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American Rose

Cover of American Rose

American Rose

A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER

America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb narrative skills and eye for detail, Karen Abbott brings to life an era of ambition, glamour, struggle, and survival. Using exclusive interviews and never-before-published material, she vividly delves into Gypsy's world, including her intense triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who literally killed to get her daughters on the stage. Weaving in the compelling saga of the Minskys--four scrappy brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee's brand of burlesque and transform the entertainment landscape--Karen Abbott creates a rich account of a legend whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb narrative skills and eye for detail, Karen Abbott brings to life an era of ambition, glamour, struggle, and survival. Using exclusive interviews and never-before-published material, she vividly delves into Gypsy's world, including her intense triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who literally killed to get her daughters on the stage. Weaving in the compelling saga of the Minskys--four scrappy brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee's brand of burlesque and transform the entertainment landscape--Karen Abbott creates a rich account of a legend whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Everybody thinks it's all so easy. Sure. Mother says I'mthe most beautiful naked ass-well, I'm not. I'm the smartest. -Gypsy Rose Lee New York World's Fair, 1940 In late spring, across a stretch of former wasteland inFlushing Meadows, Queens, a quarter-million people pay 50 cents each to forgetand to dream. In the last decade they lost jobs and homes and now they facebleaker losses in the years to come: fathers and sons and husbands, a fragilefaith that the worst has passed, the hope that America will never again becalled to save the world. They come by boat and train and trolley and bus,hitchhike across four states in as many days, engagement rings tucked deepinside pockets along with every dollar they own. Not one inch of the fair's1,216 acres betrays its inglorious past as a dump, Gatsby's valley of ashescome to life, where towering heaps of debris meandered in an ironic skyline.Instead, beyond the gates, a "World of Tomorrow" beckons, offeringflamboyant distractions and bewitching sleight of hand, a glimpse of fantasywithout the promise that it will ever come to pass. They have never seen anything like the Trylon, its gauntsteel ribs stretching seven hundred feet high, carrying bodies skyward on thelargest escalator in the world. They chase salty scoops of Romanian caviar withswigs of aged Italian Barolo. On one soft spring day they admire Joe DiMaggioas he accepts the Golden Laurel of Sport Award. At the Aquacade exhibition theywatch comely "aquabelles" perform intricate, synchronized routines,the water kept extra cold so as to stimulate goose flesh and nipples. They hearMayor Fiorello La Guardia boom with optimistic predictions: "We will bededicating a fair to the hope of the people of the world. The contrast must bestriking to everyone. While other countries are in the twilight of an unhappyage, we are approaching the dawn of a new day." The Westinghouse TimeCapsule, to remain sealed until a.d. 6939, contains fragments of their lives:microfilm of Gone with the Wind, a kewpie doll, samples of asbestos, a dollarin change. At night, when fireworks begin, they fall silent watching the colorscrisscross overhead, hot tails branding the sky, imprinting a patchwork oflovely scars. They wait in lines for hours to glimpse a reality thatseems both distant and distinctly possible. Revolving chairs equipped withindividual loudspeakers transport them through General Motors' Futuramaexhibit, a vast model of America in 1960, where radio-controlled cars neverveer off course on fourteen-lane highways and "undesirable slumareas" are wiped out. They witness a robot named Elektro issue commands tohis mechanical dog, Sparko. They marvel at an array of new inventions: the faxmachine, nylon stockings, a 12-foot-long electric shaver. One thousand of themwatch the fair's opening ceremonies on NBC's experimental station, W2XBS."Sooner than you realize it," advertisements for the telecastpredict, "television will play a vital part in the life of the averageAmerican." But this World of Tomorrow can't obscure the dangers ofthe world of today, despite the fair committee's efforts. The new officialslogan, "Peace and Freedom," is absurdly incongruous with the hourlywar bulletins that blare over the public address system. Visitors who brave theforeign section find only a melancholy museum of things past. The Netherlandsbuilding is dark and vacant, the Danish exhibit downsized into smallerquarters. Poland, Norway, and Finland still have a presence, but fly theirflags at half-mast and display grim galleries that show photographs ofdemolished historical buildings and list names of the distinguished dead. TheSoviet Pavilion is razed and replaced by a space called the "AmericanCommon," complete with "I Am...

About the Author-
  • Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots who do a mean Ethel Merman. Visit her online at www.karenabbott.net.

Reviews-
  • Newsday "Abbott creates a brainy striptease similar to the one her subject may have performed: uncovering doozies in one chapter about Lee's outrageous life, followed in the next by the less salacious (but always captivating) details about how New York City's Minsky brothers, who played a crucial role in Lee's stardom, built their burlesque empire."
  • The Los Angeles Times "At its core, American Rose is a haunting portrait of a woman 'giving what she has to, keeping all she can,' offering her audiences a sassy, confident self while making sure they would never know the damaged soul who created her."
  • Book Page "American Rose is the rare biography that captures the imagination and doesn't let go. It would scare the bejeesus out of Gypsy Rose Lee, and it's guaranteed to enthrall readers."
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution "[Abbott's] portrait of the famed stripper is both darker and more inspiring than the famed stripper's version of her life as filtered by Broadway or Hollywood."
  • The New York Times Book Review "A delicious history . . . a lush love letter to the underworld . . . [Abbott] describes the Levee's characters in such detail that it's easy to mistake this meticulously researched history for literary fiction."
  • The Seattle Times "[Abbott's] research enables the kind of vivid description à la fellow journalist Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City that makes what could be a dry historic account an intriguing read."
  • USA Today "[A] satisfyingly lurid tale . . . Change the hemlines, add 100 years, and the book could be filed under current affairs."
  • The New York Times "Assiduously researched . . . Even this book's minutiae . . . make for good storytelling."
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "A colorful history of old Chicago that reads like a novel."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Lavish . . . an immensely readable book."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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