Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Gypsy Rose Lee
1914 - 1970

Inglewood Park Cemetery

Gypsy Rose Lee made a career out of taking it off, and she's remembered as the most well-known stripper of all time, and the inspiration for one of the most popular movie musicals in history.

Lee was born Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle, WA, the eldest daughter of a mild-mannered newspaper reporter and a restless, fiery woman named Rose, who was determined to get out of Seattle and get one of her two daughters into show business. When her early efforts with her first daughter, who was known as Louise, weren't successful, she turned her attention to her youngest daughter, June, who seemed to be more talented and more interested in a career in entertainment than her older sister.

When Louise was 7 and June was 5, Rose put together an act with her daughters and six young chorus boys called "Baby June and her Farmboys," which was moderately successful on the vaudeville circuit. June was the star, and Louise played one of the farmboys. After performing for nearly 10 years, June was getting a little old to be called "Baby June," so she became "Dainty June," and the act continued as "Dainty June and her Newsboy Songsters," with Louise as one of the newsboys. But June was getting tired of performing, so she ran off with one of the chorus boys from the act when she was 13 and they got married. Rose put Louise in the spotlight, replaced the chorus boys with chorus girls, and re-named the act, "Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes."

By the late 1920s, vaudeville theaters were being transformed into movie houses, but the bawdy burlesque houses were still popular, so that's where Rose brought her daughter and their act. One evening in Toledo, OH, after one of the theater's star strippers had been arrested for assaulting a hotel manager and was unable to perform, the opportunistic Rose volunteered 15-year-old Louise to take her place. Louise's first striptease act was more "tease" than "strip" -- she just danced and didn't take much off -- but the audience enjoyed her performance. Louise changed her name to Gypsy Rose Lee, and changed the typical striptease act, adding comedy, songs, flashy costumes and a little sophistication. Lee became popular in burlesque houses across the country, setting attendance records wherever she performed, and become a well-known celebrity in mainstream America. She attended the best parties, her name was often mentioned in gossip columns and, even if people hadn't seen her act, they knew who she was. With her fame growing, Lee decided to try performing in films.

Even though Lee was popular, studio heads were afraid that putting a well-known stripper in films might hurt their image and reputation, so Lee made her film debut in "Ali Baba Goes to Town" (1937) under her real name, Louise Hovick. She appeared in four more films as Louise Hovick -- "You Can't Have Everything" (1937), "My Lucky Star" (1938), "Battle of Broadway" (1938) and "Sally, Irene and Mary" (1938) -- before she put her performing career on hold, and turned to writing. Her first book, a mystery novel titled, "The G-String Murders," published in 1941, was made into a film, "Lady of Burlesque" (1943), starring Barbara Stanwyck.

By this time, Lee's sister, June, had become a successful actress and dancer, changing her name slightly to June Havoc. In 1957, after her mother died, Lee wrote her autobiography, titled, "Gypsy," and it became an immediate bestseller, appearing on the New York Times bestseller list for 10 weeks. Excerpts were printed in Harper's, Town and Country and other popular magazines, and the book was translated and published around the world. Broadway producers saw potential in the story, and the book was transformed in to a musical, "Gypsy," which premiered in May 1959, and was an instant success. The musical, which focuses on the tough and domineering Mama Rose and starred Ethel Merman in the original production, has been revived frequently over the years, and was made into a popular film in 1962, with Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose, and Natalie Wood as Gypsy. Another version, made in 1993, starred Bette Midler as Mama Rose, and Cynthia Gibb as Gypsy.

Following this new-found success, Lee returned to films, appearing in small roles in "Wind Across the Everglades" (1958), "The Stripper" (1963) and "The Trouble With Angels" (1966). She also hosted two short-lived television talk shows -- "The Gypsy Rose Lee Show" in 1958, and "Gypsy" in 1965.

Lee's simple grave marker features a single rose.

Lee was born Rose Louise Hovick on Feb. 9, 1914, in Seattle, WA. She died on April 26, 1970, in Los Angeles, CA.

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