Diane Ferbrache's Reviews > American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee

American Rose by Karen Abbott
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's review
Jan 23, 2011

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I grew up watching musical comedies in the theater and on late-night television, and "Gypsy" was one of my favorites. Gypsy Rose Lee was frequent talk show and game show guest when I was a kid. So I was immediately interested in this new biography of the legendary vaudeville/burlesque star.

Gypsy's story is intimately entwined with the story of the US in the early 20th century. She literally grew up on stage amid the economic turmoil of the years between the Wars. Much of the storyline of the Broadway (then movie) musical is true, and many of those stories are retold here, along with the "real" stories. Gypsy was indeed a unique character and her life in show business and her private life was never dull! The author really captures the time period and puts the events of Gypsy's life right in the middle of American life and culture of the times. All the "name" people are here -- the Minsky brothers, Fanny Brice, Flo Ziegfield, Jimmy Walker, Mike Todd, "Lucky" Luciano, and many more including even Carson McCullars. There's a scene recounted in the book that shows Gypsy to be McCullars' muse when writing Member of the Wedding.

I was completely enthralled for about half the book. Abbott switches back and forth in time -- one chapter set in the 20s, the next in the 40s or 70s, etc. There is plenty of history here -- economic, political, and entertainment history. I don't know why my interest waned, but about 1/2 - 2/3 through I really slowed down. There are b/w photos throughout the book, none of which I had seen before and extensive pages of endnotes and references. This is a very well researched book with information coming from multiple sources, including Gypsy's sister, June Havoc, and Gypsy's son, Erik Preminger. Gypsy was a fascinating character and her personality certainly comes through in Abbott's writing. I don't blame my declining interest on the writer so much as that maybe I just wasn't that interested in the first place.

This is a story of the theater, love, heartbreak, and even murder. If you're interested in the history of vaudeville & burlesque, this is the book for you!

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