NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb narrative skills and eye for detail, Karen Abbott brings to life an era of ambition, glamour, struggle, and survival. Using exclusive interviews and never-before-published material, she vividly delves into Gypsy’s world, including her intense triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who literally killed to get her daughters on the stage. Weaving in the compelling saga of the Minskys—four scrappy brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee’s brand of burlesque and transform the entertainment landscape—Karen Abbott creates a rich account of a legend whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.
Imaginative and engaging, Abbott's biography of the celebrated stripper, who died in 1970 at age 59, also proves a well-informed look at the evolution of musical theater in the early 20th century. Abbott (Sin in the Second City) was able to interview Gypsy Rose Lee's 94-year-old sister, June Havoc, shortly before she died in 2010. Lee and her sister grew up under their indomitable stage mother, Rose, whom Lee wrote about in a memoir that became the Broadway hit Gypsy in 1959. Abbott shares some fresh, intimate details as she develops two parallel narrative strands: the hand-to-mouth early years when Rose was plying the city-to-city vaudeville circuit with her child acts featuring her talented daughter, June, and the more gawky, reliable Louise; and the steady success of the Minsky brothers on the Lower East Side of New York City as they invested in a string of vaudeville theaters that gradually morphed into wildly successful burlesque houses. When June ran away (at age 13 to get married), Rose reinvented Louise as her last vestige of hope and thus Gypsy Rose Lee made "her delicate, unclean break from the past." Soon, the long-legged, tease-talking Gypsy was warming up for her next careers Hollywood and Broadway. Abbott's work, cutting fluidly between decades and recreating dialogue, captures this dizzying, sullying, transformative era in America.
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This is the third title of Abbott's I have read, and again she did not disappoint me. I went to hear her lecture at the Filson Society in Louisville a couple years ago. I loved that book and each I have read since. Thanks Abbott!