GYPSY FACT #2: "The Scandal at Witchwood Manor"

GYPSY FACT #2: "The Scandal at Witchwood Manor"
 Rose Thompson Hovick

Rose Thompson Hovick

By the end of the show, Gypsy Rose Lee has become Gypsy Rose Lee— a luminary, just as her mother always intended. Yet, despite her daughter’s newfound star status, Rose can’t stop her meddling. In a final attempt to get Momma out of her hair, Gypsy offers to buy her mother a school—  a place where she can live out the rest of her days peacefully teaching acting to children. This is purely an invention of the musical; the real retirement of Rose Hovick was far less run-of-the-mill! Rather than becoming a marm, she became a madame at a brothel and boarding house for lesbians.  

Daughter June Havoc’s second biography More Havoc, published in 1980, claims her mother once told her, “Sex is dirty because men are dirty.” And regarding her mother’s lesbian tenants: “Don’t you dare feel superior to those girls. At least they have the good sense to know they can’t get pregnant with spit!”

One of Rose’s sapphic soirees led to a scandal that made headlines, only this time Rose fought to keep her name out of the papers. On June 1, 1937, a young female art student with blonde hair, a slight frame, and “pouty rosebud lips” was found dead at Gypsy Rose Lee’s summer home, Witchwood Manor. The girl’s name was Genevieve Augustin. She had been living at the home for several months, mostly spending her days painting and looking after Rose. One day after Ms. Augustin had returned from a hike, Rose discovered the girl’s body locked in her bedroom. According to Karen Abbot’s sensational book American Rose, “She was wearing a white, short-sleeved blouse, black shorts, and thick cotton socks. Somehow, she managed to point a rifle at her temple and pull the trigger. She landed on her back, her right leg folded under her in a limp rag-doll pose. Blood soaked the carpet and spread as far as the door, but not one splatter marred the walls. She left no note.”

According to some sources, Gypsy Rose Lee was not on the premises at the time of the girls demise. Yet, according to others, not only was Gypsy there-- she was the cause! Rumors continue to swirl to this day that the reason for Ginny Augustin’s death was that she made the fatal mistake of taking a pass at Gypsy, which pushed a jealous Rose to seek a lover’s revenge.

It's astonishing to believe that a grand jury upheld the coroner’s ruling that the girl committed suicide. According to Karen Abbott, “Rose followed Ginny into her bedroom and shot her, once, in the head. She burned the girl’s diary, full of what she called ‘crazy lies’ that could hurt Gypsy’s Hollywood career, and conceited her story.”

Abbott goes further to report her findings in correspondence from Rose to her daughter June:  “I didn’t do a thing,” Rose confided, and then went on to contradict the coroner’s report that the girl was shot through the temple. “She took the shotgun out of my hand, put the nozzle in her mouth, stepped on the trigger, and pow! I didn’t actually offer the gun, don’t you see? I just had it, that all… she was deceitful and— and bad. With your sister trying so hard to be a Hollywood star, and that fool girl blowing the whole top of her head off… I’ve never been able to stomach a poor loser. I never told her she was moving in with me. Why would I clutter up my life with a wild tramp like that? I’m tired of getting into other people’s muck-ups, just because I know what loneliness is… Abandoned, ignored. Sometimes I think I’d be better off dead, too. I told her that, I did. I said, ‘Why not just check out if you’re that unhappy?’ And there was the gun, and— well, I think she knew what she was doing.”