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I hadn't thought much about Gypsy Rose Lee or my 1962 lunch date until I went through the newspaper clippings I had saved of most of the stories I wrote while I was a feature writer for the Akron Beacon Journal and the Providence Journal. The Gypsy Rose Lee story was passed over when I created the "Name Dropping" section of this website.

In retirement, I had gained a greater appreciation of entertainers I had enjoyed in my youth, and regretted that I had not taken better advantage of my interviews with such people as Dana Andrews, Robert Ryan and especially Jack Carson, who, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, has become one of my all-time favorite actors.

But Gypsy Rose Lee? Her fame remained a bit of a mystery. To me, she was to stripping what Virginia O'Brien was to singing, although I've always felt Miss O'Brien deserved to be much more highly regarded, both as a singer and as a comedienne.

However, when I set out to assemble some information about Gypsy Rose Lee that should have been included in my 1962 story, I was amazed at how many interesting stories I found online, a resource I wish had been available 57 years ago, stories not only about the woman who was born Rose Louise Hovick . . . or Louise Rose Hovick . . . or Ellen June Hovick (take your pick), but her sister (who became June Havoc) and her mother, Rose, made infamous in the musical, "Gypsy."

Trouble is, the information you'll find — should you decide to look — is often contradictory, and the differences are sometimes amazing. So let's review the situation, keeping in mind the contradictions from various sources raises serious doubts about much of what I'm about to write

 

All three women — Gypsy Rose Lee, June Havoc and their mother — had more birthdates than Zsa Zsa Gabor. The mother, Rose Thompson (I've seen her middle name as Evangeline and as Elizabeth) was born in Wahpeton, North Dakota in (a) 1890; (b) 1892; (c) 1895; (d) 1898 or (e) 1900.

Given the various accounts of her marriage — probably in May or June of 1910 — to Norway native John Olaf "Jack" Hovick, the correct answer to the question of her birth year is likely (b) or (c). Several sources say Rose, pregnant at the time, was 15 years old. Carolyn Quinn, the woman's biographer, thinks she was older, and favors 1892 at the correct birthyear.

After much research (by other people, certainly not by me), the consensus seems to be that Gypsy Rose Lee was born in Seattle on January 8 1911. Rose Louise Hovick is usually listed as her birth name, but I have seen it listed as Louise Rose, which, frankly, makes more sense, because she was called Louise while she was growing up, and if her mother didn't want to have two Roses in the family, then why would she have put that as the child's first name on the birth certificate?

The answer to that question, insist several people, is that she didn't. This group claims the name on the birth certificate was Ellen June Hovick. Funny thing, this group says that's the same name that appears on the birth certificate of the second daughter.

Before we get to the child who grew up to become June Havoc, this note: Rose and Jack Hovick divorced soon after that child was born. My guess: 1915. Rose married her second husband, traveling salesman Judson Brennerman, in Seattle on May 26, 1916. They were divorced a year later. This is according to Carolyn Quinn.

Which brings us to June Havoc, who, as anyone who has seen "Gypsy" knows, was a child performer known as "Baby June," then more famously as "Dainty June." Because she and — a few years later — sister Louise were working full-time, their mother found it advisable to forge several birth certificates to get around child labor laws on the one hand, and to take advantage of children's train fares on the other.

There was more reason to keep Ellen June Evangeline Hovick (her full name) young than there was to do the same for Louise. The girls actually were born only 22 months apart, Ellen June in Vancouver, Canada, on November 6, 1912.

While I don't for a minute believe the girl was really confused about her real age, people who've written about June Havoc say she went through her adult life thinking she was three years younger than she actually was. Gypsy Rose Lee did the same thing. So maybe there's truth to that theory that if you repeat a lie often enough, you'll eventually convince yourself it is true.

On the other hand both women, as adults, had reason to shave their ages, because both attempted to become movie stars when they were significantly older than the average film hopeful.

Gypsy Rose Lee had to know her real age because she began stripping at 18. And I'm sure this was one time her mother used the real birth certificate, if asked. Or one that said her daughter was even older.

Yet, in the late 1930s, after a failed attempt in films, she seemed to have celebrated her 28th birthday four years in a row, not turning 29 until 1943.

For years June Havoc enjoyed telling people she eloped at the age of 13, when, in truth, she made the attempt soon after her 16th birthday. After a delayed start, she made her first film as June Havoc in 1942 — she'd appeared in some Harold Lloyd shorts as June Hovick in 1918. Because people in Hollywood, and those who wrote about movies, had forgotten all about "Baby June" and "Dainty June," Havoc was able to claim — unchallenged — that she was born in 1918.

Had imdb.com (international movie datebase) been available in 1942, Sidney Skolsky probably wouldn't have written his New York Post article claiming June Havoc was born in Seattle (wrong city) on November 8, 1918, because that would have meant she made at least two silent films while she was still in her mother's womb.

Skolsky wasn't alone. A 1941 article in the short-lived New York City tabloid, PM Daily, also shaved six years of Miss Havoc's age in a piece about her success on Broadway in "Pal Joey."

 

The short answer: No. Not legally,, anyway. However, author Karen Abbott, who, I'm sure, did a ton of research on her subject (Gypsy Rose Lee) concludes that her mother got away with murder in the death of a woman in 1937.

This death occurred at Gypsy Rose Lee's country home in Highland Mills, New York, on an estate known as Witchwood Manor, a piece of property recently owned by actor Victor Garber, who's had it on the market for about three years. (Asking price: $1.6 million.)

Like many of the things written about the Hovicks, Witchwood Manor is often misrepresented. It belonged to Gypsy Rose Lee; her mother often stayed there, but after the incident I'm about the describe, daughter Rose ordered her mother to find her own place. Eventually Rose would wind up with two homes — one in Manhattan, the other about 30 minutes from Highland Mills in a town called Valley Cottage, near Nyack.

Gypsy Rose Lee spent most of 1937 in Hollywood as a contract player for 20th Century Fox studios. Her boss, Darryl F. Zanuck, was pressured to drop her from his studio roster because certain organizations felt it wasn't right to allow a stripper make movies. Apparently, they were afraid she'd perform her act on screen. Zanuck solved the problem by forcing the would-be actress to revert to the name she had carried as a child — Louise Hovick.

Meanwhile, back at Witchwood Manor, Rose had temporarily established herself as the chief tenant. After her second marriage, Rose Hovick showed a decided preference for women, though she continued to have an occasional male lover. Staying at Witchwood Manor with Rose in May, 1937, was 29-year-old Genevieve Augustin, who had been an art teacher at a New York City high school.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Rose Hovick hosted a party for several of her daughter's friends, most of them New York City showgirls. How many of them were still at Witchwood Manor on Tuesday, June 1, I do not know. But late that afternoon, according to Rose Hovick, she discovered the body of Miss Augustin in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It appeared to Mrs. Hovick as though her house guest had committed suicide with a .22 caliber rifle.

State police and the county coroner agreed with this theory, and the official ruling was suicide. Genevieve Augustin's father arrived to transport his daughter's body to her hometown, Kenosha, Wisconsin. He did not dispute the coroner's ruling. However, his wife did not accept it, and she insisted that her daughter's death be investigated further.

The case eventually went before an Orange County (NY) grand jury in November. No indictment was returned against Rose Hovick, and the suicide ruling remained in place.

I've read several stories about the incident, and could find no statement from anyone that indicates Gypsy Rose Lee/Louise Hovick was at Witchwood Manor at the time.

Karen Abbott disputes this, apparently because of a statement from Georgia Southern, a friend of Gypsy Rose Lee, who, Ms. Abbott claims, testified that the stripper/actresss was, in fact, at her New York estate on the day the art teacher was killed.

Abbott claims Rose Hovick was the murderer, her motive being either jealousy or a desire to protect her daughter from scandal. The jealousy, says Ms. Abbott, flared up when Genevieve Augustin flirted with Gypsy Rose Lee.

Carolyn Quinn, who did at least as much research on her subject (Rose Thompson Hovick, the mother in question), says there's no evidence (1) that Rose Hovick and Genevieve Augustin were lovers and (2) that Miss Lee was anywhere near Highland Mills.

To me, it's common sense to support Ms. Quinn's conclusion. For Gypsy Rose Lee to leave California for a visit to New York State at that point in her career makes no sense. She would do so later in the year, but for an entirely different reason, and with her studio's blessing.

Abbott, in quoting Rose Hovick's letter to her other daughter, June Havoc, refers to the weapon as a shotgun. It actually was a .22 rifle.

In my mind, the only thing that supports the theory that someone other than the victim pulled the trigger is the difficulty involved in committing a suicide with a rifle. However, it has been done many times.

Unfortunately, Ms. Abbott's story has caught on, and you can find several websites that say Genevieve Abbott was shot and killed by Rose Hovick because the young woman made a pass at Gypsy Rose Lee, a difficult thing to do when the object of your pass is 3,000 miles away.

And while the following is not the definitive word on the subject, I yield to the local newspaper that reported the shooting incident this way:

Monroe (NY) Gazette, June 3, 1937
Miss Genevieve H. Augustin, of 1805 54th Street, New York City, teacher in the Textile High School in New York City, committed suicide about 5:30 o'clock Tuesday afternoon by shooting herself in the left temple. The act was committed in Highland Mills, where Miss Augustin had been staying for several months in the home of Mrs. Rose Louise Hovick, mother of the celebrated dancer, Gypsy Rose Lee, who is now in Hollywood.

Despondency over ill health and the fact that her contract as teacher had not been renewed by the Textile High School is believed responsible for the suicide. Miss Augustin had made a previous attempt to kill herself about two months ago.

The deceased was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin,, 29 years ago and was the oldest of fifteen children. She was a graduate of Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.

The body was taken to the undertaking parlors of Edmund Seaman and will be sent to Kenosha. Miss Augustin's father is on his way to New York to accompany it.

Officials who investigated were Coroner Edward B. Garrison of Monroe; Dr. Frank M. Ballard, Woodbury township health officer, and Corporal John J. Koellsted, troopers W. J. Prange, E. W. Jarvis and Joseph Sayers of the state police.

 
 

That, too, is a murky area, though Karen Abbot (again), in her book, "American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee," makes a case that in the 1920s, Rose Hovick pushed a man out of a hotel window. Apparently, this man, the hotel manager (or an employee of some sort) was menacing Rose or perhaps "Dainty June."

The man fell to his death, and Rose Hovick pleaded self-defense, and was not charged. The man's death might well have been accidental, especially if the struggle occurred near an open window. (If only the hotel had been air conditioned.)

Ms. Abbott describes one other incident that shows Rose Hovick was capable of pulling a trigger. In December, 1928, soon after her meal ticket, "Dainty June," turned 16, the teenager wanted to elope with one of her dancers, Bobby Reed (real name Weldon Hyde). Rose had the young man arrested. When police brought him to the station, Mrs. Hovick was waiting — with a gun. She pointed it at Reed and tried to shoot him, but the safety was on. Police grabbed the gun before she could attempt another shot.

However, police could not restrain Rose Hovick, and she attacked the young man (who was probably 22) and managed to scratch him a few times.

So it says in Karen Abbott's book, and so I've read in a few online stories.

 
I found a few reviews. The big surprise is what some reviewers had to say about her older sister, Louise.

Duluth (MN) Herald, September 18, 1922
Winsome childhood always has an appeal for theatergoers, and when to winsomeness is added real talent, success is certain. Dainty June and company, offering a special feature at the New Garrick, are due for a triumphant stay in Duluth.

Dainty June, a tiny tot well named, not only has a pretty face and figure, but an excellent singing voice, toes that seem to dance of their own accord and a stage presence as well as dramatic ability that seem almost uncanny for one so young. Her "vamp widow" number if a gem, with her black gown and hat setting off her blonde curls and her surprising adventures in the audience getting some good laughs. Her Russian dance and her toe dancing also brought gasps of surprise.

Louise Hovick, Dainty June's older sister, proved herself a splendid character actress. One of her best numbers was a Scandinavian singing impersonation.

Hornell (NY) Evening Tribune Times, December 26, 1922
If you have not seen the bill at the Majestic this week, but all means don't miss it! And if you have only thirty minutes to spare away from your cares and worry, spend those thirty minutes with Dainty June and her Co-Stars. It has been many a moon since Hornell has been so thrilled as the fortunate ones who could gain admission into the Majestic Theater yesterday and witness the incomparable performance of the "Hollywood Lassie" and her equally versatile character sister, Rose Louise, the "Doll Girl," and Master Laddie Kenneth, "King of the Ballad Songsters."

Three and a half years ago in Hollywood, under Cecille De Mille, premiere producer of stars and feature pictures, has wrought in Dainty June that finished technique in acting that a multitude of adult stars might keenly envy. A mass of pretty blonde hair, lustrous big blue eyes, a gripping smile and a highly trained clear voice, distinguishable to the very last row — those are accomplishment of Dainty June.

Variety, March 12, 1924
June Hovick, a little miss for whom the word "dainty" might well have been coined, was formerly in pictures as "Baby June," working under DeMille, and then went into vaudeville, playing the Pantages circuit,, as "Baby June and Her Pals."

She is now on the Orpheum circuit and is to be known in the future as "Dainty June" (Hovick), and there is a possibility of confusion, as it is reported that the Pantages circuit is using or is to play another act and call it "Baby June."

Dainty June is a miniature-sized favorite of screen and stage and these points provide capital advertising, while her performance is calculated to please and to estbablish her in favor with youngsters. Dainty June opens as a pal of a quartet of newsboys, follows with a crinoline number and a toe dance (special full stage set of a country home); third, with one of the boys in a jazz number, in which she wears a striking rhinestone costume; four, a rube girl (special comedy drop); fifth, an Irish number; sixth; an Italian number, and last, a Bowery number.

It is difficult to pick out a favorite number; she is versatility itself. Certainly, she has never been equalled by a youngster of her age and size.

The company includes lads who sing and dance and Rose Louise, a sisster of Dainty June.

 

While two review mention "Baby June" worked for Cecil DeMille, the only two films listed on imdb.com for the girl are Harold Lloyd shorts made in 1918 — "On the Jump" and "Hey There" — both produced by Hal Roach. The girl was five years old at the time.

Those two shorts seem to be the extent of her film experience before she began a vaudeville star. Most likely anyone who mentioned that "Baby June" appeared in DeMille movies simply believed another lie told by her mother

 

Perhaps that Hornell and Duluth were desperate for entertainment, though Variety certainly was elaborate in its praise, and all three reviews suggest Rose Hovick handled her better than you might expect from the stage mother portrayed in "Gypsy," though at that point the act was managed by a vaudeville veteran, Murray Gordon, reportedly also Rose Hovick's lover at the time.

Overall, "Dainty June's" act was well produced, showcasing her talent well. Had she come along 15 years later; she might have outperformed Shirley Temple.

 

Yes, but those who have said so online may be misrepresenting the reason, implying things about Gypsy Rose Lee that simply weren't true.

There is a simple reason for the pressure put on her — as Louise Hovick — to have a wedding ceremony.

That's because she was dating Arthur Robert "Bob" Mizzy, who manufactured dental equipment in Connecticut. While Mizzy was in Calfiornia in August,, 1937, he and Louise Hovick, accompanied by her father and a friend, David Albers, went to dinner in San Pedro, an oceanfront section of Los Angeles. Perhaps fueled by alcohol, or simply being silly, the couple arranged to ride in a water taxi, and convinced the skipper to marry them at sea. The skipper went along with it, though he was not authorized to perform weddings.

Afterward, the couple announced they were married. Darryl F. Zanuck, of 20th Century Fox, was not amused, and told her to make the marriage legal, which the couple did a few days later at a wedding chapel in Santa Ana.

All this took place 10 weeks afterr the shooting at Gypsy Rose Lee's country home in Highland Mills. I believe some people are suggesting the studio wanted her married to squelch rumors that she was lesbian. Hollywood would handle a star-related murder, but rumors of homosexual affairs scared them. At least, that's one theory. I don't buy it.

Another theory is the studio wanted Louise Hovick married to make her more respectable, and remove her further from being identified as Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous burlesque attraction. Lest anyone think she was the most notorious stripper in the country, I counter with two words: Sally Rand, who occasionally appeared in films without having to change her name.

Finally, maybe Darryl F. Zanuck just wanted to call his new actress "Mrs. Mizzy." I joke about that because if any studio boss set out to arrange a marriage for one of his stars, it was unlikely, I think, that the designated husband would be a 24-year-old manufacturer of dental equipment who lived on the other side of the country.

One other thing, Gypsy Rose Lee and Mizzy had been seeing each other for at least a year. They began dating before she left New York City when she was in her second Ziegfeld show.

 

Both Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister were animal lovers. When I met her, Gypsy Rose Lee told me she owned three Chinese crested (hairless) dogs, two Siamese cats and more goldfish than most aquariums. “I have a dark goldfish I named ‘Sammy Davis Jr.’ and a very light one. Naturally, I call that one ‘May Britt.’ "

Over the years she owned several breeds of dogs, and when she got married the first time — that is, the legal weddding, not the one on the water taxi — her pet dachshund was standing by.

Also standing by was the 28-foot trailer in which Mr. and Mrs. Bob Mizzy would take their honeymoon, which could have been the inspiration for the 1964 Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz film, "The Long, Long Trailer." However, they couldn't leave until her dachshund gave birth to five puppies, all of which joined the couple on their cross-country honeymoon which ended at her estate in Highland Mills, NY. Also accompanying the couple was Rose Hovick, at least as far as Dallas, where she spent a night in a hotel room, then presumably completed the trip east on a train.

It's a surprise Gypsy Rose Lee tolerated her mother's presence that far, because the two of them, frequently at odds, had a falling out over the incident at Witchwood Manor on June 1, and Miss Lee (now Mrs Mizzy) ordered her mother to find another place to live.

In any event, even a trailer filled with dachshunds must have annoyed the groom. The Mizzys' marriage didn't go well, and it was over many months before their divorce became final in 1941.

Meanwhile, Louise Hovick had made little imprsession on moviegoers, and on October 21, 1938, after her fifth film, she resumed being Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque star, and also took up writing. Within a few years she was a published author, a playwright and a featured performer in a hit Broadway revue, "Star and Garter." Her play, "The Naked Genius," produced by Mike Todd, and starring Joan Blondell, opened on Broadway in October, 1943, and closed a month later, but in 1945 it was turned into a movie, "Doll Face," starring Vivian Blaine. By then, her sister, June Havoc, had been a hit on Broadway in "Pall Joey," and in 1942 launched her film career.

Also in 1942, Gypsy Rose Lee was married for the second time. Again, animals played a role.

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 31, 1942
HIGHLAND MILLS, N. Y., Aug. 21 (UP) — Gypsy Rose Lee, queen of the strip tease who is now an established Broadway actress and novelist, and Alexander Kirkland, actor and producer, were married early today at the bride's 12-room country house before a group of theatrical ad literary well-wishers, while an anmial act cooled its heels outside.

The ceremony did not come off quite on schedule, but it was near enough to satisfy every one. It was to have started at midnight because Miss Lee said Kirkland's horoscope indicated that to be a propitious time, but the event did not occur until 15 minutes after the house.

The ceremony was performed by Rev. Arthur Lazell, a Highland Mills clergyman The bridge wore a black dress, with hose and shoes to match, and had some grapes (real) entwined in her hair.

Miss Lee was so nervous during the cermoney, which was punctuated by the weeping of Georgia Southern, also a strip tease graduate from burlesque, that she "went up" in her lines and shed a tear or two herself.

"What a time to sluff my lines," remarked Miss Lee when it was all over.

The marriage effected a reconciliation between Miss Lee and her mother, Mrs. Rose Thompson, who has been at odds with her daughter since Miss Lee's first marriage to Robert Mizzy, which ended in divorce. Mrs. Thompson also was celebrating her birthday, she said,

Among the wedding guests was Gil Maison, who has an animal act in the musical revue "Star and Garter," in which Miss Lee is featured. He brought his four dogs, a chimpanzee and a monkey along, but there were so boisterous that it was necessary to park them outside — along with a monkey owned by the bride.

The newlyweds left for New York City after the ceremony. There will be no honeymoon for the time being, as both are playing in current productions on Broadway. Kirkland has a leading role in the comedy, "Junior Miss."

From ceremony to divorce, this marriage was even shorter than the first, legally ending two years later.

There were no animals present at her third wedding, which took place at the New York City municipal building when she wed Spanish artist Julio de Diego on March 19, 1948. That marriage also was rocky, but the couple didn't divorce until 1955.

 

While I'm sure the books about the Hovick women — those written by Carolyn Quinn, Karen Abbott, Eric Lee Preminger (Gypsy Rose Lee's son; more on him later) and June Havoc — provide answers to this question, I believe much confusion has been created by people who have mentioned those sources in online articles that make it appear that Rose Hovick lived and raised chickens on Witchwood Manor, the large estate Gypsy Rose Lee owned for several years before selling it in 1945.

Rose Hovick liked living at least some of the year in Highland Mills, and she did so nearby Witchwood Manor after her older daughter evicted her from the estate. Later she had a place closer to the Hudson River in a town called Valley Cottage. She also had a place on West End Avenue in Manhattan where she was the landlady of what often is described as a brothel for lesbians.

Monroe (NY) Gazette, [Thursday] September 30, 1943
Mrs. Anna [cq] Thompson, 44 years old, mother of Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc, was seriously injured Monday in an automobile accident in New York City. Mrs. Thompson is known to many in Highland Mills as she spent some time at the country home of her daughter near here.

Mrs. Thompson’s car, driven by Patricia Donovan, 24, crashed into a concrete upright under the West Side Highway at Barclay Street, New York City, shortly after one o’clock Monday morning.

Miss Donovan, who suffered lacerations of the chin and contusions of the face, gave her own and Mrs. Thompson’s address as Ridge Road, Valley Cottage, N. Y. Mrs. Thompson’s injuries were listed as a possible fracture of the skull, fractured nose, fractured left arm and contusions of the face.

This news item hints at a lesbian relationship between driver and passenger, I suppose. It also indicates Anna Thompson (aka Rose Thompson Hovick) subtracted at least four years from her age and was using her mother's first name.

Incidentally, Rose Hovick was not known as Mama Rose, or Momma (as "Psych's" Shawn Spencer would say, I've seen it both ways). She called herself Madame Rose Hovick; I found newspaper ads from 1921 that list "Mme. Rose Hovick's Spectacular Revue" playing at Grauman's Theater in Los Angeles. Star of the show, of course, was "Dainty June."

Some websites say Rose Thompson was Jewish. She wasn't. Neither was Gypsy Rose Lee's father, Jack Hovick, who was born in Norway. Whether Rose considered herself a member of any church later on, I don't know, but she was raised Catholic, and for several years one of her best friends was a priest.

It is now widely believed Rose was lesbian, but I'm not sure you can classify her sexual preference, since she was married at least twice (possibly four times), and reportedly had several lovers, both men and women.

Rose married her second husband, traveling salesman Judson Brennerman, in Seattle on May 26, 1916. They were divorced a year later.

 

June Havoc seemed to think so. According to a March 1, 2003 Vanity Fair article by Laura Jacobs, "If my sister had shown any prospects as a moneymaker,” June Havoc explains today, at 89, “I would never have been born. Because mother wouldn't have needed another child, and wouldn't have been with her husband to have another child.”

That's a catchy, provocative quote, but it doesn't wash. Her first daughter was only 13 months old when Rose Hovick became pregnant with her second. I doubt if even Rose Hovick could have made a judgment on Louise's talent in so short a time. The myth that Havoc kept alive for so long — that she was several years younger than her sister — made it possible for people to believe things that couldn't possibly be true.

No doubt Rose Hovick wanted her children to perform. She enrolled Louise in toe-dancing classes, probably shortly before her fourth birthday. She took June along with her, and the younger daughter, though only two years old, danced across the floor, displaying an unusual talent. That's how the story goes, and apparently it was true.

It wasn't long before Rose Hovick had an idea: She could built an act around June and called her "the youngest toe-dancer in the world." It was just the kind of thing that vaudeville audiences loved. Husband Jack Hovick reportedly did not like the idea of putting his toddler daughter to work, this disagreement was one of the reasons the couple divorced.

Jack Hovick is often described as a newspaper man who worked for the Seattle Times and Los Angeles Times (or Herald Examiner). He is sometimes referred to as a reporter, sometimes as an ad salesman, though a couple of items in Los Angeles newspapers in 1919 say he was a publicist for some theaters in the city.

For at least two years, Rose Hovick took "Baby June" on the road with some boy dancers, and left Louise in the care of an aunt. Apparently Louise had some formal education before she joined the act when she was seven. June Havoc said they sometimes had a tutor while traveling around the country.

 
 

On December 11, 1944, Gypsy Rose Lee gave birth to her only child, Erik. For years it was publicly stated that Erik was the son of her second husband, Alexander Kirkland, and he was born soon after his "parents" were divorced and Kirkland had already remarried.

But, in fact, Erik was fathered by Otto Preminger during one of Ms. Lee's most famous affairs.The other was with Mike Todd, best remembered as one of Elizabeth Taylor's husbands and the producer of "Around the World in 80 Days."

In 1948, Gypsy Rose Lee married for the third time, to Spanish artist Julio de Diego. (No animals were present for the cermoney.) Financially, times were tough for her, and though she was tired of performing her act, at age 37 she went on the road in the carnival circuit, touring the United States and Canada with "Gypsy Rose Lee and her Royal American Beauties."

While the rest of her beauties traveled by train, Gypsy Rose Lee and her husband lived in — you guessed it — a trailer, driving from town to town in her new Cadillac. Joining them was her pet dog, this time a poodle.

Four-year-old Erik also was part of the tour, but he traveled with two nurses on the train with the rest of the troupe. Finally, the the tour reached Canada, the car and trailer were placed on a show train flat car because the show locations were so far apart Ms. Lee did not want to drive the distance.

Her third marriage lasted seven years. Over the years her son was known as Erik Kirkland, Erik de Diego, Erick Hovick, and finally as Erik Lee Preminger, after his mother died and his father adopted him.

It has been said that the love of Gypsy Rose Lee's life was Mike Todd, and that she not only married Alexander Kirkland for spite, but had a one-night stand with Preminger for the same reason. That's right — Preminger insisted that he and Gypsy Rose Lee had sex only one time.

Their son became a writer-producer and wrote a book about his mother. Though he hadn't been born yet, he subscribes to the theory his grandmother killed Genevieve Augustin in 1937 because the art teacher made a pass at Gypsy Rose Lee. It makes for a good story, but I still believe Ms. Lee was 3,000 miles away and that Ms. Augustin committed suicide.

 

Like her sister, June Havoc had three husbands and one child who was born out of wedlock, which both mothers attempted to keep a secret from the press. June Havoc's child was a daughter, April, born on April 2, 1935. She was first known as April Reed, when it was stated her father was Bobby Reed, Ms. Havoc's first husband, though the couple hadn't been living together for a few years.

Reed's real name was Weldon Hyde, so the girl later became known as April Hyde, before becoming April Kent when she briefly pursued an acting career in the 1950s. She appeared in such films as "Rock, Pretty Baby" (1956), "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957), and "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957). She retired soon thereafter.

While Ms. Havoc never identified her daughter's father, it is believe he was a marathon dance promoter. About 1937, give or take a year, she married Donald Gibbs, a New York advertising executive, but they were divorced three years later. She and her daughter lived for awhile with Gypsy Rose Lee, then, in 1948, Ms. Havoc married William Spier, a writer-producer-director, and they remained together until his death in 1973.

As for her daughter, April, she died of a heart attack in Paris, France, in 1998. She was 63.

 

They did while they lived together in the mid-1940s in Gypsy Rose Lee's New York City residence when both women were between husbands. They had a common complaint — the way their mother begged them for money, and sometimes threatened blackmail. They also traded stories about their relationships with men, how difficult it was to find a good husband. (Both women had praise for the men they had married, but said they simply were not suited to be husbands, at least, not to someone in show business.)

Each was jealous of the other at certain times in their life, and while today you'll notice June Havoc usually identified as Gypsy Rose Lee's sister, it was the other way around when they were children, and in the 1940s and '50s when Havoc was either appearing on Broadway or making movies, and her sister had returned to her burlesque act, but was doing it on the carnival circuit.

"I loved my sister," Havoc told an interview in 1998, "but I loathed her life."* Ten years later, when she was 95 years old, she was interview by Karen Abbott, who was researching her book about Gypsy Rose Lee. When she was asked how Lee regarded her, Havoc replied, "I was no sister. I was a knot in her life. I was nothing."

What drove them apart was the musical, "Gypsy," which Havoc hated because she felt it greatly distorted her childhood and turned their mother into a monster.

"Mother was very prim, and she was tiny and lovely with big blue eyes," said Havoc in 1998. "She was endearing and alluring beyond belief. If she had drive and ambition, what's wrong with that?"

Havoc didn't like her sister's memoirs, but was particularly upset at the Broadway musical that came out of the book. She wanted "Baby June" to be written out of the show. No way, she was told. Ultimately, she decided to make no legal attempt to stop the production — realizing that any attempt would be futile — and hated the show that critics and audiences loved.

“I was proud of my childhood,” Havoc told Vanity Fair writer Laura Jacobs in 2003. “The way the play is written erases my life, degrades my childhood.”

Meanwhile, Havoc continued, “Gypsy was deliriously happy. She said, ‘It's my monument, June.’ I said, ‘Do you want the world to remember you as someone with nothing but a gimmick?’ She said, ‘I don't care what they say about me as long as my name is up there.’ ”

Arthur Laurents, who wrote the play — with music by Julie Styne and Stephen Sondheim — said he made it clear "Gypsy" was a fable. Havoc points to one scene, which had her sister in a cow suit.

“Gypsy was never the cow,” Havoc told Vanity Fair. “She couldn't dance that well.”

The sisters reconciled in 1969 after Gypsy Rose Lee learned she had lung cancer. Havoc nursed her through until her big sister died on April 26, 1970.

Interviewed in 2003 by the New York Times, Havoc said, “My sister was beautiful and clever, and ruthless. My mother was endearing and adorable, and lethal. They were the same person.”

* One of the reasons June Havoc disliked her sister's life so much was Gypsy Rose Lee's association with gangster Waxey Gordon in the early 1930s.

 

This is the question she would not answer the day I met her. Luckily someone else asked it. It turned out she probably didn't know the answer. Her son, Erik, in his book about his mother, said she once told him she had given so many answers to that question over the years she forgot which one was true. Arthur Laurents said the same thing.

I did come across two theories: (1) When she was an infant, her mother dubbed her "Gypsy" because of her dark eyes, and (2) When she was a youngster, she liked to read tea leaves. Whatever the reason, it was a stroke of genius. Gypsy Rose Lee remains one of show business's catchiest names.

 

In my mind, it was the movie version of "Gypsy" that is responsible for the over-inflated claims made about her place in our culture and the fame she enjoyed during her lifetime. Her memoirs and the Broadway musical brought her out of semi-obscurity, but when I met her in 1962, she was not on the celebrity A-list, except, perhaps, in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and parts of Connecticut.

Contrary to the words in the song, "New York, New York," there is no truth in the line, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." It's in Hollywood where legends are made. "Gypsy" is a good example. Only someone writing out of New York City claimed Ethel Merman was the definitive Rose Hovick. Most people think of Rosalind Russell, who starred in the movie. (From what I've read about Madam Hovick, the best choice to play her would have been Barbara Harris.)

Gypsy Rose Lee's smartest move may have been insisting that the musical — in which her mother was the central figure — nonetheless be called "Gypsy." This created a lasting memorial to her memory.

However, from what I've read since the day in 1962 at a Cleveland restaurant, the only way to do justice to all three Hovick women would be to do an HBO series about them. It could be more entertaining than "The Sopranos," "Boardway Empire" and "Deadwood." Just as long as no one sand "Everything's Comin' Up Roses."

 
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