sisters play havoc

Little June Havoc could dance on point at age two.

Baby June was appearing regularly around Seattle, once as part of the bill on Anna Pavolva’s farewell tour, inspiring her mother to change her billing to “Baby June, the Pocket-sized Pavlova.”

Soon she was launched in vaudeville and also appeared in Hollywood movies. She couldn’t speak until three, but the films were silent and she could cry for the cameras when her mother told her dog had died.

June had a big sister, Rose Louise. Their mother, also named Rose, wanted stage careers for her children.

Madam Rose taught the girls to lie about their ages to truant officers and railway train conductors, steal blankets and sheets from hotels, and sneak out without paying. She wasn’t above sabotaging rival acts and was masterful at conning well wishers out of money with her genteel, brave-but-helpless single mother act. June later said that after the age of five, she never believed anything her mother said. A tiny, delicate looking woman, Rose nevertheless once managed to push a hotel manager out of the window.

By the late 1920s, vaudeville was dying and Dainty June was getting too big for a kid act. The girls never knew their real ages until they were grown. June thought she was 13 when she eloped with Bobby Reed, but she was probably three years older. A furious Rose jammed a gun into Bobby’s chest and pulled the trigger but the safety catch was on. (She later pulled a gun on Louise’s first husband too, but it wasn’t loaded.)

With backing from Rose’s father, they recruited a half dozen unprepossessing adolescent girls who wanted a career in show business. Louise made babyish costumes for them, and they hit the road as Madam Rose’s Dancing Daughters with a pig named Porky and an act in which they held dolls. The act wasn’t a success.

image found here

The act was renamed “Rose Louise and Her Hollywood Blondes,” and they worked their first burlesque house, The Missouri Theatre in Kansas City. It was then that Rose Louise Hovick changed her name to Gypsy Rose Lee

Meanwhile, Dainty June, now billed as June Havoc, had worked her way back from obscurity. After her smash performance in the Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey in 1940, she went on to a long and distinguished career in movies and on Broadway.

Rose (senior) died in 1954. In later years, she had run a lesbian boarding house and farm. One of her guests was shot at a party, and the verdict was suicide, but her grandson, Erik Preminger, is quoted in a Vanity Fair article saying that the victim was Rose’s lover, and that Rose killed her in front of many witnesses after she made a pass at Gypsy.

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 7:18 am  Comments (36)  
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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Another fascinating story.. and June Havoc is still alive too!

  2. ‘The act wasn’t a success.’

    Wow really… I would have been well up for that show.

  3. “Your dog died, now cry!” Wow she may have Britney Spears beat for the title of worst parent ever.

    She was incredibly attractive though. And she looked like the Black Dahlia in the last photo.

    • It was the mother who uttered those immortal lines. and yes, I agree, Gypsy Rose Lee was very beautiful

  4. I think I may well have married into Dainty June’s family by mistake.

    • Siobhan has the stripper gene? 😉

      • No hen, Siobhan has the family sadistic streak!

  5. Oh my!

  6. Damn i really like that Rose Senior….deceit, manipulation, murder and lesbianism!

    Definitely the sort of woman i’d aspire to be like

  7. The donkey loves roses and is always admiring of women!

  8. I guess I should be grateful my career as a dancer was short-lived due to chubbiness and lack of talent. (Ballet – age eight – Sugar Plum Fairy)

  9. wow, i’m so happy i have had an uneventful life with a darling mother and a happy childhood pfffffttt!!! what i mean to say is that obviously things could be worse 🙂

  10. “ya gotta have a gimick…” – one of the most FUN musicals i’ve ever done was “Gypsy”. costumed by a talented drag queen, he made me look great as Miss Mazeppa, the bugle playing stripper!

    but i NEVER knew just how whacked out Mama Rose was… as always, you inform and entertain!

  11. The recent Broadway production of Gypsy with Patti LuPone was suppose to be a landmark production. I missed it. Too — ummm — musical for me.

    • I know what you mean UB, musicals aren’t really my thing either

  12. Sounds like my mom, except I wasn’t a dancer. Cool story.

  13. God i love strippers and stage moms seem to never change.

  14. fascinating story… love the picture of John Cleese thrown in there.

  15. Gun control issues for sure.

    I wonder who eventually showed her how to load a gun and turn off the safety. Seems like she finally learned. Too bad for her lesbian lover at the boarding house. Have you ever noticed that pyschotic people with jealousy issues and loaded guns never mix well at parties? It’s like playing Russian Roulette with an automatic.

  16. Wow! My mother used to call me Gypsy Rose Lee. She also said I looked like the last rose of summer. I thought these were compliments until I started my own garden.

  17. I played Cigar, the owner of the burlesque house in Kansas City, in our stage version of ‘Gypsy’. It was a fun show, and our Rose was actually a good bit like the real Mama Rose.

  18. That’s a piccy of Natalie Wood in the film ‘Gypsy’ …… isn’t it? ….. now, there was a very sad death …….

    • Yes, you’re right daddyp! well spotted

  19. A couple of years ago, Master Right and I saw Patti LuPone play Mama Rose in Gypsy.

    The critics hailed it a triumph; I thought it rang untrue. LuPone wanted the audience to love her; but a borderline personality disorder like Rose’s can swing between love and hate in a split second. I remember watching the show, and thinking that the woman isn’t batshit crazy enough. Or evil enough.

    Having had a psychomom myself, myra, I really appreciated your telling of a story that too often gets sugar coated. The horrors which the real-life June and Louise suffered were catastrophic. This was not a strong-willed eccentric mother pulling a few swifties that we could laugh about later. It was systematic child abuse.

    Bring back Ethel Merman as Rose. Now that was scary.

  20. what a colorful life. fascinating.

  21. Many – MANY – years ago, I had a girlfriend who told me her sister was a dancer. One evening after work, a chum and I decided on a Lad’s Night Out in Soho (at that time, a very racey place indeed! Some folding-ones lighter, we found ourselves in the front row at a seedy strip joint – in time for the first, well-endowed and shapely young stripper to appear. She looked at me: “Hello young Affer! Still dating my sister are you? Does she know you’re here?”
    I fled to raucous laughter!

  22. Don’t talk about the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.

    Where, o where have all the lesbian boarding houses gone?

  23. will have nightmares now about that pig photo!!.. how come they both have the same expression??

  24. Another fascinating glimpse of a sordid history from Nursemyra! I love that your posts always make me want to go do more reading.

  25. loved this story – stage mothers what a breed!

  26. I like Burlesque Stories

  27. Oh my…

  28. All very grim nurse. These are not the kind of women I’d want to cross.

    • Really? Not the mother certainly but Gypsy Rose herself seems like she was a lot of fun

  29. I always wonder about kids that get into show business so early in life. Inevitably, I think about Michael Jackson’s father whipping those Jackson kids into shape, forcing them to perform. Their brillance was shared with the world, but it screwed them up a little…er um..a lot.

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