Review: More Havoc

Dear Constant Reader,

Today we return to the life of June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee’s younger (and most say more talented) sister with her second memoir.

More Havoc by June Havoc (1980)

More Havoc begins where Early Havoc leaves off. June, barely in her teens, has fled her overbearing mother and the grind of constant work. She longs to be a legitimate actress, but has to sustain herself as a marathon dancer. She looks back at her childhood in vaudeville for a few chapters, but the rest is a straight-forward narrative, without the shift between past and present of her first book.

June, a pro on the marathon dance circuit, leaves the grueling competitions when a promoter falls in love with her and has his syndicate hire her as his driver while he looks for new venues. Really, it’s a cross-country camping vacation, but she’s getting paid for it. She also reconnects with her husband, Bobby. She doesn’t want to be tied to any man, especially one who doesn’t want her to follow her dream, and decides to leave them both and have her own family.

Pregnant, she begins working hard as a entertainer, saving for her daughter (she’s sure it will be a girl). Ultimately she has to go back to New York and live with her mother, who is running a social club for lesbians out of the spacious apartment Gypsy bought her. At first June is told to hide in her room during the parties, but is soon pressed into service dispensing bathtub booze and plates of cheap spaghetti to her mother’s clientele. This arrangement lasts until the sisters discover that their mother was charging them both for June’s rent and Gypsy’s boyfriend gives June some cash (which Mother tries to filch) to get her own place.

June is ecstatic to start a new life with her daughter, April, but she has no real support and no job. Her mother offers to adopt April and “do for her what I tried to do for you”, but June is never going to be that desperate. After struggling to get by, a lucky break lands June a job as a mannequin, modeling gowns for a fashion house. With every scrap of free time she makes the rounds of booking agents. She finally lands a performance job which leads to another and another.

She marries (and divorces) a Harvard man who fancies himself a writer. She abandons “Jeannie Reed”, her name from when she was hoofing with her husband, which she also used during the marathons. She panics as she’s writing “June Hovick” on a contract, since her sister was forced by prudish Hollywood to perform as Louise Hovick and her movies failed. Instead, it comes out “Havoc”. She doesn’t like it, but it sticks.

Then comes Pal Joey. June is cast in the new musical as Gladys Bumps, a small comedic role that keeps getting bigger and bigger as the director discovers her talents. At last! A Broadway show! And then Hollywood comes calling… Soon June is shuttling across the country between Hollywood and Broadway. June and Gypsy become closer. For a few years, the sisters live together in Gypsy’s huge house in New York City.

The book ends with June’s show-stopping performance on opening night of Mexican Hayride in try-outs in Boston. Her sister, in disguise, is in the audience, having stayed up all night to help June with her costume.

It’s impossible to tell the story of the Hovick sisters without acknowledging the dominating presence of their mother. Gypsy’s memoir portrays her mother as a needy woman, beautiful and fragile, humorously eccentric, in a fantasy world of her own devising. Gypsy deliberately makes her “Mother stories” amusing, even after her mother’s death. In this book June depicts a greedy, delusional, sociopathic woman who emotionally and occasionally physically abused her daughters. Both June and Gypsy try to break free of their mother, but only June succeeds. Despite leaving her mother’s control, June is still shadowed by her presence. This memoir is even bookended by scenes of her mother’s deathbed. All June wanted from her mother was love and approval, but once she becomes independent she might as well be a stranger. Mother did not create June Havoc, so she can’t live in reflected glory. To her, June is a failure. Gypsy is the one she clings to and the one she curses as she dies.

This memoir is certainly more positive and uplifting than the first. However, I liked it less. It wasn’t the story; it was the writing. Early Havoc felt more genuine and the writing of this one feels a little forced. Burlesque-wise, there’s more about Gypsy in this volume, as the sisters spend more time together, but not too much about her performances.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 20 May 2019 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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