gyspy rose leeDisclaimer: I’ve never seen the movie or play version of Gypsy.

I couldn’t put the book down, however, and spent a day trying to tear through it before I had to go out. Like the best showbiz stories, it was funny, dishy and glossed over the more complicated, unpleasant aspects of real life in favor of telling a better story.

The streamlined tale of how Gypsy Rose Lee went from backup vaudevillian to her more talented to sister to became a world-famous “ecdysiast” thanks to the iron will of her stage mother, the book is full of laugh out loud moments and scenes I had to read twice just to appreciate the droll throwaway lines Lee tosses in.

My two favorite scenes are:

1. When “Rose Louise And Her Hollywood Blondes” (the cut-rate act booked in a burlesque house after the death of vaudeville) work their first night at a burlesque house. The description of the bizarre musical numbers (an undersea song with mermaids and a sexy octopus; topless angels in a heavenly choir; sexy she-devils) and the sweet but trashy Tessie, The Tassel Twirler.

2. The bizarre schemes of F.E. Gorham, an unflappable con artist who briefly hooks up with the family and shows off her tricks (bringing your own cockroach to get a free dinner; walking face-first into a splintery board at a construction site, etc.) before trying to rob them.

It’s the indomitable spirit of the ultimate stage mother, “Madam Rose,” that carries through, and the last part of the book, about Gypsy after she’s achieved stardom and is living/working mostly on her own, doesn’t have quite the same sparkle and punch as the previous. But such is the case with autobiography (no matter how true or otherwise).

There’s a charm to Gypsy Rose Lee, however, that enabled her to become more than just a stripper: with a sense of humor and great intelligence, she took something sleazy and made it fun and palatable to everyone. What a life she lived, and it’s hard not to tear up a little at the end as she ends an era in her career, always mindful of her past.

I closed my eyes and along with the familiar noise of the train, Mother seemed to be telling me again how lucky I was. “What a wonderful life you’ve had—the music, lights, applause—everything in the world a girl could ask for…”

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