Let Me Entertain You

Let Me Entertain You

Really? With a stripper pole on the bus?

I realized when I put the lettering up on our new office sign, that not many people would get the reference. The song,  “Let me Entertain You” from the 1959 musical Gypsy, is still used today to introduce anything having to do with a strip tease. And since the Joye Mobile does have a stripper pole, what could be more appropriate? As a good historian, like Gypsy, I want to entertain you on our tours. Just NOT the way she did.

There is a new version today by Robbie Williams of the classic Burlesque song. Not the same at all.  The original was written as part of the 1959 stage show “Gypsy” about the great Queen of the Stage, Gypsy Rose Lee. So who was she?

 Gypsy Rose Lee began as Louise, the eldest daughter of Rose Hovick, a woman desperate to get out of Seattle and find fame on the stage. After the birth of a second daughter, June, their mother, who soon became Mama Rose, never made it to the stage herself but put her two young daughters to work for her as a singing act.

With daughters Louise, seven, and June, five, Mama Rose divorced her husband and left Seattle to find fame for her daughters on the Vaudeville stage. Mama Rose saw the younger June as the more photogenic and talented and created a show called “Baby June and the Farm boys.” As “Baby Louise” and “Baby June” Mama Rose taught the two girls to sing “May we Entertain You.” The act was popular, but Vaudeville was already fading.

Mama Rose continued to push her girls onto the stage. By the time June was 13, now called “Dainty June,” her mother was still dressing her as “Baby June,” a fact the daughter resented. June’s only escape was to marry one of the stagehands which she did at the tender age of 13 and fled the family.

 Left with only Louise, Mama Rose turned to the only stage left by the 1920s-Burlesque. She created a show called “Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes” starring Louise who sang and performed slightly risqué numbers at a local Burlesque house. A burlesque house, by the way, is not a strip club. Here performers danced, sang, tap danced, entertained with gymnastics, acrobatics, and often made fun of audience members. There is, at times, a strip-tease dancer as part of the show.

Gypsy Rose Lee

One night, when the stripper failed to show up, Mama Rose, never one to miss an opportunity, pushed Louise into the role. Wearing not much more than a grass skirt, 15-year-old Louise slowly, and teasingly. . . didn’t take much off. Her mother told her “Make them beg for more then don’t give it to them.” Her act was more “tease” than “strip” and more “tantalizing” than “tawdry.” Surprisingly, the audience loved it.

 Taking the stage name Gypsy (from her reading tea leaves) and adding Rose Lee, she became a sensation as much a more than a stripper. Her intellectual musings, her witty asides, her humorous comments, and entertaining quotes kept her audience entranced even as she removed no more than a long white glove behind large white ostrich fans. Her popularity led to her nationwide success, even performing at high-society balls in the major cities.

 Her mother, Mama Rose, continued to dominate her life, threatening her and extorting money with vicious threats until 1954 when her mother died of cancer. A very successful Gypsy Rose Lee at last felt free to write her autobiography. The book, published in 1957, became an immediate best seller. Producers saw its possibilities and the book led to one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time,“Gypsy.” The story was written by Arthur Laurents, the music by Jule Styne and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, including the now famous “Let me Entertain You.” It premiered on Broadway in 1959 and was a box-office smash.

 The story focuses less on Gypsy than on her hard-driving mother, Mama Rose. Only in the second half does Gypsy become the lead character, producing an emotional and satisfying conclusion of success despite the odds. The play went on to be produced twice as a movie and has been done numerous times as a musical by local theater groups.

 In later life, Gypsy tried to transfer her skills into a movie and television career but was never very successful. She hosted two talk shows and had a cameo performance in the1966 film, “The Trouble with Angels.” By the time of her death from lung cancer in 1970, she was still famous from her time on the Burlesque stage but probably even more so from the Broadway show “Gypsy.” And from the song “Let Me Entertain You.”

 So come get on the Joye Mobile and “let me entertain you.”


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