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April 26: Gypsy Rose Lee

April 26, 2013

gypsy-rose-leeStriptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee (born Ellen June Hovick, renamed Rose Louise when her younger sister was born and given the name Ellen) died at 56 on this date in 1970. In the 1930s she became a burlesque queen at Minsky’s Burlesque, where she was arrested several times in police raids. In 1937 and ’38 she made five Hollywood films, and in the early 1940s she wrote a couple of mystery novels, but her claim to fame remained taking off her clothes onstage — slowly, even modestly, with wit and a “high-class” manner that led H.L. Mencken to coin the word “ecdysiast” (from the word ecdysis, meaning “to molt”) as a superior term to “stripper.” Gypsy’s mother, Rose Hovick, ran a lesbian boarding house in New York and shot and killed one of her lovers when she made a pass at Gypsy. Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1957 memoir inspired the creation of the Broadway musical, Gypsy, by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents.

“God is love — but get it in writing.” —Gypsy Rose Lee