Monday, July 2, 2012

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

Published: March 13th, 2012 (Paperback)
American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
By: Karen Abbott
Random House
ISBN-13:  9781400066919

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.


   Gypsy Rose Lee was a stripper, a burlesque dancer during a time that alcohol was outlawed, underground speakeasies were King and flappers ran wild with gangsters.  She was able to distract the public from their weariness and the troubles the Great Depression had brought them.  A great deal of this biography is spent in Gypsy's complex relationships with her mother Rose and her sister June.  This was not my usual read by any stretch of the imagination.  I do love to learn more about history and biographies/memoirs are wonderful things to read if they're well done.  I did feel like the book was far more about the myth of Gypsy Rose Lee than the realities of her.  I enjoyed all of the ancedotes and the detail the author goes into.  I love the time period that was focused on, the Roaring Twenties onward through the wartorn Forties.  I loved the glamour and harshness of Prohibition and the unimaginable way it coexisted with the Great Depression.  It was easy to imagine being taken in by the beauty and mystery of a burlesque dancer and very big personality like Gypsy Rose Lee.  The book relies largely on imformation already in the public consiousness, interviews with Gypsy's sister June that give sometimes vague information, the words of actress June Havoc, and the recollections of her son Erik Preminger.  Who knows if we as curiosity seekers will ever get the truth behind the curtains?  Either way, it was a truly intriguing and fun book to read for one such as myself who had only heard Gypsy's name in passing and didn't really know anything about her.  Maybe not recommendable to true enthusiasts looking for new info, but for new readers who are meeting Gypsy for the first time.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

* I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published in paperback on March 13th, 2012.*

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