Gypsy Rose Lee (1911)
It was on this date, January 9, 1911, that burlesque-era stripper Gypsy Rose Lee was born Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle, Washington. Sister of actress June Havoc, Gypsy started dancing and stripping at burlesque houses from the age of 15, under the oppressive hand of her mother, Rose. She took her stage name while dancing for Minsky’s theater in New York — “Gypsy” for her fortune-telling, “Rose” for her mother, and “Lee” on a whim.
Her personality was fifty percent of her appeal. Gypsy is said to have told the police during a raid at Minsky’s, “I wasn’t naked. I was completely covered by a blue spotlight.” She worked four years for Minsky’s Burlesque and her casual stripping style made her his top attraction. As well as being one of the most famous strippers of all time, Gypsy was also a film actress, TV hostess and novelist. She was the author of the 1957 autobiography (disliked by her sister June) that inspired the 1959 Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim hit musical, Gypsy.
It is seldom mentioned that Gypsy Rose Lee was an Atheist. She has said, “Praying is like a rocking chair — it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.”* and “God is love, but get it in writing.”**
Gypsy married three times and had numerous lovers. She also had a philanthropic streak: Gypsy supported Spanish children suffering during the Spanish Civil War. The lung cancer diagnosed in 1969 finally claimed her the next year. Gypsy Rose Lee died an atheist on 26 April 1970.
* As told to E. Haldeman-Julius; quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief, 1996. ** Quoted in Jonathon Green, ed., The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations, 1994. NB: The date of Gypsy’s birth is taken from the Internet Movie Database; Wikipedia says the date is January 8.
Originally published January 2004.