Gypsy Rose Lee

Active - 1937 - 1969  |   Born - Feb 9, 1914   |   Died - Apr 26, 1970   |   Genres - Musical, Comedy, Mystery, Western, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

It's probable that no one had ever heard the word "ecdysiast" until Gypsy Rose Lee looked it up. To the world at large, self-proclaimed ecdysiast Lee was a striptease artist -- indeed, the most celebrated of that sorority. Lee's early life (fancifully recounted in her autobiography, which served as the source of the play and film Gypsy) consisted of touring the provinces in a vaudeville act managed by her mother. The star attractions of "Madame Rose's Dancing Daughters" were little Rose Louise Hovick and her younger sister June.

When June struck out on her own as June Havoc, Rose Louise reinvented herself as "intellectual stripper" Gypsy Rose Lee, star of Minsky's Burlesque. When Mayor LaGuardia closed all the burlesque houses in New York in 1937, Lee went to Hollywood, where she was billed in her first films as Louise Hovick so as not to arouse the ire of the blue-noses. From 1943 on, her onscreen billing was Gypsy Rose Lee: while she seldom exhibited more than a trim ankle in these later film appearances, she was a welcome comedy-relief presence in such films as Belle of the Yukon (1944) and Screaming Mimi (1958). Lee penned the mystery novel The G-String Murders and the stage play The Naked Genius; these were adapted to film as, respectively, Lady of Burlesque (1943) and Doll Face (1945).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the witty, self-mocking Lee was a frequent TV guest star, and on at least two occasions hosted her own talk show. Long after Gypsy Rose Lee's death, film director Otto Preminger revealed that Lee had borne one of his children.

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