Gypsy Rose Lee

Son brings ‘Gypsy Rose Lee’s Home Movies’ to Peoria theater
by Joe Golfen – Jan. 16, 2010 07:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

In the 1930s, Gypsy Rose Lee made a name for herself by becoming the striptease artist who never really took off her clothes.

Combining musical performances and a wry sense of humor, Lee became one of the biggest burlesque stars of her day, often performing at high-society balls and parties.

She later went on to become an actress, and wrote a memoir in 1957 titled “Gypsy,” which focused on the overbearing mother who forced her into show business as a child. That memoir later was used as the basis for the hit Broadway musical “Gypsy: A Musical Fable.”

Erik Preminger, son of Lee and film director Otto Preminger, spent a lot of time with his mother during her time as an actress and performer. Piecing together home movies, film clips and his own memories, Preminger created “Gypsy Rose Lee’s Home Movies,” which he’ll bring to the Arizona Broadway Theatre on Tuesday Jan. 19.

Preminger narrates the home movies, sharing memories and personal stories while documenting Lee’s turbulent life.

He recently spoke to The Republic about the film and why he wants to keep the memory of his mother alive.

Question: How did these home movies first come about?

Answer: My mother started taking home movies back in the 1930s when she got her first 16mm movie camera. But even prior to that, she always had a real sense of posterity.

For example, after she died, I gave her scrapbooks to the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and there were 27 of them, so she really liked to keep records.

What I’ve done is collect photographs, clippings and home movies and edited them together into a story of her life. I narrate and explain the background of all of these clips, and I really try to capture who she was as a person.

Q: When did you first decide to put this show together?

A: I traveled with my mother from the time I was 6 years old and she basically put me to work. As soon as I was old enough to hold a camera, one of my jobs was to take the home movies, so I was very familiar with them.

But more than that, when we were traveling, she would always tell me, “Now, you remember this, Erik, for when you write your book.”

And I did write a book about her and I went on a typical publicity tour, but for it, I went into her archives and pulled out clips so that I could give them to TV stations.

And when Bette Midler decided to do a remake of “Gypsy” for CBS, she asked me what I might have to show her so she could get the character down. So soon I had all this footage and information together and I decided it was time to share it with everyone.

The first time I showed it was at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco in 1998. It went over really well and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s not what I do for a living, but it’s something I enjoy doing.

My mother was a remarkable person, and I never miss a chance to talk about her.

Q: Why do you think people are so interested in your mother’s life?

A: I think she’s interesting now, as she was then, because she managed to be provocative without being nasty. Her striptease, for example, was really just a comedy act. By the time she was finished, she was basically as covered as she had been at the beginning, but in the meantime, she’d taken off her petticoat and her garter belt, all the while singing these erudite, funny lyrics. Not exactly what someone would expect at a burlesque theater.

So she was really different and interesting for her time, and very much someone that lived life on her own terms.

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One thought on “Gypsy Rose Lee

  1. Cynthia Gibb, who played Gypsy, in Bette Midler’s version of “Gypsy” would be very interested in learning more about this, Don, so I’m going to send her the link to this article. 🙂

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