Anyone who’s ever seen "Gypsy" can tell you that the curtain ringer for act one packs a hefty punch. Now, in case you missed any of its five Broadway revivals and two film adaptations, here’s how it shakes down: “frumpy” sister Louise shows up at the train station carrying a letter that says her "prettier" sister June, the star of their vaudeville act, has eloped. In a fit, their mother Rose shreds the letter and then sets her sights on the inferior Louise, who will now be their new star. And… intermission!
The audience is sent into the lobby with plenty to murmur about: the revelation of a major plot point (June is gone) and the anticipated focus of act two (Louise becomes a star). Not only that, but they’ve just heard one of the most rousing anthems in musical theatre history (“Everything’s Coming up Roses”). Yet, as exciting as it all is onstage, it doesn’t hold a candle to what actually happened. According to June’s book "Early Havoc", she was almost made a widow on the very night she’d been made a bride:
Rose went to the cops when she learned that her daughter had secretly wed Bobby Reed, one of the chorus boys in their vaudeville act. She pleaded with the lieutenant, “You’re not going to let him abduct my baby, are you?”
After a quick chat with the newlyweds, (they hadn’t actually run off just yet), the lieutenant ruled everything to be on the level. He tried to mollify Rose. “Marriage isn’t the electric chair,” he told her. Then, in a final attempt to make peace, he asked Rose and her new son-in-law to shake hands. Ever the consummate performer, Mr. Reed did as directed. Rose, however, was still in the throes of an embittered stroke of mania. Instead of shaking the young man’s hand as she had been prompted, she pulled a gun!
As June recalls, “Ten inches away from Bobby’s chest, she pulled the trigger— once… twice.” Thankfully, the boy was not harmed. The safety catch was locked and the gun never fired.
Still, the cops tackled Rose. During the skirmish, they were able to wrestle the gun from her hands. But, as the character in the musical so often suggests, nothing can hold her down. According to sources, she managed to overpower the cops. Rose leapt on top of Bobby and began punching, biting, kicking, and scratching him— anything to inflict a modicum of the pain she felt from their betrayal. After the cops had Rose irrevocably restrained, the lieutenant ushered the young couple to safety. He offered June some advice: “Write to your poor mother at once and she will forgive and understand because she loves you so.” Little did he know to what lengths that woman would go to hold a grudge.