Gypsy Rose Lee papers

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Collection Data

Papers documenting the life and career of Gypsy Rose Lee.
Lee, Gypsy Rose, 1914-1970 (Creator)
Havoc, June (Contributor)
Thompson, Rose (Contributor)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1910 - 1970
Library locations
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Shelf locator: *T-Mss 1990-014
Actresses -- United States -- Portraits
Burlesque (Theater)
Costume construction
Fabric swatches
Gardens -- Design
Interior decoration
Motion picture actors and actresses
Music-halls (Variety-theaters, cabarets, etc.)
Television talk shows
Women entertainers
Women television personalities
United Service Organizations (U.S.)
Lee, Gypsy Rose, 1914-1970
Biographical/historical: Gypsy Rose Lee (1914-1970) burlesque star, actress, author and television personality was born Rose Louise Hovick, January 9, 1914 in Seattle, Washington. Her mother Rose Thompson and her father, John Hovick, a reporter, divorced shortly after the birth of their second child June. Rose Thompson was determined to make a stage career for her children. Rose Louise made her stage debut at the age of four in Just Kids, a "kiddy act" with her sister, "Baby June," who later became the actress June Havoc. The act, which changed over the years as the girls aged, toured the vaudeville circuit successfully for several years, but with the decline of vaudeville Rose Louise turned to burlesque. By the 1930s she had transformed herself into Gypsy Rose Lee and was one of the biggest stars in burlesque, known as much for her sophisticated sense of humor as for her artful stripping. Gypsy Rose Lee performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, at Billy Rose's Casino de Paree, and in Mike Todd's The Streets of Paris at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. In 1942 she brought her burlesque act to Broadway in Mike Todd's Star and Garter. Gypsy Rose Lee took to the road again in the late 1940s, touring with the Royal American Shows, playing carnivals throughout the United States and Canada. Gypsy Rose Lee went to Hollywood in the late 1930s and appeared in several films including Stage Door Canteen and Belle of the Yukon. However, it was her work as a writer that achieved more universal acclaim. She contributed articles to American Mercury, Cosmopolitan, Harper's, and New Yorker, in addition to authoring three books. Her mystery, The G-String Murders, published in 1941 was a bestseller. In 1942 she published Mother Finds a Body. Her play The Naked Genius, starring Joan Blondell and directed by George S. Kaufman, was beset by problems, but survived a short run on Broadway in 1943. In 1957 Gypsy Rose Lee recounted the story of her early life in her memoirs, entitled Gypsy. The musical version of her book, also entitled Gypsy, opened on Broadway in 1959, starring Ethel Merman as Gypsy's mother, Rose. The 1962 movie version of Gypsy starred Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose and Natalie Wood as Gypsy. In the 1950s and 1960s Gypsy Rose Lee continued to work on the stage in theater and club performances. She appeared throughout the country in various shows including Auntie Mame, and her own autobiographical presentation, A Curious Evening with Gypsy Rose Lee. From 1965 to 1968 she hosted a television program, The Gypsy Rose Lee Show. She was also a frequent guest on talk and game shows. Gypsy Rose Lee's personal interests were as varied as her professional pursuits. She oversaw the decoration of her homes, both in New York and later in California, including the selection of art with works by Bougereau, de Chirico, de Diego, Ernst, Picasso and Vertes. She was also a painter, gardener, and animal lover. Over the years she had many pets including Chinese crested dogs (which she worked to have recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club), fish, birds and peacocks. Miss Lee was an accomplished knitter, seamstress and quilter. Her needlework was exhibited in several shows including one at the Hallmark Gallery in New York. Gypsy Rose Lee also contributed her time and talents to a variety of causes. She performed for the troops during both World War II and the Vietnam War and participated in the War Bond Drive. She raised money for many charities and animal welfare groups and was actively involved with the Greenwich Village Humane League for many years. Gypsy Rose Lee was married three times: to manufacturer Arnold R. Mizzy in 1937; to actor, producer Alexander Kirkland in 1942; and to artist Julio de Diego in 1948. All three marriages ended in divorce. Her son Erik Lee Kirkland Preminger (father Otto Preminger) was born in 1944. Gypsy Rose Lee died of lung cancer, April 26, 1970 at the age of 56.
Content: The papers in the Gypsy Rose Lee Archive span the years 1910-1970 and document her professional life and some aspects of her family history, as well as the varied interests and pursuits of her private life. Through her work in burlesque, on the stage and in television, Gypsy Rose Lee's papers also reflect many aspects of popular entertainment in America from the 1930s through the 1960s. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, scripts, contracts, financial records, personal papers, photographs, scrapbooks, clippings and ephemera. The largest part of this collection consists of photographs. There are approximately 1100 personal photos, mostly black & white snapshots, spanning the years ca. 1910-1969. Gypsy Rose Lee was an avid amateur photographer and in addition to her personal photographs, the collection contains approximately 900, 35 mm color stereographic slides, many from her European tour in 1951 and South Pacific tour in 1954. The other portion of the photographic series includes images by professional photographers, most are 8x10 in size, with some 11x14 portraits. Span dates range from the 1920s to the late 1960s with many vaudeville and burlesque photos. The correspondence series contains mostly personal correspondence with family members including her mother, grandmother and sister June Havoc. There is some correspondence with Charles Davis referring to the development of their artist colony in Brooklyn in the 1940s. A few intimate notes are included in the collection from Ethel Merman, Rags Ragland and Mike Todd. Personal papers include files relating to Gypsy Rose Lee's interests in pets, decorating, needlework, sewing and gardening. They also include ephemera collected on her trips to Europe and other mementos of her career. Several boxes contain details of her sewing projects, and the decorating and landscaping of her California home. The bulk of Gypsy Rose Lee's professional papers deals with her late 1960s talk show, her writings, and scripts. Included are the original typescripts of her memoir Gypsy and the play The Naked Genius. There are also approximately 300 burlesque scripts dating from the 1930s and 1940s. Also in the collection are unique programs from her vaudeville and burlesque eras. Ironically, there is little material regarding striptease except for some performance photos and nightclub routines.
Content: Photographs were removed from the scrapbooks after microfilming and integrated into Series IX. Photographs
Physical Description
Extent: 28.22 lin. ft. (80 boxes)
Type of Resource
Still image
Notated music
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b13429892
MSS Unit ID: 21402
Archives collections id: archives_collections_21402
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): fc900de0-ab68-0139-488f-0242ac110005
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