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

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  5,876 ratings  ·  636 reviews
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 we
Hardcover, 353 pages
Published December 28th 2010 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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 ·  5,876 ratings  ·  636 reviews

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Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 an
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 spa
Rachel Aranda
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 work ...more
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir-biography
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
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 st
Rick-Founder JM CM BOOK CLUB
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
Carrie Cole
Dec 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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 sto ...more
robin friedman
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Susan (aka Just My Op)
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 t
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 w ...more
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
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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 ...more
Feb 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed
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
V. Briceland
Mar 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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 m
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebooks
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
Laurie Notaro
Jul 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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 st ...more
Raya Saab
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bound-book
Gypsy Rose Lee, story of a different but sad life.
Beth Ann
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, arc, burlesque
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 reveal ...more
Melanie Coombes
Dec 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 m ...more
Girls Gone Reading
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
BAM Endlessly Booked
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 g
Lisa Sheffield
Jan 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
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 sord ...more
Joy H.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tara Chevrestt
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.)

To read full review, click the link below:
Dec 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Excellent book and bibliography. Would have given it five stars except I found the non-linear storytelling difficult to follow in a biography.
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
The flipping of time frames was a bit confusing. A bit more graphic than I was prepared for but necessary to the book. I liked it.
Carl Rollyson
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it
There is perhaps no better introduction to Gypsy Rose Lee than the epigraph to "American Rose," Karen Abbott's new bio graphy: "May your bare ass always be shining." These good wishes, sent to the First Lady of the Striptease by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1959, suggest the magnitude of Lee's celebrity at that time. Through her stage perform ances, books and the musical "Gypsy" (based on her life story), she became not only a legendary show- business figure but part of the American my ...more
Helen Robare
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I didn't know much about Gypsy Rose Lee which is why I purchased this book. I wish I could say I loved it but I can't. It was quite confusing with the chapters going back and forth to Gypsy's childhood then adulthood with no rhyme or reason. At times I didn't know if I was reading a book about June Havoc, mother Rose or Gypsy. It was also hard for me to figure out in the beginning that it wasn't Gypsy's life I was reading about but her sister, June. You would think in a biography about an indivi ...more
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