Gypsy Rose Lee (February 9, 1911 (not 1914, as is often falsely seen) - April 26, 1970) was an American actress and burlesque entertainer.
NOTE: There is no evidence shown here to support the 1911 birth year, yet Gypsy's grave stone bears the years 1914 - 1970.
She was born in Seattle, Washington and initially named Ellen June Hovick, the same name that was later given to her younger sister, actress June Havoc. Gypsy was initially called Louise. Their mother, Rose, had married John Hovick, a newspaperman, at the age of fifteen, and was the classic example of a smothering stage mother, though the more horrid details were whitewashed in Gypsy's memoirs. Her two daughters earned the family's money by appearing in vaudeville, where June's talent shone, while Louise remained in the background. At the age of 16 June married a boy in the act named Bobby Reed. Rose had Bobby arrested and met him at the police station carrying a hidden gun. She pulled the trigger, but the safety was on, and Bobby was freed. June left the act.
Louise's singing and dancing talents were insufficient to sustain the act without June. Eventually it became apparent that Louise could earn money in burlesque. Her innovation here was her sense of humor, for while she stripped quite as thoroughly as any burlesque star, she made the crowd laugh. She took the name Gypsy Rose Lee and stripped at Minsky's for four years, where she was frequently arrested and had relationships with unsavory characters such as Rags Ragland and Eddy Braun. She eventually went to Hollywood, where she was billed as Louise Hovick, and married Arnold "Bob" Mizzy on August 25, 1937 at the insistence of the film studio. Her acting was panned. She returned to New York City and invested in Mike Todd. She eventually appeared as an actress in many of his productions.
In 1941, Gypsy wrote a thriller called The G-String Murders. Trying to describe what Gypsy was (a "high-class" stripper), H. L. Mencken coined the term ecdysiast. Her style of intellectual recitations while stripping was spoofed in the number "Zip!" from Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey, a play in which her sister June appeared. Gypsy's second murder mystery, Mother Finds a Body, was published in 1942.
In love with Todd, and in an attempt to make him jealous, she married William Alexander Kirkland in 1942. They divorced in 1944. While married to Kirkland, she had a son with Otto Preminger; he was named Erik Lee, and has been known successively as Erik Kirkland, Erik de Diego, and Erik Preminger. Gypsy was married for a third time in 1948 to Julio de Diego. They eventually divorced.
She and her sister June, who had also become successful, continued to get demands for money from their mother, who had opened a lesbian boardinghouse in a ten-room apartment on West End Avenue in New York City. This property and a farm in Highland Mills, New York, had been rented for her by Gypsy. Rose shot and killed one of her guests, (according to Erik Preminger, she killed her own lover, who had made a pass at Gypsy). This incident was explained as a suicide. As Rose was dying of colon cancer, her final words, in 1954, were for Gypsy: "Wherever you go... I'll be right there. When you get your own private kick in the ass, just remember: it's a present from me to you."
With their mother dead, the sisters now felt free to write about her without risking a lawsuit. Gypsy's memoirs, titled Gypsy, were published in 1957, and were taken as inspirational material for the Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable. June did not like the way she was portrayed in the piece, but was eventually persuaded not to oppose it for her sister's sake. The play and the subsequent movie deal assured Gypsy a steady income.
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