Review: American Rose

Dear Constant Reader,

Today I review the last of my books about Gypsy Rose Lee.

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose by Karen Abbott (2010).

Ms. Abbott attempts to strip away the mythology Gypsy created about herself as immortalized in her autobiography and the musical based on it. As well as combing through archives, Ms. Abbott interviewed the two then-living people who knew her best, Gypsy’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, and her sister, June Havoc. Gypsy portrayed her mother as eccentric and driven and the musical turned her into the quintessential stage mother. In American Rose she is revealed to be dangerously unstable and shown to have committed murder more than once. Deceptions abound from the very beginning of Gypsy’s life — she was originally named Ellen June, but a couple of years later her mother gave the name to her baby sister.

The chapters of the book skip around in chronology, starting at the peak of Gypsy’s career, then jumping back to her childhood, then to a chapter on Billy Minsky, then back to 1940, then a return to vaudeville days. It can be a little confusing and is the biggest criticism of most reviews. When Ms. Abbott gets into her subjects’ heads and writes from their perspective, she tends towards the overly dramatic and veers into the realm of fantasy. She’s best when quoting directly from her sources.

I won’t say it’s an enjoyable read, because the portrait she paints is sometimes so horrible that it’s hard to believe either Hovick sister survived their childhood and it’s not surprising that Gypsy grew up, as has been said, allergic to the truth.

Now, there’s at least one more book about Gypsy out there that I’m aware of, Robert Strom’s Lady of Burlesque: The Career of Gypsy Rose Lee, but I don’t have it yet (hint, hint).

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Published in: on 2 May 2012 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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