• Justine McLellan

Gypsy Rose Lee, the Comedic Stripper

“It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it- stripping… or just breathing. Do it with an air, and never admit you’re scared.”-Gypsy Rose Lee

Gypsy Rose Lee, née Rose Louise Hovic, was born in the early 1900’s. She and her sister performed in vaudeville acts from a very early age, and in order to evade child labor laws, their mother Rose, forged their birth certificates. As a result, the sisters spent most of their childhood unsure of their actual age. When she was a toddler, June was advertised as the “tiniest toe dancer in the world”, and was generally considered more talented than her sister. 

In order to escape the pressure exerted by her mother, June eloped at 15 with a dancer in her act. Together, the two pursued a career in marathon dancing, which at the time was more lucrative than the declining art of vaudeville.

After June left, it became Gypsy’s responsibility to earn money for the family. As she was a rather lackluster singer and dancer, Gypsy turned to Burlesque. Her act became legendary; she innovated the craft of strip-tease, combining slow movements with witty commentary. She became so famous that a poll once hailed her as more popular than Eleanor Roosevelt. It is rumored that the first lady once sent her a telegraph stating “'May your bare ass always be shining”. During world war II, she was selected as the “sweetheart” of ten different regiments. An article in Life magazine claimed that "the only person in the world with a public body and a private mind both equally exciting." 

She was a supporter of the popular front movement during the Spanish Civil War, attended Communist meetings, and spoke in support of New York laborers’ unions. 

Gypsy wrote a memoir, which was adapted into a musical by Stephen Sondheim, which in turn was adapted for the screen in 1962. 

She died of lung cancer at the age of 59. 


"Gypsy Rose Lee, A Memoir" By Gypsy Rose Lee

©2019 by Kaytlin Bailey and Justine McLellan.