Gypsy Rose Lee
with guest host Jacq The Stripper
Special guest Jacq the Stripper joins Kaytlin Bailey to talk about American icon and patron saint of strippers, Gypsy Rose Lee. Like Jacq, Gypsy was a brilliant comedian and author in addition to being an accomplished strip tease performer. And like Kaytlin, she eventually was drawn toward leftie political activism. Jacq and Kaytlin also talk stage moms, madness, and the importance of laughing at yourself first.
You can find Jacq’s art on her website, jacqthestripper.com.
Gypsy Rose Lee was a famous burlesque performer and stand up comic who made a name for herself in the entertainment industry during the 1930s and 1940s.
Born Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle, Washington in 1911, Gypsy Rose Lee began her career in vaudeville as a child performer alongside her younger sister, June Havoc. When Gypsy Rose Lee turned to the more provocative burlesque she became a star. And once her performances were captured on film she became one of the most successful and well-known burlesque performers of her time.
Gypsy Rose Lee’s early life was chaotic. Her mother, Rose Hovick, was a domineering stage mom who pushed both her daughters into show business at a young age. Gypsy and June began performing in vaudeville as “Baby June and Her Newsboys,” with Gypsy serving as the backup dancer and June as the star. However, after June ran away with one of her male co performers, it was up to Gypsy to support the family.
Her first foray into stripping occurred in the early 1930s when she was performing in Minsky’s Burlesque, a famous New York City burlesque theater. At first, Gypsy was reluctant to strip completely naked, so she created a routine that involved slowly removing her clothing and teasing the audience. Her act was a huge hit, and she quickly became one of Minsky’s most popular performers.
After honing her act for several years, Gypsy Rose Lee began to perform at more upscale venues like the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the Casino de Paris in Paris, France. She became known for her signature move, the “bump and grind,” in which she would wiggle her hips provocatively while removing her clothing. However, Gypsy Rose Lee’s appeal went beyond just her physical performance; she was also known for her quick wit and intelligence, which she used to engage with her audience. She was a great comic.
Despite her success, Gypsy Rose Lee was never completely comfortable with her career as a stripper. She once wrote that she saw stripping as a means to an end, a way to make money and gain recognition in a male-dominated industry. However, she also noted that she was grateful for the opportunities that stripping provided her, such as the chance to travel the world and meet interesting people.
In addition to her provocative work on stage, Gypsy Rose Lee was also involved in other parts of the sex work industry. In her autobiography, she described how she would sometimes engage in sexual acts with wealthy men in exchange for money or gifts. However, she also emphasized that she was always in control of these encounters and that she never felt exploited or victimized. Instead, she saw sex work as just another way to make a living.
Gypsy Rose Lee’s career as a burlesque performer came to an end in the 1950s when she began to suffer from health issues. She continued to work as an actress and writer, penning two successful mystery novels and a play about her life called “Gypsy.” She also became a vocal advocate for women’s rights, using her platform to speak out against the discrimination and exploitation that many women faced in the entertainment industry.
Gypsy Rose Lee never denied or publicly regretted her involvement in the oldest profession, her ability and willingness to shed the constraints on her gender solidified her status as a trailblazer for women in entertainment. Today, she is remembered as one of the most iconic and influential performers of the 20th century.