American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb narrative skills and eye for detail, Karen Abbott brings to life an era of ambition, glamour, struggle, and survival. Using exclusive interviews and never-before-published material, she vividly delves into Gypsy’s world, including her intense triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who literally killed to get her daughters on the stage. Weaving in the compelling saga of the Minskys—four scrappy brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee’s brand of burlesque and transform the entertainment landscape—Karen Abbott creates a rich account of a legend whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.
perform that very first striptease out in Kansas City? Who has now stolen her little sister’s past not once but twice? “You want the world to believe that your credo says to hell with craft, with talent, with integrity, ‘all you gotta have is a gimmick’?” June asks. “Is that your message? Do you really believe that?” “Listen, June,” Gypsy says, “you’re the one who trusts all that craft stuff. I tried it, didn’t I? Nothing worked but my gimmicks. That’s what they bought, that’s what they wanted.
protests against the wicked and unrighteous. Evangelists Gypsy Smith and Billy Sunday traveled from city to city, exhorting God’s word and warning of His wrath to overflow crowds in ballparks and auditoriums. Every night, in every city, the Salvation Army invaded street corners and wooed passersby with tambourine music and curbside gospel. The Catholic Church, along with a lay organization called the Legion of Decency, turned its considerable might toward Hollywood, demanding stricter adherence
than I care to count, for encouraging my inner Julia Child, for enduring my insufferable sore-winner poker-victory dance (okay, okay, I occasionally lose), for hating me hard, and for perfectly matching my own level of batshit crazy. Without you two I’d have quit this business long ago. My love and thanks, also, to the members of my writing group at large: the outrageously gifted Anna Schachner, the magnificent Lydia Netzer, the wicked and sharp Gilbert King, the whip-smart Emma Garman, the savvy
42nd Street, would be the first. Built in 1900 by Oscar Hammerstein, the Republic Theatre had been home to Broadway’s longest-running production, Abie’s Irish Rose, a sappy, sentimental tale about a nice Jewish boy who marries a Catholic girl. By the time the show closed in October 1927, it had played in New York a record 2,327 times without interruption, nearly double the previous longest run of any production in America. Currently, the Republic was operating as a movie house, showing shorts
with me.” She had another when they carted her off to jail and tossed a blanket at her in the cell: “Help!” she cried. “I’ve been draped!” Rose loved the rides in the paddy wagon, the screaming headlines in the Police Gazette; even in June’s best years show business had never been so thrilling. “My baby,” Rose insisted, “is innocent and pure.” She clenched Gypsy’s hand and gave her daughter her brightest, loveliest smile, as if to seal a pact that they were in this together, and Rose would