Mama Rose's Turn

Mama Rose's Turn: The True Story of America's Most Notorious Stage Mother

Carolyn Quinn
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvn6g
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  • Book Info
    Mama Rose's Turn
    Book Description:

    Hers is the show business saga you think you already know--but you ain't seen nothin' yet. Rose Thompson Hovick, mother of June Havoc and Gypsy Rose Lee, went down in theatrical history as "The Stage Mother from Hell" after her immortalization on Broadway in Gypsy: A Musical Fable. Yet the musical was 75 percent fictionalized by playwright Arthur Laurents and condensed for the stage. Rose's full story is even more striking.

    Born fearless on the North Dakota prairie in 1891, Rose Thompson had a kind father and a gallivanting mother who sold lacy finery to prostitutes. She became an unhappy teenage bride whose marriage yielded two entrancing daughters, Louise and June. When June was discovered to be a child prodigy in ballet, capable of dancing en pointe by the age of three, Rose, without benefit of any theatrical training, set out to create onstage opportunities for her magical baby girl--and succeeded.

    Rose followed her own star and created two more in dramatic and colorful style: "Baby June" became a child headliner in vaudeville, and Louise grew up to be the well-known burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee. The rest of Mama Rose's remarkable story included love affairs with both men and women, the operation of a "lesbian pick-up joint" where she sold homemade bathtub gin, wild attempts to extort money from Gypsy and June, two stints as a chicken farmer, and three allegations of cold-blooded murder--all of which was deemed unfit for the script of Gypsy. Here, at last, is the rollicking, wild saga that never made it to the stage.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-983-9
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. AUTHOR'S NOTE
    (pp. IX-2)
  4. PROLOGUE: THE ALL-AMERICAN ORIGINAL
    (pp. 3-8)

    The creative team that had assembled, along with the opening night audience, at New York City’s Broadway Theater on the pleasant spring evening of May 21, 1959, had every reason to be nervous. The team was about to make theatrical history, but certainly didn’t know so yet—where Broadway shows are concerned, nothing is ever certain anyway. All the creative team knew at the moment was that this show, Gypsy—so loosely based on the memoirs of performer Gypsy Rose Lee that it had to be billed as Gypsy, A Musical Fable—had been beleaguered with difficulties during its creation,...

  5. PART ONE: HOSPITALITY
    • CHAPTER 1 RESILIENCE ON THE PRAIRIE
      (pp. 11-24)

      They were a family blessed with an inherently welcoming spirit. Their bright outlook was their main talent, and they would take it all the way to the bank in America. The family members that reached American shores first set a precedent that would influence Rose’s mother, Anna Egle Thompson, Rose herself, and, much later, Rose’s daughters: Rose Louise, the one who would become Gypsy Rose Lee, and Ellen June, who would be known to the world as June Havoc.

      Carl and Rosina Egle already had a bit of a nest egg when they arrived in America on July 7, 1851,...

    • CHAPTER 2 WILD PRAIRIE ROSE
      (pp. 25-31)

      The newborn rose elizabeth thompson was given her first name in honor of Rose Egle, Anna’s beloved sister who recently had died from rheumatic fever. The name also honored Rosina Egle, Lorenze’s mother, who had been Rose Egle’s namesake—but perhaps by the time this new Rose came along, Rosina was but a faded memory. Her middle name was a salute to Charlie’s mother, Elizabeth Bowles Thompson.

      North Dakota had been admitted to the union on November 2, 1889. The students at the newly formed University of North Dakota voted to make green and pink, the colors of a pretty...

    • CHAPTER 3 THE UNVANQUISHED SEATTLE SCHOOLGIRL
      (pp. 32-40)

      Grandmother mary louise stein returned from europe that october and stayed for a while back in Farmington, visiting all of her friends and family members and shrewdly checking on her building, which she was still renting out. She was the one who, unsubstantiated family legend would have it, urged Anna to put little Rose, her own daughter’s namesake, into a convent school.

      There is no evidence to support the claim that Rose went to a Catholic school. Seattle’s oldest Catholic boarding and day school was Holy Names School, but the only possible match for Rose in their attendance archives is...

  6. PART TWO: ROSE:: THE WOMAN
    • CHAPTER 4 HOVICK V. HOVICK
      (pp. 43-55)

      Tall olaf johann hovick went by the americanized nickname Jack. He was born on August 6, 1886, in the town of Crookston, Minnesota, located on the opposite side of the state from Farmington, near the North Dakota border and close to Rose’s birthplace of Wahpeton. Both Jack and Rose had moved to Seattle when they were young children. Their Minnesota and North Dakota origins immediately gave them something in common when they met.

      Jack’s family situation had been rather unhappy. His parents, Sven and Marit, with their daughters Hilma and Mattie, had emigrated from Norway and settled first in Minnesota,...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE BABY STANDS ON HER TOES
      (pp. 56-70)

      Parents who enroll their children in specialized arts classes they wish they had taken themselves believe they are giving their offspring a gift. In 1914, Rose was only twenty-three years old. She was a young-minded twenty-three, still a bit too interested in theater and films, and she had enrolled gorgeous yet pudgy little Louise—the child who had won the healthy baby contest when she was only a year old—in a ballet class in West Seattle at the Douglas Dancing Academy. The owner of the dancing school taught the class, held in the spacious Oddfellows Hall lodge building. He...

    • CHAPTER 6 MADAM HOVICK: THE DEVELOPER OF CHILDREN
      (pp. 71-87)

      It was october 1919 when the family returned to their home base once again. Back to Seattle, June “Hovig,” as she was erroneously listed in the program, was cast to play a boy, Little Billy, in a show called The Net at the Wilkes Theater. The plot centered on artists and a doctor at the Detention Hospital for Criminals in London; where June’s role fit in isn’t clear. A reviewer nevertheless praised the child’s “well-modulated voice” and “bearing” and said that she “carried the honors splendidly.” By this point, June was at least six years old.

      By September 1920, Rose...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE ACT GETS CURBED
      (pp. 88-100)

      Back in seattle, charlie thompson was having one of the most miserable months of his life during January 1923. First his eldest daughter, Mina, passed away far too early. Both Mina and Belle had been extremely sick with an illness that was almost certainly contagious, most likely a vicious strain of influenza. Their condition became dire. Anna Thompson proceeded to Venice, California, to nurse her two daughters through it. Mina was thirty-six years old and had been married at least three times and divorced twice. None of her marriages had worked out or produced any children. Belle was divorced from...

    • CHAPTER 8 DAINTY BOLSHEVIK
      (pp. 101-113)

      Gordon had left a few times before, but he’d always previously come back. Not this time. After the latest and worst round of fights, Gordon was gone for good. Rose initially remained hopeful that he would return, an indication she had never meant the harsh words that led to his exit. The final argument between Gordon and Rose had taken place in a hotel in Detroit, the same city where he’d been residing before he met Rose and took off with her and the troupe. Maybe he never would have left Rose at all if they hadn’t just happened to...

    • CHAPTER 9 HALF A DOZEN JUNES
      (pp. 114-126)

      Rose and louise were stranded in kansas. Everyone else from the act was gone. Rose and Louise were reeling from the rapid-fire events of the last twenty-four hours, but before they could do anything, including think, they needed a driver. They couldn’t abandon their car in Kansas and return to the West Coast without it. So Rose sent a cable to a trustworthy boy who had formerly been in their act, Henry Elias of Brooklyn, New York. She probably also wired him train or bus fare. Henry left Brooklyn immediately and found his way west to Topeka.

      The boy was...

    • CHAPTER 10 FRONT AND CENTER
      (pp. 127-137)

      The experience of sleeping in the dressing room at the club Bagdad sparked new money-saving ideas in Rose and Louise. Rose came to the conclusion that the Hollywood Blondes troupe, which was doing rather well again, could do even better, saving a lot of the money they were shelling out for hotel rooms. It was Louise who came up with the idea of purchasing a tent, an idea pronounced “inspirational.” She rose to the occasion and swept the girls along with her. They could carry it along with them and pitch it in or near whatever town they played. A...

    • CHAPTER 11 BATHTUB GIN
      (pp. 138-149)

      Those who remember gypsy rose lee, or know about her from the legend depicted later in the musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable, pretty much know what happened next. She was a hit at Minsky’s, of course. But Louise didn’t stop there. Louise had become Gypsy Rose Lee, and she would never stop anywhere ever again. Ultimately, she conquered the most significant venue in America, New York City.

      She was stately and gorgeous but also uproariously funny. She was well read, the kind of woman who would have been appreciated in New York City whether she worked at Minsky’s or not....

    • CHAPTER 12 THE MALEVOLENT CIPHER
      (pp. 150-164)

      A family conference took place in 1935 in gypsy rose lee’s irving Place apartment bathroom. Gypsy soaked in the tub, getting ready for a party. Rose sat scrunched up on a little wicker stool. June was situated atop Gypsy’s fur-covered toilet seat lid. Rose announced that she wanted to adopt baby April.

      June considered this proposal out of the question. She had wanted and even planned for her baby, even if it was only the sort of plan created by a dreamy twenty-one-year-old. June decided not to even acknowledge Rose’s offer. It was a mature way of handling her mother;...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 13 DR. JEKYLL AND MRS. HOVICK
      (pp. 165-177)

      Twentieth century-fox believed that marrying gypsy rose lee off to somebody—anybody, really—would enhance her image with the public. Making her over into a wholesome package was already an uphill battle, given the public’s inability to get over her past. Letting her remain single, in the eyes of the publicity mavens anyway, would only make matters worse. The studio did not really care whether or not getting married at this point in her life would be the best thing for Gypsy the woman. But marriage was a great plan for Gypsy the studio property.

      She had been dating a...

    • CHAPTER 14 HOT SOUP
      (pp. 178-191)

      Rose’s trip was a mistake, of course. Going to california uninvited did not help mend the frayed relationship with Gypsy. Confrontation made matters worse.

      Nevertheless, Gypsy was worried about her mother. Rose was bringing a woman along to California with whom she had recently taken up romantically. During the 1930s it was always possible that Rose could be arrested for her romantic inclinations. Gypsy confided her concerns to her grandmother in a letter. Big Lady responded that she didn’t like the idea of Rose’s woman, either. If Rose was hoping for acceptance, it wasn’t forthcoming from her family. Yet Big...

    • CHAPTER 15 THE LEGAL DEBACLE FOLLIES
      (pp. 192-205)

      On may 12, 1943, rose hauled gypsy before domestic relations court in Manhattan for trumped-up “non-support proceedings.”

      If there was ever a daughter who did not deserve to have such an action brought against her, it was Gypsy Rose Lee. She had just handed Rose $3,900 toward her new house in the town of Valley Cottage. She also gave her mother a sizable allowance, supporting her in fine style, especially at a time when the majority of Americans were still just beginning to recover from the Great Depression. Rose’s new house stood amidst four vast acres with fruit orchards and...

    • CHAPTER 16 WEST COAST WHIRLWIND
      (pp. 206-218)

      Rose had no idea that while she had been caught in the quagmire of a minor war over Patricia Donovan’s clothing, diary, and personal papers, out in Hollywood Gypsy had been seeing Otto Preminger, a cultured Austro-Hungarian movie director. He was the father of Gypsy’s unborn child. Otto was a Viennese Jew who had already been extremely lucky. He had moved to the United States in 1935 to accept a job working for Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century-Fox, arriving in plenty of time to escape the encroaching Nazi stranglehold on Europe.

      The identity of her baby’s father was to be...

    • CHAPTER 17 BED REST AND BLACKMAIL
      (pp. 219-226)

      It was as if belle had been let out of jail. She opened her little souvenir shop at picturesque Copalis Beach, Washington, and began making a go of it. She called the store Betty Thornton Souvenirs, since Betty was her preferred nickname. Only the immediate family still called her Belle.

      Belle was also finally out of the miniscule house where she’d cared for her mother, and was residing instead beside the Pacific Ocean. The fishing was grand, people could drive their cars on seventeen miles of beaches, and digging for clams was one of the major attractions. Clams, game, and...

    • CHAPTER 18 ONE LAST LAUGH
      (pp. 227-236)

      Rose wanted to reopen her valley cottage property as a children’s camp again, as unbelievable as that may seem. But Rose was Rose. Money was her thing, and reopening the camp would bring in additional income. Or at least, that’s what Rose led everyone to believe. It may have been closer to the truth to say that she certainly did love money, but she loved being active, too. Opening another little camp session would allow her to be in the thick of it again, and she could even get paid. She would not be running the camp entirely on her...

  7. PART THREE: ROSE THE LEGEND
    • CHAPTER 19 GYPSY, A MUSICAL FABLE
      (pp. 239-252)

      By 1957, the story of rose, louise, and june was on the new york Times bestseller list. Gypsy did not need to concern herself with her mother’s angst at being portrayed in print or on the stage any longer. And if, as June reported, Rose really had issued a deathbed curse on Gypsy, it didn’t worry her oldest daughter enough to prevent her from writing a book about their life together. Rose was gone, and Gypsy was free at last to write about her mother without having to wonder whether Rose would hit her with yet another lawsuit. She began...

  8. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 253-256)

    The following are updates on rose’s family members and friends:

    Descendants of the Thompson, Egle, and Herber families live all over the United States. Many of them strayed over the years from their original home bases in Luana, Iowa, or Farmington, Minnesota. Quite a few of the Thompsons now live in Oregon.

    A few of the buildings that were reconstructed after the Great Farmington Fire of 1879 still stand on Oak and Third Streets, where once stood the first Egle Tavern, and, later, the Eagle Hotel, and where Mary Louise Herber Egle Stein had her candy store and restaurant.

    Jack...

  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 257-260)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 261-306)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 307-311)