American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee Hardcover – Dec 28 2010
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Praise for American Rose:
"Abbott creates a brainy striptease similar to the one her subject may have performed: uncovering doozies in one chapter about Lee's outrageous life, followed in the next by the less salacious (but always captivating) details about how New York City's Minsky brothers, who played a crucial role in Lee's stardom, built their burlesque empire." —Newsday
"At its core, American Rose is a haunting portrait of a woman 'giving what she has to, keeping all she can,' offering her audiences a sassy, confident self while making sure they would never know the damaged soul who created her." —The Los Angeles Times
"American Rose is the rare biography that captures the imagination and doesn't let go. It would scare the bejeesus out of Gypsy Rose Lee, and it's guaranteed to enthrall readers." —Book Page
"[Abbott's] portrait of the famed stripper is both darker and more inspiring than the famed stripper's version of her life as filtered by Broadway or Hollywood." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Praise for Karen Abbott’s Sin in the Second City
“A delicious history . . . a lush love letter to the underworld . . . [Abbott] describes the Levee’s characters in such detail that it’s easy to mistake this meticulously researched history for literary fiction.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Abbott’s] research enables the kind of vivid description à la fellow journalist Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City that makes what could be a dry historic account an intriguing read.”—The Seattle Times
“[A] satisfyingly lurid tale . . . Change the hemlines, add 100 years, and the book could be filed under current affairs.”—USA Today
“Assiduously researched . . . Even this book’s minutiae . . . make for good storytelling.”—The New York Times
“A colorful history of old Chicago that reads like a novel.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Lavish . . . an immensely readable book.”—The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots who do a mean Ethel Merman. Visit her online at www.karenabbott.net.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The author has done a very good job of researching Lee's life and digging out the real details behind the facade created by Lee and her mother, Rose.
Lee's mother was the model for the character played by Rosalind Russell in the movie version of Gypsy. The Rosalind Russell version was the image of her mother which Lee wanted to present to the world. The real Rose uncovered by Karen Abbott's research comes closer to the Bette Davis character in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.
Karen Abbott does a really good job of getting behind the character and image Gypsy Rose Lee created for herself. Abbott has also done a very good job of recreating the atmosphere of the times. She also writes a very interesting history of the Minsky brothers and the business of burlesque.
The audio book version of American Rose is very well done. Abbott's writing style is well suited to the spoken word and the audio book reader does an excellent job with the material.
Overall a very worthwhile book and audio book. I have a forty minute commute to/from work and I generally pass the time listening to audio books. I really enjoyed this one.
With a wealth of stage experience (The Kennedy Center, The Washington Shakespeare Company, etc) Dunne delivers a masterful voice performance bringing to life the characters with whom many of us are familiar - Gypsy, sister June and, of course, the indomitable Mama Rose. Dunne easily segues between characters, clearly delineating each as the story unfolds.
Abbott begins AMERICAN ROSE in 1940 when Gypsy was about to perform at the World's Fair, surely a landmark in her career. We learn that landmark was earned by Gypsy herself who excelled at self-promotion and skillful at creating the public persona she wanted the world to see. She was also a mistress of illusion or as Abbott puts it '....she knows that what she hides is as much of a reward as what she deigns to reveal.'
After the World's Fair the author takes us back in time to 1910 Seattle shortly before Gypsy was born (dates are a bit hazy as Mama Rose (Rose Hovick) didn't mind forging a few documents re her daughters' ages). Following Gypsy's early stage training we meet some fascinating men who were in and out of her life - Billy Minsky, Mike Todd.
Much of what is found in AMERICAN ROSE may well be remembered from the hit musical Gypsy. Nonetheless Abbott is apt at supplying details that could not have been included in the Broadway stage presentation and comparing Gypsy's days with that time in America. Give a listen - let Gypsy entertain you.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What makes the book work as well as it does is the very fine line Ms Abbott treads in her exposition - stray just a little and it would lose credibility and impact. It doesn't glamorize or trivialize the world of vaudeville. The figures that are usually made larger-than-life or caricatures come across as real - the (in)famous Minsky brothers, Mayor Jimmy Walker, Fanny Brice, Mike Todd, Otto Preminger and many others. The backdrop setting gives body to the struggles, fights, deals and machinations that surrounded mama Rose and makes Gypsy's work and life come alive, to the extent that, as other Amazon reviews note, you really wish at an emotional level that somehow she and June could have had a chance and that the almost inexorable damage, physical as well as mental, could have been ended. The consequences of the damage dominate her later years where the egocentric courage, disguises and ambition become more and more amoral and almost indifferent.
It takes a superior writer to make all this balanced, convincing, vivid and fair in presentation and judgment. Ms Abbott never lets the writing get in the way of the story. It is this that gives the story its resonance. She avoids psychoanalytic guesswork - much of Gypsy and just about all of Rose is beyond understanding. It avoids the sensational, moralistic judgments or efforts to push some very good stories too far. The book has no melodramatic flourishes about a life and society of melodrama. It's very restrained but at the same time empathic - a masterly balancing of tone and content. The narrative technique of moving between her early life, (relative) old age and days of public glory is initially a little disorienting but seems to me to have been a good choice. Gipsy's life is very much a jigsaw of pieces and a linear biography would not have captured the complexity of her many selves. The writing is unobtrusive, with deft sketches and clarity of presentation and pacing. There are some striking phrases that are quite haunting. One I recall talks of how Rose has so much control over Gypsy since she knew too much about the mechanics of her self-creation - "where all the damaged parts were stashed, the lovely lies they invented together to fill in the gaps."
I think this is a book that will stay with me. I found it disturbing and very sad. Poor child - how could she ever have become whole?
I knew Rose Havock (June Havoc's and Gypsy's mom) was a stage mother. I even showed the musical to my sons so they'd realized I wasn't such a horrible mother. But I never knew to what extent "Mama Rose" was a stage mother or how truly twisted she was.
Karen Abbott has written an absolutely fascinating book about the times of burlesque and the depression. She alternates Gypsy's life story with the story of the Minsky brothers, giving details about the economic as well as the moral pulse of society. I found it very difficult to put the book down.
I was stunned at what Gypsy and June went through. What kind of mother names her second daughter the same as the first, already presuming the first, living daughter is a failure? What kind of mother would twist her children's minds by saying the dog died just to get a child to cry on command? And what kind of grandmother would hand her 5 year old grandson a real gun? Rose Havock, that's who. And that's probably one of the nicest things you can say about her.
I was also impressed by the way M's Abbott portrayed the sibling relationship between Gypsy and June. M's Abbott seemed to hit the sibling relationship right on the head between sisters. Her portrayal of Gypsy as an older sister (because she was) is touching but chilling to the bone.
I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in a good biography or anyone interested in thet time period in American history. You won't be able to put it down, it's that good.
That the 2 girls even survived their upbringing is a miracle, that they survived their mother, is even more of one. With a mother who seems to have committed 3 murders, while in a furious rage, which possessed her throughout her life - the girls had little hope of ever leading a normal life. Rose grew-up obsessed by money,celebrity and fame, June seems to have grown-up angry and jealous of her older sister. Everyone in the family treated each other horribly, but the 2 girls did survive to become stars.
The book can be quite intense at times, life on the road was hardly the life for growing girls. But the descriptions of vaudeville and stage life from the turn of the last century are quite well-described by the author and are extremely interesting. This book should be read as a history of women's rights in the show biz world, a mini-history of vaudeville and a fascinating biography of a legend: Gypsy Rose Lee.
Life was hard for women and children in the early years of the last century and this book offers ample demonstration of that fact. Even for one not interested in June Havoc or Gypsy, the read is quite educational for those wishing to learn more of the beginning years of stage and screen. I recommend this book highly, you will not be able to put it down.
Ch.10: NYC, 1917-20
Ch 11: Chicago 1941
Ch 12: Vaudeville Circuit, 1920-24
Ch. 13: NYC 1942.
Her organization results in many topsy-turvy descriptions, e.g., the divorce from a later husband occurs in a chapter preceding her marriage to an earlier one. Too many chapters (& paragraphs, IMO) intrude with the Minsky brothers buying burlesque houses without contributing much to the story--unless you're interested in real estate deals in NYC. (Minskys' also had a burlesque theater in nearby NJ which served many NYC customers but that one's never mentioned--very disappointing to a close friend who did a strip-dance act there in the 1950s, before she became a social worker.)
And Abott sometimes inappropriately interchanges present and past tense verbs.
The resulting book is a bit like an Impressionist painting--a collage of small dabs of color which blur to form images rather than presenting well-defined characters. This seems to be deliberate: maybe the author's (& editor's?) decision to put readers through some of what she went through in researching the material?
There are other misses: GRL (& sister June) were obviously much twisted by their mother, Momma Rose. But Abbott has almost nothing about Momma Rose's relationship with HER mother. Momma Rose certainly meets the criteria for being a sociopath (anti-social personality disorder) with her lack of empathy, impulsive reactions, deceits/lies, murders attempted and perhaps accomplished, manipulations, revenge, self-centeredness, lack of remorse, etc. From where did this come?
Abbott's book probably presents some interesting information about this family and their lives which had been previously unknown. But if the book had been organized in a different way, it would have been a far easier and more pleasant read.
The many positive 5 star ratings by readers on Amazon influenced me to buy & read this book. But since then, I've gone back to read the 2 & 1 star (critical) reviews and agree with ALL I've seen so far. While this book PROBABLY IS worth reading, it has been made unnecessarily complex. (ETA: 45% of the positive (5,4,3 stars) reviews were posted by "Amazon Vine" people who got a FREE BOOK in EXCHANGE for their review; only 28% of the 2,1 star more critical reviews were posted by "A.V." readers.)
This has made me VERY sensitive to whether or not a positive (or critical) review is made by a person with a "Amazon Vine" or "Vine Voice" label with their name. People with these labels tend to be overwhelmingly VERY positive -- when and if they're less than glowing, I can multiply their criticisms by 10.
After reading "American Rose," I bought and read Noralee Frankel's "Stripping Gypsy," another recent biography of Gypsy and found it FAR, FAR more valuable and easier to read. I highly recommend it. Also, the book by Gypsy's son, Erik Preminger, published under 2 different titles: "Gypsy & Me" & also known as "My G-String Mother." (Plus I've also read the 2 books by Gypsy's sister, June Havoc -- "Early Havoc" and "More Havoc;" both worthwhile.)
But, IMO, it's much better to read her son Erik's book AFTER you've gotten a good view of what Gypsy went through growing up with Momma Rose. (Read "Stripping Gypsy" first so you understand how far, FAR better Gypsy was at raising Erik than how Momma Rose treated Gypsy & June. Like most other people, Gypsy was not entirely immune to passing on horrible child rearing practices but she did eliminate the worst and softened others considerably.)
I have not read the author's other book, but I do give her credit for the apparently extensive research she did for this book, including interviews with GRL's son and sister. However, that background work cannot save a book that is just so awful to read. First, the author attempts to present dual timelines, with the subtlety of verb tense (shifting back and forth from past to present tense) to establish different time periods in GRL's life. This is an effect that has been done very well by other writers of creative non-fiction, such as Erik Larsen, but in this book it is awkward and confusing. On many occasions, I found myself flipping back to the chapter titles to check what time frame I was reading about. What's worse is that, in parts, the author describes events such as the passing of GLR's mother, Rose, only to have her alive and well in the next chapter. While I understand that the author was going for dramatic effect, trying to pare her life before burlesque and after, it just simply does not work the way it is presented.
Second, it is very hard to discern which of the "facts" presented are indeed, facts, and which are from the fantasy created by GLR, Rose, June, or even Eric and the author presents them all in the same manner. The story of Rose shooting the cow, for example, is (I supposed) meant to be offered tongue-in-cheek, with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the reader as to what really transpired that night. However, the innuendo and suggestiveness is vague and ineffective. The author does this numerous times throughout the book and seems almost eager to suggest the most salacious rumors about GLR were, in fact, true. Again, it's that wink-wink-nudge-nudge presentation that makes it irritating.
Finally, the author seems to have no affection for her subject. At times, Ms. Abbott's disdain for GLR, her life and her decisions, comes seeping through the pages like the seething admonitions of the prudish John Sumner (from the NY Society for the Suppression of Vice). I'm not saying GLR was without her scandals and issues, nor am I saying she should be treated with the reverence of some religious icon, but the author seems most excited when discussing some of the darker times in GLR's life. Remember that even GLR rewrote and reimagined her life so many times that even she believed the "new story" to the true story. There is little to balance out the subject, little to display her gentler, more creative, or even more sympathetic side. I also take umbrage with what feels like selective editing with regard to some of the correspondence presented in the book.
Overall, I do not recommend this book to GLR fans. If you are into creative non-fiction that feels more like hushed voices around the office water cooler gossiping the latest scandal, then you may enjoy it. But if you are looking for more insight and something new regarding the incomparable Gypsy Rose Lee, look elsewhere.