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On this Day in Movie History, April 26, 1970: Gypsy Rose Lee Dies

On this day, April 26, 1970 Gypsy Rose Lee dies of lung cancer in Los Angeles. An American burlesque entertainer famous for her striptease act, she was also an actress, author, and playwright whose 1957 memoir was made into the stage musical and film Gypsy. She was 59.

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Born Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle, Washington, in 1911, but called Louise from early childhood, Gypsy Rose Lee was the daughter of a mild-mannered businessman and a restless, fiery young woman named Rose, who was determined to get out of Seattle and make a life for herself and her daughter in show business. Her early efforts to get Louise into show business largely came to nothing, but that all changed in 1916, when Rose had another child, June.

June was much more beautiful, photogenic and talented than Louise apparently could ever hope to be, which soon caused Rose to pack up her two children and search for a career in vaudeville (she divorced her husband when he objected to a career in show business). By the time Louise was seven and June five, they had put together a very successful act, Baby June and Her Farmboys. Rose, however, still chased after her dream, and still made June up to be a cute baby. Not even this could stop Rose, however. This time she formed a new act, centering it around Louise. Called Rose Louise and Her Hollywood Blondes, she and her chorus girls performed slightly risqué musical numbers, and were moderately successful. Eventually, Rose, Louise and company had to take a job in a burlesque house. Rose, never one to pass up an opportunity, volunteered Louise for the job. Louise had finally found her calling.

As Gypsy Rose Lee she launched a hugely successful career in burlesque, incorporating humor and intelligence, as well as the requisite removal of various articles of clothing, into her act.

Billed under her real name, Louise Hovick–because the studio heads were afraid her stage name would scare people away–she made her film debut in Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937). It wasn’t until Rose died from terminal cancer in 1954 that Gypsy truly felt safe to write her memoirs, without having to worry anymore about her mother’s repercussions. Her autobiography, “Gypsy”, was published in 1957. The role of Mama Rose has been played by, among others, Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bette Midler and Betty Buckley. Gypsy Rose Lee was able to enjoy the musical’s success in her last years.

Even if her film career wasn’t spectacular, she was immortalized on the stage of both burlesque and Broadway.

Motion pictures

You Can’t Have Everything (1937)
Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937)
Sally, Irene and Mary (1938)
Battle of Broadway (1938)
My Lucky Star (1938)
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Belle of the Yukon (1944)
Babes in Bagdad (1952)
Screaming Mimi (1958)
Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
The Stripper (1963)
The Trouble with Angels (1966)
Around the World of Mike Todd (1968)


Think Fast (1949)
The Gypsy Rose Lee Show (1958)
Fractured Flickers (1963 episode 3—interview)
Who Has Seen the Wind? (1965)
Gypsy (1965)
Batman (1966)
The Pruitts of Southampton (1966)
The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969)
The Hollywood Squares (1969)

The walls of her Los Angeles home were adorned with pictures by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Dorothea Tanning, all of which were reportedly gifts to her by the artists themselves. Like Picasso, she was a supporter of the Popular Front movement in the Spanish Civil War and raised money for charity to alleviate the suffering of Spanish children during the conflict. Gypsy Rose Lee died of lung cancer in Los Angeles in 1970. She is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

Although she was a “stripper,” she never actually got undressed.

1893 – Anita Loos (author, playwright: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I Married an Angel, San Francisco, Saratoga, The Women; died Aug 18, 1981)

1897 – Douglas Sirk (Claus Detlef Sierck) (director: Imitation of Life, A Time to Love & a Time to Die, Tarnished Angels, Written on the Wind, Magnificent Obsession, First Legion; died Jan 14, 1987)

1958 – Giancarlo Esposito (actor: The Usual Suspects, Smoke, Reckless, Blue in the Face, Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, Sweet Lorraine, Bakersfield P.D.)

1963 – Jet Li (actor: The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, The Expendables, Ocean Heaven, The Founding of a Republic, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Forbidden Kingdom, The Warlords, War, Fearless, Romeo Must Die, Lethal Weapon 4 )

1965–Kevin Jamesnnn (actor: Zookeeper, The Dilemma, Grown Ups, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, The King of Queens, Grilled, Monster House, Hitch, 50 First Dates)

1977 – Tom Welling (actor: Smallville, Cheaper by the Dozen, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Fog)

1978 – Stana Katic (actress: The Double, Truth About Kerry, For Lovers Only, The Spirit, Quantum of Solace, Stiletto)

1974 – Ivana Milicevic (actress: What’s Your Number? Coming & Going, Beneath the Blue, Your Name Here, Columbus Day, Witless Protection, Battle in Seattle)

1980 – Jordana Brewster (actress: Fast Five, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Annapolis, D.E.B.S., Nearing Grace, The Fast and the Furious, The Invisible Circus)

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