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

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With the critically acclaimed Sin in the Second City, bestselling author Karen Abbott “pioneered sizzle history” (USA Today). Now she returns with the gripping and expansive story of America’s coming-of-age—told through the extraordinary life of Gypsy Rose Lee and the world she survived and conquered.

America in the Roaring Twenties. Vaudeville was king. Talking pictures were only a distant flicker. Speakeasies beckoned beyond dimly lit doorways; money flowed fast and free. But then, almost overnight, the Great Depression leveled everything. When the dust settled, Americans were primed for a star who could distract them from grim reality and excite them in new, unexpected ways. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a preternatural gift for delivering exactly what America needed.

With her superb narrative skills and eye for compelling detail, Karen Abbott brings to vivid 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 intensely dramatic triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who seduced men and women alike and literally killed to get her daughters on the stage.

American Rose chronicles their story, as well as the story of the four scrappy and savvy showbiz brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee’s brand of burlesque. Modeling their shows after the glitzy, daring reviews staged in the theaters of Paris, the Minsky brothers relied on grit, determination, and a few tricks that fell just outside the law—and they would shape, and ultimately transform, the landscape of American entertainment.

With a supporting cast of such Jazz- and Depression-era heavyweights as Lucky Luciano, Harry Houdini, FDR, and Fanny Brice, Karen Abbott weaves a rich narrative of a woman who defied all odds to become a legend—and whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.

353 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Karen Abbott

5 books620 followers
Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, and, most recently, The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz- Age America, named an Amazon best book of the month for August 2019. She has written for newyorker.com, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, Salon and other publications.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 658 reviews
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,697 reviews1,478 followers
April 27, 2015
I will tell you why I had trouble with this book.The primary reason is that the author flips back and forth between two different time threads. One thread begins immediately after WW1 and the other during the 1940s. After each chapter you flip to the other thread. Each thread progresses forward in time. And there was nothing achieved by this - except confusion! People die and then there they are again!

Secondly, I disliked the way it was written. It is written with "show talk". OK, Vaudeville and what then became the burlesque scene and strip tease IS a world of glamor and excitement and lurid language. I, personally, did not like it. And all the dropping of names irritated me. He was there and she was there, but nothing of importance is said about the presence of these stars and famous people.

I wanted to understand Gypsy Rose Lee's life. This is a biography. She and her mother reinvented facts over and over again, so I wanted the author to explain in a clear fashion this very messy life filled with lies and inventions. The jumping between different times and numerous versions certainly didn't lend itself to clarity. Some of the sentences were unclear - so what is the author saying with that?! Also, everybody is switching names!

When you read a biography you cannot always like the person. The author must present the facts and the person as he/she really was. You can read a book about an important, but disgusting person and still like the book because the author made that person's personality and life clear. Yet here I did not find the way the story was written to be clear, and Gypsy Rose Lee is really just not someone all that important. Investing a lot of time in understanding her feels wasted, even if she was one of the most famous American striptease artists. Why do I dislike her AND her mother? Her mother in fact was even worse than Gypsy Rose Lee. Their sole aim in life was the search for money and fame, and they used people. They treated people as objects, as a means to attain their own goals. Mothers that push their own children toward glory and fame in the performing arts, when this is to the child's detriment, portray despicable behavior. Very hard to stomach. Being in their company was intensely disagreeable. Sick people. The author could have explained why they were who they were so that I could feel sorry for them, but that never happened, even if I can understand that having such a mother could destroy an individual. Having a bad mother is still no excuse for an adult's own misconduct. Please let me state clearly that their sexual conduct has nothing whatsoever to do with what I am criticizing both mother and daughter for!

Bernadette Dunne did an excellent narration. I loved the tone she used for Gypsy Rose Lee. Through her tone you heard the magnetism and the attraction this woman drew as a stripteaser.

I am glad that is over, now I can move on to something more worth spending my time on. I gave it two stars, rather than one, because I did learn about the Roaring Twenties and Vaudeville, and I do understand that perhaps due to the Depression people needed an escape valve.. The era is well depicted. The book continues to her death in 1970. Except of course at the very end it has to flip back again to the 1940s!

Profile Image for Louise.
1,632 reviews285 followers
October 8, 2012
I'm not certain who this book was written for. If you are like me and don't know the story, the mish mashed time line, the confusion of names (Rose, Louise, June, Gypsy) and the many incomplete story threads will not help you. If you know the saga of Gypsy Rose Lee, it would seem that this book would have to be far too shallow.

The uninitiated will wonder: Why is the Hovick Family story interrupted by the Minsky Family story? (You have to keep reading, but you still wonder if it was worth the space.) Is this THE Mike Todd? (If you wait till page 345 you'll know.) Was Gypsy living at the February House? (You have to check Wikipedia.)

The writing is sketchy. It may be be an attempt at style, but it leaves some important episodes hanging. For instance, on p. 41, Louise, (the future Gypsy - but you don't know that yet) tells her mother who has just (presumably) signed adoption papers that if she takes her with her "I'll make up for it some way." It takes a while for the uninformed reader to figure out that Louise is Gypsy and that her mother DID take her along.

If the reader is to get a reasonable portrait of Gypsy, a lot more information is needed. For instance, the money; at various times this family earned a LOT of money and if they really pinched every penny, where did it go? What of Gypsy's play "The Naked Genius"? Did it have any life beyond the Mike Todd production? What of her other works? Very little is said about "Mama" Rose attempting to shoot her son-in-law and then wrestling with the police. Did nothing become of this attempted murder and assault on a policeman? There is a lot of attention to Ginny Augustin's death, but Rose's lifestyle at the time begs a better description. Gypsy seems to be speaking for and raising funds for the poor... was Gypsy really a Communist as is hinted several times?

At times the books feels heavily influenced by the author's interviews with Gypsy's sister.

I would not recommend this book. There are probably better overviews for the casual reader, and for informed fans of Gypsy, her genre or her times I'm sure there are better books.
Profile Image for Rachel Aranda.
871 reviews2,259 followers
July 28, 2018
This is such a confusing book to write a review on. Ms. Abbott did a good job writing each chapter. She is definitely a practiced author. As an author though she failed to do what she said she'd do in the introduction, which was to answer questions and give an in depth look into the mind of Gypsy Rose Lee. I don't feel I learned much from this book that I didn't know before reading it, which defeats the purpose of reading the book as I wanted to learn more about Gypsy Rose Lee. With all the works she references though I have a list of other books to read about Gypsy Rose Lee if I wanted to.

One other thing that really bothered me about the chapters, while nicely written, were about different people and took place in different time periods. There was no indication of the switch off character or time period. One minute I'm reading about Gypsy Rose Lee about to perform as an established performer only to go to her mother, a man who let her perform, then back to Gypsy but as a child, then Gypsy's sister, etc. Sometimes this switch is done extremely well, like in another Ms. Abbott book about 4 women acting as spies during the Civil War, but the changing POVs just seemed sloppy.

This book could have been more cohesive had it been organized better. Think Ms. Abbott wanted to cover too many people and it made her book unlikable. Ms. Abbott also didn't deliver on her promise with this book. I can't see myself giving this book anything more than a 2.25 rating as I expected more from the author and this book.
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,203 reviews131 followers
August 30, 2022
Fascinating from start to finish... watching the musical Gypsy as a young girl with my very un-Rose-like mother is one of my favorite memories of my introduction to movie musicals.

Later, as a teen, I was astonished to learn that musical was based on real life. I recall (in the days before internet research) learning bits and pieces of Louise and June Hovick's early vaudeville days as well as the force of nature known as Mama Rose.

However, this book is a tale for grown-ups... and after reading it, I'm not sure who I feel most sad for... this is one family shaped by both their era and their deep, often ugly, ambition and emotions.

In the end, I remain as fascinated as that 10-year-old who watched Rosalind Russell play Mama Rose and Natalie Wood slip off that first glove!
Profile Image for Erin .
1,214 reviews1,122 followers
January 19, 2022
This is the second Karen Abbott book I've read. The first was Sin in the Second City, which was about Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century and all the Crime, politics and culture that the era created. I really enjoyed that book, I think I gave it 4 stars. So I had high hopes about this book.

American Rose is about the legendary and extraordinary life of Gypsy Rose Lee. Lee is best known for being a Burlesque dancer...some would call her a stripper but as long as you pay her what she's worth you can call her what you want to. She was incredibly famous in depression era America but most people today have probably never heard of her. From the little I knew about Lee going into this book I expected a very entertaining read.....that is not what I got.

American Rose had all the components needed for a 4 star read. Gypsy Rose's mother Rose was a fascinating woman who may have killed a couple people. Gypsy Rose's sister June Havoc an actress in her own right, had a contentious relationship with her sister and mother. And Gypsy Rose's life was chaotic to say the least. This should have been great...it was not.

I never really felt like I got to know anybody in this book. Each chapter jumps back in forth ten or more years in time. The first chapter takes place in 1940, chapter 2 is 1910 and the whole book is laid out like this and this book has short chapters. The second I started to get engrossed in a storyline we switched to another one, sometimes never returning to that other storyline. It was a frustrating reading experience.

No recommendation because this book just didn't give what it needed to give, but I can definitely recommend Karen Abbott's other book Sin in the Second City.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,779 reviews211 followers
March 20, 2023
Teasing Gypsy

Karen Abbott's first book, Sin in the Second City" tells the story of early Chicago with its houses of prostitution and its crusaders for virtue. In this, her second book, "American Rose", with the evocative subtitle, "A Nation Laid Bare" Abbott continues her story of American's and naughty sexuality in this biography of Gypsy Rose Lee (1911 -- 1970), probably the United States' foremost practitioner of the striptease. Ms Lee wrote her own memoirs in 1955, but Abbott's appears to be the third book-length biography, following Noralle Frankel's "Stripping Gypsy" and a shorter book, "Gypsy: the Art of the Tease" by Rachael Shteir.

Gypsy Rose Lee deserves the attention. Her life shows a remarkable tenacity and ambition, while she virtually created her own subtle form of stripping. She is also an enigmatic figure, difficult to get to know to herself as well as to her admirers. Intelligent, well-read, and largely self-educated, Gypsy wrote two novels, a screenplay, her memoirs, and much else. During the high point of her years as a stripper in the 1930s, she was surrounded by an admiring group of New York intellectuals and artists, in addition to a much less admirable group of gangsters and underworld figures.

In her biography, Abott works valiantly to understand a difficult and reclusive person. The book is based upon substantial archival research together with interviews of, among other people, Gypsy's sister June Havoc and her son, Eric Preminger. Abott pays a great deal of attention to Gypsy's early life and to her relationship to her mother, Rose. A violent, crude woman with hostilities to men, Rose pushed her two daughters into show business and vaudeville while they were little more than babies. The younger daughter, June, had the talent. Rose tried to have Gypsy, who showed little ability at singing, dancing, or acting, adopted to push her out of the way. As a young woman, June had the courage to leave her mother and ultimately achieved success as a serious actress and director. She and Gypsy were rivals and never truly reconciled from the pressures and competitions of their childhoods. Gypsy never seems to have shaken off her mother's baleful influence. Gypsy took to stripping (and adopted the name) at the age of 19 in seedy clubs in Kansas City and Toledo when she could not get vaudeville engagements. She was discovered by the Minsky brothers who operated burlesque houses in New York City and went on to fame. Her public personna as a stripper, Abbott, argues, differs markedly from her elusive private person. Gypsy grudgingly and teasingly showed her body, but kept her heart to herself. Abbott says Gypsy was in love only once in her life, with Michael Todd, who rebuffed her.

Abbott helped me understand Gypsy Rose Lee and her milieu. She is obviously fond of both Gypsy and June and appears to have a good understanding of the sisters' travails with Rose. She also does well with New York City nightlife, including the figures of the Minsky brothers, and the contrasting mayoralities of Jimmy Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia, both of whom play a large role in Gypsy's story. She describes the life of vaudeville and how that form of American entertainment fell victim to the radio and to the movies and also gives a good portrayal of the nature of burlesque and its rise during the Depression.

The book left me wanting more. It frustrated me in a negative way, far differently that Gypsy did with her teasing. (Abbott knows the difference between "strippers" and "teasers".) The writing in the book is mixed. At times, Abbott is self-consciously literary and overwrites, while in other places the writing is flat. The emphasis on the story sometimes falls in the wrong places. On the whole, the most convincing writing in the book occurs in the relatively small portions where Abbott describes what Gypsy did that made her famous -- slowly and tantalizingly take off her clothes to an expectant and leering audience. Gypsy's routines are described slowly and with erotic impact. Most of the other sections of the book, even where Abbott describes the Minsky's and their other dancers, do not have this power, not to speak of sexual impact.

A major problem with this book lies in its organization. (I had a similar reaction to "Sin in the Second City") Abbott flits back and forth among various times, places, and people in Gypsy's life rather than tell her story chronologically. Thus, the book begins and ends literally in the middle with Gypsy's appearance at the New York World's Fair in 1940. In between, it moves in a seemingly haphazard fashion among Gypsy and June's childhood, the vaudeville days, burlesque, Gypsy's personal life, her memoirs, the musical "Gypsy" and much else. The organization makes the book confusing and hard to follow. There was doubtless a reason for Abbott to present her story this way -- perhaps because it shows the collage-like, hectic character of Gypsy's life. But I didn't find the organization successful. It seemed to me pointless and to obstruct the story.

American sexuality and its expressions remain a fascinating subject. In her earlier book and in "American Rose", Abbott has partially explored them well. But this book is too much of a tease. Abbott told me enough to get me interested in Gypsy but her writing did not capture me. She left much more to be revealed.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Susanne.
Author 11 books141 followers
July 27, 2011
I promise you, read this book and you will never look at the musical Gypsy the same way again. You knew the Ethel Merman character (Gypsy's mother) was an eccentric over-bearing stage mother, but you didn't know she was a serial killer, too....

There is a lot of scandal lurking in this book, but some of it requires work on the reader's part - reading between the lines and uncovering the inferences the author points toward but never says. I suppose because some of the people touched by this story are still alive, declarative sentences have to be shunned to avoid lawsuits.

The structure of this book, as has been said in other reviews, is very annoying. There's no reason for the jumping timeline other than to keep the "best bits" of the story for the later chapters.

It's also sort of padded with stuff that doesn't pertain to Gypsy, but that's cool if you are unfamiliar with the era - and the book does say it's her "Life and Times".

If you're at all interested in burlesque and/or Gypsy Rose Lee, do yourself a favor and suffer through the timeline shifts to finish this book. It's an informative and entertaining read.
Profile Image for Rick-Founder JM CM BOOK CLUB .
362 reviews818 followers
February 26, 2011
Quite simply- a brilliant, revealing and most important, human portrait of an American Icon. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
by Karen Abbott is one of those rare biographies that allow the reader to truly BOTH know the subject,but understand her as well. Ms. Abbott not only captures the dramatic life of Ms. Lee (Hovick) but the complex relationships with her overbearing -unstable mother and talented sister- June Havoc (Up in Mabel's Room ect). This is both a biography of a person and a history of a unique time.
Profile Image for Carrie Cole.
77 reviews5 followers
January 4, 2011
This book starts off strong, but it stumbles pretty quickly. My main issue with the book is the fact that it jumps years and characters with each chapter. Usually I don't mind this as a device, but I think it really hurt the book in this case. Rather than getting me more interested in the story, I found myself flipping through the book, trying to get a grasp on where the events fell in the actual timeline. While the pieces about the Minsky brothers were an interesting counterpoint to Gypsy's story, I don't think they enhanced the story as it was written. Gypsy's story itself is so interesting that more time could have been spent on her narrative. As it was, I felt like the book progressed pretty well until the last 50 pages or so, when the momentum started to tumble. It seemed like there was a rush to fit in everything that still needed to be said, leaving me feeling like I was missing out on things.
I appreciate the author's desire to be vague about some of the incidents that occurred, but in some cases I just ended up feeling confused.
Gypsy was an absolutely fascinating character, and her story is truly amazing. While I appreciate the fresh insight into many events that had never been shared before, I found myself wishing that some things were handled differently.
I'm glad I was able to read this book through goodreads.
125 reviews1 follower
November 26, 2019
I am a big fan of Gypsy Rose Lee and had previously read her own book, "Gypsy", her sister June Havoc's autobiography and one other bio (I can't remember the name). This one was a bit hard to take because it delved into the seamier side of Gypsy's life. Not sure I wanted to know about all that, but given her circumstances and her, IMO, sociopathic mother, I guess it was to be expected. I still admire her. She had real beauty and brains and the strength to overcome odds that would have defeated weaker souls. One little tidbit that still makes me laugh every time I think of it was not about Gypsy, but about Joan Blondell, who was Mike Todd's second wife, Todd being the love of Gypsy's life. When she was told about Mike's death in an airplane crash she said, "I hope the son-0f-a-bitch screamed all the way to the ground!" Yes, I know I am seriously warped but you have to take your entertainment where you find it.
Profile Image for Susan (aka Just My Op).
1,126 reviews57 followers
November 6, 2010
Imagine having your very name, Ellen June, taken away from you and given to your younger sister because it was a prettier name. Gypsy Rose Lee, renamed Rose Louise after her sister was born, learned early in life to try on different identities, to reinvent herself, to hide her true self.

Imagine being that pretty little sister, forced into toe-shoes at 2 ½, years too early, dancing until your feet bled to satisfy your mother's insatiable greed for wealth and glory.

Like many people, I'd heard of the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, but I knew nothing about her life. It was never an easy life, and never quite what she pretended it to be. Her mother was the ultimate bad stage mother, and her daughters were never quite able to recover from being her children, never able to have normal relationships with normal people. Gypsy Rose Lee became less likeable as she continued to invent herself.

This story is more than a biography, it is also a history of vaudeville and burlesque, of the corruption rampant behind the glitter, of some of the major players, especially the Minsky brothers. The story is fascinating.

The writing didn't always work for me. I think the book would have been better if it had been about 100 pages shorter. The author alternated between early and later periods in GRL's life. At first this worked, but then it became too choppy for me, and the story felt disjointed. Some of the writing seemed awkward and ambiguous, perhaps because the history of GRL is ambiguous, difficult to tell truth from fiction.

A great deal of research went into the writing, including interviews with sister June, and the end notes are helpful. There are numerous wonderful photos included, and I loved seeing some of the people and places I was reading about. Anyone interested in Gypsy Rose Lee or her times would find this book interesting despite what I feel are its shortcomings.

I was provided an Advanced Reader's Edition of this book by the publisher for review.
Profile Image for Karyl.
1,691 reviews120 followers
September 19, 2017
I've been reading this book for 4 days, and I'm only 39% of the way through. I rarely give up on a book, but I'm going to have to do just that. There are too many issues with this book for me to continue.

The biggest issue is the structure of the book. One chapter will discuss Gypsy Rose Lee's childhood, being put on the stage from a young age as a bit player in her younger sister's acts. Their mother was overbearing and at times cruel, and saw her children as a way of getting rich. But then the following chapter will jump in time to the 1940s, when Gypsy was an adult. It's really quite difficult to keep track of what's going on in the later chapters, as to why the author is even including these events. I would much preferred a more chronological structure to this book.

I also am having a difficult time of caring about Gypsy Rose Lee to begin with. The chapters about her childhood seem to be more about her mother and her sister than about her, and I feel as though the readers are only getting a superficial view of who this woman is.

What would have worked a lot better for this book, in my opinion, is a prologue of some kind which tells the reader exactly who Gypsy Rose Lee was and who many of the characters are that the author is going to introduce. I feel as though the author drops us into the middle of a story with very little introduction.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,445 reviews105 followers
December 26, 2012
Gypsy Rose Lee was the most famous strip tease artist of all time.....not only because of her act but because she was a personality who also wrote books, was a frequent guest on television, and had her own radio talk show. The successful play (later made into a film) "Gypsy", purported to tell her life story but didn't even come close. As a very young child she was dragged around the country along with her sister Baby June (who became the popular Broadway and Hollywood actress June Havoc) by her mother Rose who was basically a sociopath. Rose was driven to make her children famous on the vaudeville circuit and when things began looking up, vaudeville was made obsolete by film. At that point, Gypsy Rose Lee was born as she turned to burlesque and became a star who was much different from the usual "bump and grind" expected of strippers. The family relationships are dark and disturbing and the life in the world of burlesque is not a pretty one. Mix in gangsters, suspected murders, and arrests for lewd behavior and you haven't even scratched the surface. A fascinating look at the life of a woman whose public persona was a facade which hid a very complicated personality.
Profile Image for Meiran.
53 reviews
April 18, 2012
The only places where this book suffered were where the author seemed to want to play coy or just dodge an outright statement. Sometimes her comments were vague, despite having major impact on the people's lives.


In an early story, the author describes a story where the girls are camping out and their mother hears someone in the campsite, and shoots at them. They then discover it was just a cow, and bury the body before moving on so that the owner will not discover it.

Later in the book, in a throwaway sentence, the author says "the cow that was not really a cow at all."

She moves on so quickly that you have to go back and reread the sentence time and again to be sure she really is saying what you think she is saying.

Otherwise, the story is well told and the author's decision to skip around within the time frame works well to tie in common themes and ideas throughout Gypsy's life. I also enjoyed the attention paid to the Minsky brothers story.
Profile Image for V. Briceland.
Author 5 books64 followers
March 21, 2011
Gypsy Rose Lee's rise to fame rested upon a strip-tease act in which she removed very little and left her audience hanging. Karen Abbott's biography of the forceful personality manages to do very much the same.

Half straightforward biography and half social history of the rise and fall of the American burlesque theater, Abbott uneasily alternates between a historian's documentary approach to her subjects and third-person present-tense narrations of Lee's thoughts and inner turmoils. She further muddies the waters by jumping backward and forward in time, between Lee's successful career after the events narrated in the musical and movie Gypsy, and the actual events that went into the heavily fictionalized and sanitized account of Lee's upbringing. Toss in the alternate narrative of the Minsky brothers and the burlesque stages of New York City, and it's a confusing, if amiable, mess.

What's disappointing about the book is that it promises to expose many of the scandals involving Lee and her domineering, force-of-nature mother. It does not. It hints heavily at murders, mob involvement, and family betrayal, but never makes good on the promise to explain any of them—not well, at any rate. Like Lee's act itself, Abbott teases at the evidence, then backs away, leaving readers uncertain how much (if anything) they might actually have glimpsed.

American Rose is highly readable, but that seems to be more a function of Gypsy Rose Lee's outsized personality than Abbott's leap-frogging narrative. And that's a shame, because instead of a nation or even a strip-tease artist laid bare, I felt like a spectator in the front row of the Minsky's Republic after one of Lee's specialty numbers—highly entertained, but aware that the artist had done little but rearrange the draperies.
Profile Image for Elaine.
312 reviews58 followers
August 28, 2011
What? You whippersnappers don't know vaudeville, burlesque and the greatest stripper of them all? Gypsy
Rose Lee, her movie star sister June Havoc, and their mother from Hell make for a revealing read.

We are taken all over America as Mama puts her little girls to work on the stage wherever she can land gigs. This uncovers the sexual pecadillos of male audiences even in the heartland. Shocking. I was shocked by the bare truth.

The New York scene before and after the Crash opens up for our viewing, including the gallant role of relieving men's depression over the Depression. Night after night Gypsy undressed to make their spirits rise as she recited her own verses to the rhythm of dropping her clothing.

Gangsters, politicians, reformers, and owners of the burlesque theaters are candidly described as is the sex milieu in New York and middle America. As unbelievable as it may seem, Gypsy was not virginal

Rated R for explicit sex. Rated A as a really open book.
Profile Image for Laurie Notaro.
Author 19 books2,054 followers
July 4, 2015
Great narrative, absorbing, quite an entertaining read. The structure was a bit of a jumble, but as long as you pay attention to the date on the chapter heads, it's fine. Abbott's writing is really engaging and sometimes lyrical. I've had this book forever; so glad I finally got to it, even if I was just trying to prove that Japanese tidying up lady wrong about throwing away books that you haven't read. Ghastly thought. Only a demon would say that.
Profile Image for Tracy.
679 reviews16 followers
December 5, 2019
Thank heavens I made it to the end of this book. The information appeased my curiosity about Gypsy Rose Lee. Lots of great information about her, her family, New York city and so much more. But this book is just horrible. Each chapter does a huge time jump. Nothing is chronological and it’s very confusing to read. There are chapters that leave the reader hanging until the time jump returns to that era, but by then the information doesn’t tie together well. Personally, I don’t like the writing style either… this is history, not a mystery and buildup to cliff hangers aren’t needed.

I always Google and watch YouTube videos while I’m reading something factual. It seems there’s not a lot of information readily available about who the true Louise Hovick was, and so maybe that lent to the odd writing style of this book. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like this writing style.

I did enjoy watching her videos and interviews. The first thing that struck me about her was her teeth. Reading about the horrible childhood she had, and the lack of hygiene and healthcare she received, even for the time, explains so much about the pain those teeth brought her. She was someone who endured a lot. But from her TV exposure you would never guess how much pain her life was filled with.

Even though I learned a lot about burlesque and Gypsy Rose Lee, I wouldn’t recommend this book. I’d try to find one better that lays out the information chronologically without the weird writing style.
Profile Image for Pseudonymous d'Elder.
132 reviews9 followers
August 30, 2022
I wasn't naked, I was completely covered by a blue spotlight. —Gypsy Rose Lee

I read American Rose a couple of years ago after my 9-year-old granddaughter was cast as Gypsy’s more talented little sister “Baby June” in a university theater department production of Gypsy. I used Abbott's book as a reference while assembling a “memory book” for my granddaughter that included facts about the real Baby June to accompany photos that were taken during dress rehearsals. American Rose is a fine book for gleaning such intelligence; however, the 3-star rating is certainly justified in terms of general interest--it is interesting but not riveting.

Rose Hovick had a very brief stint as a performer one summer as a teenager, which made her dream about becoming a star. Then she got married and gave birth to Louise and June, which seemed to ruin Rose’s aspirations. But June, who was only 2-years-old and didn’t know any better, made the mistake of precociously displaying some talents of her own. Big mistake, June. Rose had another shot at show biz. First, she got June bit parts in some silent movie comedies. Then she decided to take June into Vaudeville. Louise, who later became Gypsy Rose Lee, was holding her back though, so Rose tried to have a childless relative adopt her and take her off Rose’s hands. As time passed, Louise came to feel like the Cinderella step-daughter, and when June reached her teen years, she deeply resented spending her entire life supporting the rest of the family. These resentments continued throughout their lives. In an interview she gave in 2003 when she was about 90 years old, June said, “My sister was beautiful and clever — and ruthless. My mother was endearing and adorable — and lethal.”

If you are interested in learning more about young June and Louise, you may also want to read June's memoir Early Havoc. You can find short videos of June in a silent movie, June in 1940s Hollywood movies, and older June and Gypsy on TV on Youtube.

As for my granddaughter: (You knew I was going to get back to my granddaughter, right?) Despite weeks of rehearsal and 12 performances, neither she nor the 10-year-old girl who played young Louise (AKA Gypsy) ever got to see Act II of the play. When Baby June and Louise transformed into their teenaged counterparts on stage, the two younger actresses were whisked into a secure facility and were not allowed out until the Mature-Audiences-Only Act II of this version of Gypsy was finished and it was time for their final bows. They probably both still resent it.
Profile Image for Raya Saab.
3 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2018
Overall I enjoyed reading this book and appreciated the way it shifted through time periods to really follow Gyps’s evolvement and growth as a star. I left this book with a deep pity for Gypsy and her childhood upbringing, but also an admiration of her stubbornness and determination to build the persona she wanted. The book touched a bit about the lies, deaths, scandals but it left me wanting to know more. In particular it kept me with a curiosity to know more about the crimes that occurred and how it truly tied to Gypsy. The author, through Gypsy, was able to highlight the change of times and the burlesque industry, weaving in political and economical views of the time which I appreciated.
Profile Image for Beth Ann.
56 reviews38 followers
May 15, 2011
For my GoodReads rating, I would give this book two and a half stars if I could. I enjoyed this book at times, but I did not like how all the material and subjects were presented. When I started reading this book, I did not know a lot about Gypsy Rose Lee. I knew she was a burlesque star and an early twentieth century pop culture phenomenon. I knew she had a difficult stage mother and a famous actress sister. When I was done reading this book, it was like the full house lights came on and revealed every flaw and robbed its star of any magic.

I'm sure it was difficult for the author to take anything Gypsy wrote or was recorded as having said at face value. Gypsy knew how to self-mythologize, and she knew how to present herself to her audience in multiple formats. Her mother Rose Hovick forged documents and told whatever lies were necessary to accomplish her immediate goals. Most of Gypsy's family, peers, and friends have passed on. Two family members figure prominently as sources--her son Erik Preminger and her sister June Havoc.

Abbott interviewed Havoc before she died. The author's first and longest acknowledgement is to Havoc. I wonder if this biased Abbott's portrayal of the sisters? For the majority of the book Havoc comes off better than Gypsy. The former works hard first for her family as a child vaudeville star and then for herself as a marathon dancer before becoming an actress. She's portrayed as squeaky clean, while is shown Gypsy growing up into a more sordid lifestyle that she tried to initiate her cash strapped sister into twice.

I don't buy it. Abbott never tells us how Havoc survived those lean years. The only way to make money as a marathon dancer was to win. Havoc could not have won every dance, so where did she find the money to survive? Hand-outs from Gypsy before she was famous could not have happened. Abbott never provides an answer to us. There's a photo in the book where the two sisters are exiting a building, and while one was blonde and another was brunette, they seem so alike in attitude and presence in that moment that I'm sure whatever stories Gypsy could concoct that June was plenty capable of her making up her own.

I enjoyed the parts of the book when the times and the Minskys were discussed. The era featured a lot of colorful characters, and the Minskys don't disappoint. The four brothers with built more than one burlesque empire. They were there at the beginning and only some survived to see the era end. Paralleling the sisters, they had their own rivalries and business squabbling, but Abbott is lighter in their portrayal, and her prose is less purple in describing their exploits than Gypsy's or Rose's.

Breaking up all the narratives are chapters that alternate time periods. They make the reader a time traveller of sorts. There's the present in Gypsy's life at the time (when she's more of an established success) and then her childhood and earlier start are her past. I'm not sure why Abbott made that choice. I did not find that the chapters resonanted between each other. Nothing compared or contrasted or made something in the previous chapter more illuminated. I would have preferred a more chronological order.

Abbott seems to love displays of powerful femininity. In her author photo, she's dolled up in classic pin-up style, and she's wearing what appears to be a Stop Staring! dress. Maybe the Gypsy that she's portrayed is that Gypsy that was, but all her glamour is stripped by this book. Any third wave sex positive feminists reading this book might end up bummed and less enamoured with taking a burlesque class to emulate past idols, but maybe Abbott has done them a favor and shown them not to romanticize or simplify something so complicated as sexuality, especially when it is commodified. Many of those idols stripped because they had few choices in how to earn a living. It was not a pastime for them.

Profile Image for Melanie Coombes.
529 reviews11 followers
December 24, 2010
American Rose is the story of Gypsy Rose Lee. She hit the vaudeville circuit at an early age and later was to become one of the most famous burlesque striptease artist of her time. The relationship between Gypsy, her sister, June and her mother, Rose was a huge part of this story. We find out early how driven and compulsive their mother was and how her behavior shaped Gypsy's life. Once you start this story, you can't help but hate Rose for how she used and forced her children into showbiz, no matter the cost. This was such a great book. The author does not tell the story chronologically, but goes back and forth between Gypsy Rose Lee's early life in one chapter and then the next chapter takes place decades later towards the middle of her career. So you get to see different fazes of Gypsy's life in each chapter. The author's note does state that a friend described Gypsy as the "most private public figure of her time." So I often wanted to find out more of how Gypsy thought and felt, but I think even her friends and sister never really knew the real Gypsy. However, this was such a fascinating read and I will now want to read Karen Abbott's first book, Sin in the Second City. I won this copy thru the goodreads giveaway program and feel I really got lucky to receive such a great book, packed with so much background info and research.
Profile Image for Donna.
1,483 reviews72 followers
February 28, 2011
I don't mind multi-story narration. I loved The Devil in the White City. But I don't think this author has mastered the form. I wasn't thrilled with her prior book Sin in the Second City for just this reason.

In this story of Gypsy Rose Lee she meshes the biography with the story of the Minsky Brothers and the creation of their burlesque theaters. That in itself would have been OK. But for some reason which I cannot fathom she splits Gypsy's story in two so that there are three narrations going on simultaneously: the Minsky story, the Gypsy 1911-1940 story, and the Gypsy 1940-death story. This means in one chapter Mama Rose dies and in the next Gypsy is having an argument with her. Talk about confusing.

Perhaps if there was some set up as to why she split the Gypsy biog I would have understood this better. The Gypsy story meshed with the Minsky/burlesque story would also have been interesting. But this mish-mash of stories was too confusing.

Despite the above, there were some interesting pieces of the Gypsy story significantly different than her own autobio or the movie. Too bad they were lost in the poor storytelling.

Content 3.5
Compostion 1.0
Profile Image for Girls Gone Reading.
80 reviews40 followers
March 14, 2011
As a child of the 80s, I have never entered a speakeasy, thought about vaudeville, or lived through the Depression. American Rose allowed me to enter into worlds I have never even thought of before. The genius of this book is that these unknown worlds were connected to our own, and I recognized reality stars today in the genesis of Gypsy Rose Lee.

Gypsy was, for me, the first reality star. Selling a history and a talent that were not true, Gypsy reinvented herself and became the most famous woman in America. She lived by the idea that to achieve fame you should “discover what could make you famous, and then proclaim it already has.” Gypsy pretended her way to the top, and I found it fascinating that we have been pretending with our stars ever since.
Gypsy, her family, and the Minsky were characters in the truest sense of the word. They all created personas and never deviated from type.

What made Abbott’s American Rose so unique was that eventually I sympathized with all these cold, self-serving people. I started to like them. I started to root for them. And even now, I am glad I learned about them.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,813 reviews360 followers
May 12, 2017
Really a 3.5 but the audio version bugged me because I had a hard time following the jumps on the time line. There are no warnings or headings.
This was not only a bio on Gypsy but also of June and the history of vaudeville and the rise of burlesque. Very interesting information with a great story line
Rose was an overbearing, delusional general who lived vicariously through her daughters, whom she refused to view as anything but children. She used everyone in her path. And the fact that these girls never brushed their teeth until they were in the double digits was absolutely astounding to me, but it seems that it was an action many viewed as destructive. I had no idea! June was a major moneymaker, but saw zero profits, finally running away from her controlling parent for a more anonymous lifestyle. Enter Gypsy Rose and her tantalizing training, which was still instigated by her mother. She was under that woman's thumb until the day she died. Gypsy's affair with Mike Todd, Sr is deeply decked into; it's just segmented , so it's hard to follow.
I really enjoyed this book. The author wrote from valid sources including an interview with June herself. I recommend
Profile Image for Lisa.
206 reviews2 followers
January 22, 2011
I love the musical Gypsy and I was looking forward to reading about the real person -Gypsy Rose Lee. There are two big problems with the book -- first, the real stories of the lives of Rose, Gypsy (Louise) and June are all pretty sordid affairs -- too full of "I will do anything" antics including murder (according to the author). That sort of thing I expected on some level, what famous person hasn't "done what it takes" to make it in a brutal world, but the writing made it all feel not only sordid, but like you needed to get up and take a shower after reading it. I just didn't like how the author chose to tell the story -- I never felt sympathy for the people, so ultimately I just didn't care about them. My biggest grip however is that the author decided to jump around chronologically and it was absolutely maddening! Hated, hated, hated it -- one chapter was set in the 20's the next in the 50's, then next in the 30's -- exceedingly annoying.
Profile Image for The Library Lady.
3,572 reviews517 followers
November 3, 2014
There is this in the introduction:
"When I occasionally slip inside Gypsy's head, I do so using the most careful consideration of my research and with the tantalizing, agonizing knowledge that there is certainly more to the story."

Having said this, Abbot writes whole chapters as if from Gypsy's point of view and they're as much an illusion as any Gypsy put onto the stage.
She does the same thing for the Minksy Brothers, and there are whole chapters on the Minsky brothers. Is this a bio of Gypsy or a book about burlesque in general? Abbot doesn't seem able to make up her mind.

Add to this the fact that Abbot slides back and forth in time and any chance that this book has a readable rhythm is utterly destroyed. Yes, you "gotta get a gimmick", but there are too many gimmicks here. Gypsy would have told her that less is more, and there's too much too loosely strung together here.
Profile Image for Joy H..
1,342 reviews62 followers
November 8, 2019
Added 10/24/12. (First published January 1st 2010.)
I listened to this audio-book during September 2012.

It was read by Bernadette Dunne who gave a lively presentation.
I found this biography very interesting and entertaining.

The only criticism I have is that was confusing at times because Gyspy was referred to using various names throughout the book, e.g., "Louise", "Gypsy", etc. Also, Gypsy's mother was referred to often and at times I couldn't figure out which person that was because I think she was referred to as "Rose". As you can see, I'm still confused. :) Perhaps if I had read the book instead of listening to the audio-version, things would have been clearer.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books293 followers
October 31, 2010
This is a biography about one of the most famous strip teasers in American history. And I don't mean pole dancing, but burlesque. This is a woman who would remove pins from her outfit one by one and throw them in a nearby tuba and show only one body part at a time. It was stripping before it became "stripping." It was stripping when stripping had a measure of class about it. (I know that sounds funny, but seriously.)

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