GYPSY FACT #3: "Baby 'CLAIRE' and Her Newsboys"

GYPSY FACT #3: "Baby 'CLAIRE' and Her Newsboys"
 David Merrick, Producer

David Merrick, Producer

If you thought Madame Rose was a contentious character, then you've never heard tale of Gypsy's producer, the nefarious David Merrick. To put Merrick in perspective, this was a man who so delighted in his own villainy that he had his entire office painted red. It turns out that Merrick actually had little faith in Gypsy; he was betting big on another production in his stable— Destry Rides Again, a western tuner by Harold Rome starring Andy Griffith. (Side Note: If Destry had been a success, Griffith’s schedule would not have allowed him to film “The Andy Griffith Show”, which premiered on television a mere 3 months after Destry shuttered on Broadway.) Frankly, it wasn’t until Gypsy became a runaway smash that Merrick even began to see its potential.

In Merrick’s world, contract negotiation was sport. The first contract actualized for Gypsy was that of conductor Milton Rosenstock. The conductor was an old friend of Merrick’s... but a little thing like friendship never stood in the way of a Merrick deal. The producer offered his "friend" scale (the base minimum allowed by the musician's union). Rosenstock was, rightfully, offended by the offer. He fought back and managed to squeeze another $100 per week from Merrick. Chump change, really, but for Rosenstock it was the principle of the thing.

It wasn't long after the two had reached an agreement that rehearsals began. That agreement, however, had not yet been signed. In fact, not a single contract had. According to Merrick biographer Howard Kissel this was yet another power play by the producer. “By denying his employees contracts Merrick was implying that they served at his pleasure.” But, for the show to continue as written, there was one contract which Merrick did need to get signed— by the real life "Dainty June" aka June Havoc.

Merrick sent Havoc a blanket agreement. It asked her to sign away the rights to her “name, image and anything pertaining to them… in the theater, films and any medium yet to be invented.” In exchange for this, Merrick offered her the whopping sum of one dollar.

Havoc didn’t much care for how she was being represented in the show. The authors had taken too many artistic liberties for her liking and she wouldn’t sign. She detested how the musical adaptation painted her as an insufferable brat without the talent to back up the 'tude. In reality, June was making $1,500 a week at the age of 2 while performing alongside the likes of Fanny Brice and Sophie Tucker; she wasn’t some amateur trying to catch her big break. Meanwhile, her sister Gypsy got off scot-free. “The truth was that everybody loved Gypsy but Gypsy,” Havoc said in her memoirs. “This show cleared up everything. It made the image she dreamed of into a reality. It made her what she always wanted to be— a pathetic little ingenue who made good.” When the show began it’s tryout in Philadelphia, June had not yet consented to her likeness being used. For several performances, her character had to be called “Baby Claire”.

Merrick knew that June would eventually have to concede. And so did June. Despite their combative relationship, she couldn’t keep her sister from this success. Eventually, Havoc sent Merrick a counter-agreement. She stated that she would not allow the show to depict her past the age of 7. Also, they were not allowed to show the sisters as a double act (June worked strictly solo). Both parties countersigned the agreement. And then it was completely ignored.

 June Havoc

June Havoc