Saturday, June 25, 2011

American Rose by Karen Abbott

   American Rose is Karen Abbott's biography of Gypsy Rose Lee - one of the first Burlesque performers in America.  But this book is more than just a biography of one woman and her family.  It chronicles the fall of Vaudeville, which led to the rise of Burlesque in live theatres all over the country around the time of the depression.

   Gypsy Rose Lee spent her childhood touring the country with her mother, Rose, and her sister, June (actress June Havoc).  Traveling was extremely difficult on the girls, as was the long nights of exhausting performances, but Rose would accept nothing less from her daughters - they were her ticket to fame and fortune.  Needless to say, Gypsy (Louise) and June had a very distorted childhood, and their relationships with Rose remained tumultuous.

   Karen Abbott's research for this book is amazing (the bibliography is over 50 pages long, which includes interviews with June and Gypsy's son, Erik).  At times, it reads like a history books, but that does not make the story any less interesting.  If you're someone who admires old Hollywood and the art of Burlesque, then you will definitely enjoy this book. If you don't know much about this time period in performance theatre history, then American Rose is a great place to start.  Gypsy Rose Lee is widely recognized as America's first famous stripteaser (the original Bettie Page or Dita Von Teese) and with this book, Karen Abbott has provided us not only with a history of the art itself, but also of the woman who practically invented it.

Further Reading:

Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper - Gypsy Rose Lee and Eric Preminger
  -Gypsy Rose Lee's autobiography, co-authored by her son, Erik.  These memoirs inspired the musical

The G-String Murders - Gypsy Rose Lee
   - Gypsy Rose Lee's mystery novel