Top critical review
Exciting, but Leaves 'em Wanting More
on March 30, 2004
Much like the style of her burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee's memoir offers just a tantalizing glimpse of the real Louise Rose Hovick.
Breathlessly relating her childhood spent in the popular, family-oriented entertainment of the early 1900s vaudeville variety show circuit with her star younger sister, "Dainty" June, and their shrewd stage manager and mother, Rose, Lee easily engages readers. Pages fly by, from skits in front of local lodge brothers to shows before burgeoning audiences in lavish theaters across the country as they tirelessly shop their ever-polished singing, dancing and comedy act. A faint picture slowly emerges of Lee as a bright, introverted young girl yearning for more attention. Despite the rough road life and her own disappointment, not much self-pity shows.
What does show clearly is Lee's budding business savvy. After her sister leaves the act, Lee turns the tragedy into opportunity with a little peroxide and PR. Cleverly, she also leaves her hair dark, creating a distinguishing detail out of a common hair color. As vaudeville dries up and she transitions to burlesque, she again demonstrates uncanny sense in choosing her famous stage name. A shorter portion of the book details her rise to the top of the burlesque world, a story peppered with desperate scam artists, benevolent gangsters and jealous stars.
Disappointing is the absence of some relevant detail. Dates are rarely specified, which might otherwise allow readers to more easily trace Lee's story and place it in context with other historical events. No discussion is offered about burlesque and the law, or Lee's thoughts about it. Famous vaudevillians such as Abbott and Costello are mentioned, but only in passing. Significant details are also conspicuously absent. Despite mention of her son, Erik, no mention is made of his father, and hardly any of her relationships are discussed. Privacy, timing and taboo may account for these latter absences, however.
Perhaps, in not telling all, Gypsy Rose Lee suggests her greatest talent, grace.