs? Especially the first one which deals with her absolutely horrendous experiences in marathon dance contests? Both June and Louise were damaged souls, and while I'm not sure what to believe about Rose's supposed murderous tendencies, I do believe that she was abusive and probably mentally ill. Certainly both her children suffered from the fall-out from their childhoods for the rest of their lives.
I will check out "February House."
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2011 10:27:35 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 2, 2011 11:59:12 AM PDT
Yes, I've recently read both of June Havoc's books.
I also don't know about Rose and murders. She was definitely vindictive and often lacked impulse control. I agree she was abusive and mentally ill (probably psychopathic AKA sociopathic AKA anti-social personality disorder). She tried to murder Bobby Reid in a Topeka police station and would have if only the pistol's safety had been off. Although the death of Rose's lesbian lover was ruled a suicide, several rumors (including Erik, IIRC) attribute it to Rose--in a rage when her lover was nice to Gypsy.
Spurred by June's descriptions of dance marathons in both her books, tonight a friend (who's shared reading these many books with me) & I will watch "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2011 10:30:21 PM PDT
Great movie. Hard to watch. It's especially wrenching, I think, because Gig Young looks so ill, and he's so good in the film. And he committed suicide a little while afterwards -- just a year or two, I think.
I don't think the actual timelines of those Great Depression dance marathons really registered for me until I read June's book. These people danced for literally weeks. I did a 24-hour dance marathon in college once, for charity. I could not walk the next day. And I was in terrific shape. I don't know how the regular competitors on that marathon circuit handled the physical torture.
Thanks again for your comments. The Gypsy bio you recommended is on its way to my mailbox.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 3, 2011 2:26:12 PM PDT
Yes, it was wrenching. :)
FWIW, My IMDb "user review" of it is at: http://imdb.com/title/tt0065088/reviews-9
Glad you'll be reading "Stripping Gypsy" and am looking forward to your assessment.
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