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

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  3,035 Ratings  ·  566 Reviews

America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb
Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Published December 28th 2010 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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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
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 Ramirez
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
Rick F.
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 stor
Carrie Cole
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
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 , 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 th
Feb 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
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
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
V. Briceland
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
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
Raya Saab
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jenny Brown
I was enthusiastic when I started this book, but halfway through I became frustrated with the way that the author didn't go beyond what seemed like a very limited number of sources, many of them repeating the myths that Gypsy Rose Lee created about herself in adulthood.

Very important issues are touched on without virtually no elucidation--most significantly the author's claim that Gypsy's mother murdered two men and a third woman. The author hints at very dark sexual undercurrents beneath the gl
Melanie Coombes
Dec 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Lisa Sheffield
Jan 21, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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 c
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:
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Beth Ann
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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
It was the cover that first caught my eye--the Broadway-style neon lighted "American Rose" and Gypsy Rose Lee's eyes on the cover photograph. She's seducing you, but you know that really, she could care less about you.

I didn't know anything about Gypsy Rose Lee before I read this book. I had a vague idea she had something to do with sex or nudity or maybe the theatre, but no real idea. And although her story is fascinating, I finished the book feeling like I didn't know much more than I did whe
Jan 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: amazon-vine-book
Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister the actress, June Havoc, literally supported their mother, Rose, from the time they were small children. June, especially was dancing as a tiny tot and performing all around the country as Dainty June. The girls and their mother lived out of a car and in old hotel rooms, never having a home or going to school.

Rose was a very difficult person and that her daughters stayed with her as long as they did is amazing. June did leave finally but Gypsy looked after her moth
I would have given this four stars except that I think the story would have been vastly improved by a linear narrative. Plus, the author often detours into cheesy psychiatric evaluations of the characters (not that there isn't plenty of material for that in the person of Mama Rose).

I'm always fascinated by the seedy world of Vaudeville in the "Teens" and '20s and the best parts of the book evoke that era in detail. Although the film version of this story seems to present the known facts of the s
Lydia Presley
Original review posted here

So when I began to read this book I knew absolutely nothing about Gypsy Rose Lee. Silly, naive me, I thought I’d be reading about a Broadway entertainer – maybe the female counterpart to Al Jolson. Oh, how wrong I was.

Gypsy Rose Lee was.. a stripteaser. You’ve seen Burlesque? Yup – Gypsy was part of the earliest. The story of her life is a heart-breaking one, but I’m not really sure just how much of this story is accurate, however. Karen Abbott states in her authors no
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know much about Gypsy Rose Lee going into this book; I think I may have seen the Rosalind Russell/Natalie Wood film version of "Gypsy" sometime in high school. The real reason I picked up this book is because I enjoyed Abbott's first, "Sin in the Second City", as well as being a sucker for cultural history books. For me there were two major problems with this book. The first being that Gypsy Rose Lee is a rather unlikable character. As you make your way through the book you realize that ...more
On Point
Listen to the steamy convo with Karen Abbott on her "American Rose" here:

“If Lady Gaga and Dorothy Parker had a secret love child it would have been Gypsy Rose Lee,” says Karen Abbott, author of the new book, American Rose – A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. “The woman knew how to make a dramatic entrance. She would arrive at opening nights at the Met wearing a full length cape made entirely of orchids.”

Gypsy Rose Lee was hitting vaudeville stages ac
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Karen Abbott's latest book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause. The new book will be published by HarperCollins on September 2, 2014. Abbott's previous books, Sin in the Second City and American Rose, were both New York Times bestsellers. Abbott is a featured contributor to Smithsonian mag ...more
More about Karen Abbott...

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“Mother was,' June thought, 'a beautiful little ornament that was damaged.' Her broken edges cut her daughters in ways both emotional and physical, and only sharpened with age.” 6 likes
“Her mother was by turns tender and pathetic and terrifying, broken in a way that no one, in that time or place, had any idea how to fix.” 4 likes
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