When it comes to the original queens of burlesque back in its heyday, they don’t come much bigger than this incredible woman. From stage to screen, the infamous ‘Lady of Burlesque’ herself forged a successful career both in the burlesque world and onscreen, as well as being noted for her talents as a playwright and author. We are of course talking about the inimitable Gypsy Rose Lee.
Who was Gypsy Rose Lee?
Born in 1911 in Seattle, Washington, Rose Louise Hovick and her sister both took to the stage as children in vaudeville shows. Their mother dreamed of a life in showbiz, and was determined to have her children succeed under the bright lights of Broadway. As she got older, Gypsy Rose Lee ascended to stardom in the 1930s as one of the top strip-teasers in the USA and is still noted as being one of the original queens of burlesque, an inspiration for many modern performers.
How did she get into burlesque?
Gypsy Rose Lee entered the world of burlesque when she was just 15 years old. As vaudeville began a steady decline, work for the family troupe began to decrease, and they struggled to stay afloat amidst the financial turmoil of the 1920s. They were further hindered by the departure of Louise’s sister June, who ran away with a fellow performer and went on to pursue a career as an actress, leaving the family stage act without its star. Louise was forced to step into the limelight (which thus far her mother had reserved for her sibling, believing June to be the prettier of the two). Seeing a niche for her daughter in the burlesque market, which was one genre that was still doing well at the time, Louise took her first steps on the ecydiastical stage with her mother’s encouragement, before going on to adopt the stage persona ‘Gypsy Rose Lee’.
What style of burlesque did she perform?
Gypsy Rose Lee made a name for herself in the world of burlesque, both due to her style of striptease and her witty banter. Stylistically, she was described as having a casual air about her clothing removal, a natural, smooth style which contrasted the jerkiness of some performers of the day and helped to make her stand out. She had a natural confidence and domineering stage presence, which coupled with her sharp wit made her a popular draw for audiences in the 1930s and 40s.
*She starred in the famous Minsky shows for four years and was one of their biggest burlesque stars.
*She was arrested on a number of occasions when the theatres she was working were raided; a common problem back in the historical days of burlesque.
*Married three times, at one of her wedding ceremonies, a chimpanzee carried the rings.
*She made her silver screen debut in 1937 and in 1941, she wrote ‘The G-String Murders’ which was turned into the movie ‘Lady of Burlesque’ starring Barbara Stanwick.
*Her own memoirs, published in 1957 inspired the musical ‘Gypsy’ which was based upon her life. The most famous track from the movie is “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”.
And so we reach the end of this week’s Superstars blog.
Do check out some of the previous posts in the series: