Sunday, March 5, 2017

Gypsy: A Memoir - Gypsy Rose Lee

Yet another fortuitous Library Sales shelves find. I had heard of Gypsy Rose Lee, and of course the award-winning Broadway musical based on this book, although I've never seen it. After reading this book I am not sure how much I actually know, and how much of it is made up, or at least embroidered.

All the same, it's a very entertaining book. It chronicles the early lives of the author and her sister (who ultimately became actress June Havoc). The sisters shared a stage mother that couldn't have been more on the nose if she had been sent over from central casting. Equal parts con artist and ambitious show biz wannabe, the mother looms large in this book, and her presence even sort of overshadows Gypsy Rose Lee as the star of her own book.

The tales are amusing and well told, and the author paints a picture of life in show business as vaudeville was succumbing to the "talkies" and then the Depression, and performers often had to switch to burlesque and similar specialities to keep performing. I feel like I can picture with great clarity what this life was like, and can also understand the allure of the transient life of "show folk" - and also be grateful that I am not dealing with people trying to cheat me, sleeping in fleabag hotels (if you're lucky), getting lice, and other perils of life on the road.

The book has less detail in the later parts, and in fact we gloss over such events as the birth of her only child, son Erik - we don't even learn who Erik's father was. The book ends sort of abruptly; maybe the author was adhering to the show biz mantra of "always leave 'em wanting more." If you do, it turns out Gypsy Rose Lee wrote a couple fiction books and many short stories before penning this memoir; she's a good writer so I would like to check those out. All in all this was a memorable read that paints a picture of a bygone era of show business. Recommended.

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