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Gypsy: A Memoir Paperback – July 15, 1999
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"This is show business, this America... this is Gypsy Rose Lee!"
- Tennessee Williams
"I found it irresistable. It's quite a performance. I bet some of it is even true, and if it wasn't, it is now."
- John Steinbeck
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
The book is written in a snappy, witty, anecdotal style, which is perfect for Lee's endless supply of anecdotes. Spending her childhood in an endless round of theaters, trains, cars, and cheap hotels, meeting an endless number of incredible characters. Actors, mountebanks, con artists, carnies, all seen through the eyes of a bright and observant child, and recounted by a witty adult with a talent for storytelling.
The book is deeply personal as well. This is THE classic ugly-duckling story as well as the quintessential book about vaudeville in its last days. Gypsy/Louise was very much the "other" child until she was fifteen, her little sister was blonde, pretty, talented, and The Star. While Dainty June was getting thousands a week as a vaudeville headliner Louse was ignored, used in the chorus and otherwise pretty much forgotten by her mother and everyone else. Even she wondered if she would ever by any good at anything, even though she was so bright that she educated herself fabulously with nothing more to work with than a little trunk space for books. Everything changed when June ran away to get married at age thirteen (a story told in her own book "Early Havoc", a good read) at the same time that vaudeville was dying out.Read more ›
Breathlessly relating her childhood spent in the popular, family-oriented entertainment of the early 1900s vaudeville variety show circuit with her star younger sister, "Dainty" June, and their shrewd stage manager and mother, Rose, Lee easily engages readers. Pages fly by, from skits in front of local lodge brothers to shows before burgeoning audiences in lavish theaters across the country as they tirelessly shop their ever-polished singing, dancing and comedy act. A faint picture slowly emerges of Lee as a bright, introverted young girl yearning for more attention. Despite the rough road life and her own disappointment, not much self-pity shows.
What does show clearly is Lee's budding business savvy. After her sister leaves the act, Lee turns the tragedy into opportunity with a little peroxide and PR. Cleverly, she also leaves her hair dark, creating a distinguishing detail out of a common hair color. As vaudeville dries up and she transitions to burlesque, she again demonstrates uncanny sense in choosing her famous stage name. A shorter portion of the book details her rise to the top of the burlesque world, a story peppered with desperate scam artists, benevolent gangsters and jealous stars.
Disappointing is the absence of some relevant detail. Dates are rarely specified, which might otherwise allow readers to more easily trace Lee's story and place it in context with other historical events. No discussion is offered about burlesque and the law, or Lee's thoughts about it. Famous vaudevillians such as Abbott and Costello are mentioned, but only in passing. Significant details are also conspicuously absent.Read more ›
Along the way you come across an incredible cast of characters. Starting with Rose Louise Havick (Gypsy's birth name), who lived her younger sister's shadow for years. June (her sister) was supposed to be the star not Louise. Mama Rose, Gypsy and June's mother who wanted nothing more than to have one of her daughters become a star. There are also many famous faces in this book, from Broadway's funny girl, Fanny Brice to gangster, Waxy Gordon. You even meet Gypsy's first love (of course you will have to read the book to find out who that is)!
Gypsy is the ugly duckling who discovered that she was really a beautiful swan. When June ran away to get married at 13, Gypsy's life turned upside down. She went from chorus "boy" to becoming the most well known stripper this country has ever known. And you can bet her mother was there every step of the way. This is a story for anyone who has ever been told they are not good enough. Gypsy Rose Lee was told that...and look where she ended up!
Perhaps because she was the elder sister, perhaps because she was more business-minded, Lee's book provides a much fuller, more accurate picture of their vaudeville years than do Havoc's. She cites actual contracts, salaries, and the logistics of their never-ending trouping, from Vancouver, Canada to Tiajuana, Mexico; from San Francisco, California, to Portland, Maine. She names the many animals that trouped along with them, including numerous dogs and guinea pigs, a cat or two; Gussie the goose; Waupie the lamb; Gigolo the monkey; and Porky the pig.
She gives more complete versions of incidents than June does, such as the time "Roxy" Rothfels, an influential New York theater owner-impresario, wished to buy June's contract to see that she got training in singing and dancing equal to her talents; he was repulsed by a hysterical Rose. (June's recounting of the story is so sketchy that it's puzzling.) Gypsy, moreover, seems to have monopolized the few pictures of their earliest years for her book; June's books are scantily illustrated.
Gypsy tells us about meeting the handsome young manager of a Detroit bookstore, George Davis.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Have always loved the musical "Gypsy" and it was great fun to read the book upon which it is based. She was a colorful and interesting woman and a true survivor.Published 2 months ago by The Heath
Gypsy Rose Lee, all of these years later, continues to be an interesting person. Her memoir is both touching and funny.Published 5 months ago by Carmen Golden
The copy was as advertised, well worn but was an interesting book. I always wondered how close the musical was to her life.Published 10 months ago by CPierson
I am currently in rehearsals for Gypsy the musical so naturally I wanted to read the book to get more of an insight into the life of Gypsy Rose Lee. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Sam Larielle