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April 10, 2011

Page: 28/34

Home > 2011 Issues > April 10, 2011

A stripper who wanted to be a legend
By Dr Vaidehi Nathan

Striping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, Noralee Frankel, Oxford University Press, (PB), pp 300, $17.95

BORN as Rose Louise, brought up as the ‘ugly duckling’ of the family, she emerged into the entertainment world as Gypsy Rose Lee. She added the word gypsy to her name as it cooked up images of magic and mystery. She became a stripper and nearly converted into an art. Striping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee is the biography of the woman who ruled the world of entertainment, a woman who was intelligent, a best-selling author, union leader and a communist. She dabbled with the paint brush and films. She was clear in her mind: she wanted to be a legend and she almost became one. She lived through the times of Great Depression and "for many thinking people in New York City and across the country, Communist and socialist ideals made sense in the 1930s. To caring liberals, the Great Depression proved that unrestricted capitalism did not work." Gypsy Rose Lee belonged to this thinking population.

Author Noralee Frankel has done painstaking research, to sift through papers that gave contradictory information, to arrive at the real picture about the Gypsy, who herself was prone to give different versions of events that confused the listener. She even had varying birth dates. Frankel is the Assistant Director, Women, Minorities, and teaching at the American Historical Association.

Rose Lee was fond of music, collecting art and antiquities and phonograph records. Of music she said, "Music ... belongs to everyone in the world. If you let it go by you’re missing something. I wouldn’t want to do that, and I haven’t." Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was her favourite.

Gypsy Rose Lee authored two novels, the first one G-strong Murders was runaway success. On the whole Lee had an interesting, titillating life. Frankel, who says she grew to dislike Rose as she researched on her subject has done a great job of concealing it and presenting a balanced and yet fascinating picture of Rose Lee and her career.

(Oxford University Press, Inc. 198, Madison Avenue, New York, 10016)

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