American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare; the Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee

Karen Abbott, Author
Karen Abbott, Random, $26 (424p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6691-9
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 12/01/2010
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-11941-3
Paperback - 422 pages - 978-0-8129-7851-3
Ebook - 312 pages - 978-0-679-60456-3
Compact Disc - 978-0-307-87709-3
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-307-87712-3
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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. (Jan.)
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