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Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee Hardcover – 4 Jun 2009
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Frankel's thoroughness is admirable. (Amy Larocca, London Review of Books.)
Impeccably researched...highly readable. (Emmanuelle Smith, Financial Times)
It's quiet a page turner. (Susan Elkin, Independent on Sunday)
Her's is a fascinating story... admirably revealed in this endlessly fascinating biography of an extraordinary woman and her 40-year career. (Peter Burton, Daily Express)
About the Author
Noralee Frankel is the Assistant Director, Women, Minorities, and Teaching at the American Historical Association. Her books include Freedom's Women: Black Women and Families in Civil War Era Mississippi and Break Those Chains at Last: African Americans, 1860-1880 (OUP, 1996). She lives in the Washington, D.C, area.
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Frankel`s book is, I think, pretty fair to her subject; she admits she found aspects of Gypsy`s character unlikable but on the whole it is warm and gives the reader a good insight into her intellect and sense of humour. Highly recommended for both the casual reader and the fans.
For a different take on Gypsy`s life, you may also like to try Rachel Shteir`s book; a more academic approach but also very worthwhile.
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I was SO disappointed in it (my review of it states why), I then bought and read Frankel's "Stripping Gypsy;" I found Frankel's book FAR superior. As another reviewer has commented, it's a bit like a textbook, filled with facts & footnoted; some will find it a great read for its own sake while, for a few others, it'll be more a source of great information and scholarship. I found it to be both. (And there'll certainly be some who much prefer fast-paced storylines and who'll dislike its slight similarity to a textbook.)
This book gave me the information I sought about Gypsy and more. "Stripping Gypsy" formed a good foundation to go further and read the book by her son, Erik Preminger, "My G-string Mother" (also published as "Gypsy & Me") as well as the two books by June Havoc, "Early Havoc" and "More Havoc." (Of course, you CAN also read Gypsy's memoir, "Gypsy," which was further fable-ized into the Broadway musical, if you want to see how much Gypsy fairy-taled and prettified most of her mother's appalling relation with her and her sister, June Havoc.) AND, the book "February House" shows where and when Gypsy developed the chops to be the author she became.
As a retired marriage & family therapist, I've long been VERY interested in how some traits--both good and bad--get passed through the generations fairly intact while some are modified, some disappear, etc. "Stripping Gypsy" gives most of the facts on this which we see Erik and June experiencing in their own ways (as described in their books).
This biography is a well-researched work that describes her very difficult childhood with a mother who was mentally ill back in the days when there were no child labor laws with which to comply. It explains how GRL got started in show business as the "no-talent" older sibling compared to her sister "Baby June," later known as actress June Haver.
This work details how she got started stripping, how she desperately wanted out of it and into a legitimate theatrical or artistic career, and how her many attempts to legitimatize herself were frequently stymied by money pressures. She continued to reinvent herself under tough conditions in order to stay fresh in the public eye and maintain her standard of living. The early 20th century was tough on women who complied to the standards society impressed upon them but was really touch on women who did not fit the mold of the "housewife, mother-goddess" created in literature, but Gypsy survived and flourished.
Over the decades she reined as the Queen of Burlesque, became a best-selling author, raconteur, acted in films sporadically and more frequently in theatre. At the end of her career she became a TV hostess, which is where I remembered seeing her.
She was a friend to artists, entertainers and musicians and loved living in New York City. She was an advocate for union rights for theatre workers and even survived the McCarthy era of the 50's.
She decided to conceive and raise a child without benefit of marriage in the 40's by the director Otto Preminger, a very daring and conceivably disasterous career move for someone trying to legitimatize her background, but she did it. Her son didn't even know who his father was until he was nearly an adult.
She was a very brave, intelligent lady who survived a dreadful childhood but never harbored the bitterness this type of upbringing could create.
What a gal!
The biography is well written, if a bit maddening at times. For example, she states that when Stephen Sondheim agreed to write lyrics for the musical "Gypsy" he wanted to be assured that Jule Styne write all new music for the show and not use any trunk songs.
That's all well and good and accurate, but then she neglects to mention that Styne pulled out a song from the TV musical "The Ruggles of Red Gap" to use in the musical "Gypsy" (the song in "Gypsy" is "You'll Never Get Away From Me").
Repetitiveness toward the end of the bio tends to bog it down. How many times do we need to know that Gypsy Rose Lee was trying to go beyond the image of 'stripper'.
If you are intrigued by Gypsy's story - I recommend that you read her bio, the book by her son Erik Preminger and above all Early Havoc by June Havoc.
And Oxford - get with the 21st Century and provide photos for your E-Books AND footnotes that link to the exact footnote pages at the end of the book.
Stripping Gypsy is a well researched and written book. Yes, not all the paths that Gypsy Rose Lee took were the best (or the wisest) but no one can ever deny that the woman was a hard worker who took her career quite seriously. A lover of animals and the stage, Gypsy never stinted when it came to her support of either. Her upbringing (so clouded over in the musical Gypsy) is explained and it tells you a lot about what caused the woman to be so frugal with money (and why she worked so long and hard to make it).
Unlike Ms. Frankel (who did a good job by the way), I picked up the book thinking of the tawdry tales of a burlesque queen and walked away admiring the grit and determination that Gypsy had.