GYPSY Fact #4: "Sibling Rivalry"

GYPSY Fact #4: "Sibling Rivalry"
gypsy and june.jpg

The woman we know to be Gypsy Rose Lee, née Rose Louise Hovick, was an invention. The legend of her creation was a yarn her mother had been spinning since the day her child was born. But It was sometime around when “Louise” emerged from her chrysalis as “Gypsy” that the press started poking around, hungry for a dish. Rose and Louise were quick to fetch a spoon. To whet the press’s appetite, Gypsy and her mother served a dash of truth peppered with heaping pile of absolute lies. Even Gypsy's memoirs, upon which the musical was to be based, were largely a work of fiction. In all, they amount to a “Just So Story” that would have made Rudyard Kipling balk.  
 
As Arthur Laurents (the show’s librettist) recalled for a 2001 episode of “Theater Talk”, “Gypsy Rose Lee was allergic to the truth. I tried to find out things from her. She was funny, she was charming, and she was evasive. You just couldn’t get anything out of her. I mean, I asked her where she got her name. She said, ‘Oh, darling, I’ve given so many versions; make up your own— it’ll be better.’”
 
After Gypsy saw an early draft of Laurents’ script, she was downright jealous of his handiwork. “She said, to me [about] the leading man in the musical, Herbie, the agent, ‘I wish I’d thought of Herbie for my autobiography.’ She was dead serious.” 
 
Over the years, Gypsy lovingly borrowed anecdotes from the life of her own sister, June. She told June’s stories of having headlined on the vaudeville circuit to reporters as if they were her own. At the time, it didn’t matter much to June: she didn’t need her own stories because nobody of late had asked. The poor dear had faded into partial (approaching total) obscurity. While her sister Gypsy was sitting in her skivvies atop her throne as the First Lady of Burlesque, June found herself participating in something akin to musical purgatory: the dance marathon, a depression era fad that was part entertainment and part endurance test. (June later authored the play Marathon ’33 based on those experiences. Her play even made it to Broadway in 1963 with June serving as director and Julie Harris in the lead role. Howard Taubman of the New York Times said the show was, “thin in dramatic content,” and, despite raves for Harris, Marathon didn't live up to its title and ironically lasted just over a month on Broadway. Another 1935 novel turned 1969 movie on the same subject "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?" fared much better at the box office.) 
 
But it was in December of 1940 that all of Gypsy’s fabrications had once and for all bested June. It was at that time that June was making a smash as ‘Gladys Bumps’ in the original production of Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey. Reminders of her sister’s fame where everywhere—Pal Joey even happened to include a song that parodied Gypsy titled “Zip”. When June’s performance garnered the attention of the press, Rose told her she would need to author some anecdotal stories of her own. Gypsy had already used hers. June was deservedly furious.
 
An article in the Baltimore Sun titled, “Like Big Sis, June Strips to Conquer” published on October 26, 1941 shines some light on the sister’s ongoing feud:
 
“June doesn’t like to be pointed out as Gypsy Rose Lee’s sister. It isn’t that she wants to hide the fact that she is sister to the strip-teaser. But of her twenty-three years, she has pursued a career of her own successfully for twenty and she doesn’t want to capitalize on her sister’s fame now.”
 
“Once in Chicago she cried for a half hour because a theater marquee billed her as Gypsy Rose’s sister without even mentioning her by name. The manager later changed the lights when he discovered June had an appeal distinctly her own.”

 June Havoc as 'Gladys Bumps' in  PAL JOEY , 1941

June Havoc as 'Gladys Bumps' in PAL JOEY, 1941