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Gypsy Rose Lee Entertained Troops in Her Own Style

Noralee Frankel is the Assistant Director, Women, Minorities, and Teaching at the American Historical Association.  Her new book, Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, is the biography of a woman who was constantly torn about her choices as a beautiful and intelligent woman immersed in the burlesque world.  In the original post below Frankel looks at Gypsy’s patriotism.

Gypsy’s greatest triumph as an entertainer was not her performance at Minsky’s, at the World’s Fair, or even on Broadway; but her tours of military bases beginning during World War II. In December 1943, she hitched up her trailer to her car and drove from New York to places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina, haggling with gas rationers along the way.

Gypsy encouraged soldiers’ participation in her act, even though their contribution brought more rehearsals and a less polished show. One Friday night, Gypsy performed for Army Air Force pilots in training at Gunther Field, Alabama. Her number “Gimme a Little Kiss” depended on at least three volunteers. Another number, “I Don’t Get It,” included Gypsy and the Gunther Field Rockettes. With Gypsy supplying the costumes, soldiers dressed as strippers. The program indicated that Gypsy’s performance with the enlisted men was the first time the post had staged their own show. At Bergstrom Field in Austin, Texas, the male chorus line wore costumes with heart motifs and GI mops for wigs. Gypsy donated one of her outfits to a soldier who impersonated her amazingly well in a show entitled “This Is the Army.”

Gypsy also liked to parody gender roles in these skits and acted as the sexual predator against a poor, helpless enlisted man. In the scene, Gypsy took a soldier out on a date and then she would try to convince the soldier to let her come into his home. The soldier demurred, remarking on the lateness of the hour. When Gypsy tried to kiss him, he exclaimed, “Certainly not! I’m not that kind of boy!” He insisted, “I’d hate myself in the morning.” Gypsy responded that she loved him “like a sister.” The soldier retorted, “My sister never looked at me like that.” A military police officer misreading the situation once assumed the soldier had been bothering Gypsy. He ordered the soldier to move along.

In 1951, Gypsy wanted to perform for troops stationed in Germany while she was touring Europe, but the army refused, probably because she was blacklisted from TV and radio for her political views a year earlier. By the mid-1960’s, Gypsy was back in good graces and off she went to entertain soldiers, as she had 25 years earlier, only this time in Vietnam.

In her fifties, she no longer performed, but still thought of herself as a “sexy grandmother.”

Recent Comments

  1. Robert Strom

    My friend Noralee Frankel wrote the Afterword for my new book…

    Lady of Burlesque – The Career of Gypsy Rose Lee (McFarland 2010).

    This book, and Noralee’s excellent book, can be ordered from Amazon.com

  2. Joseph

    i was a patient in the 3td field hospital in Sigon Vietnam I had just wakened up from a 4 day coma and on the second day Gypsy walks in and stops in the door way to the 55 bed ward she says to her camera man no one will know who I am in here I hollard out that I know who you are and she walked straight to my bed and sat down beside me I was thrilled to pieces then she asked how o knew about her I told her my grand father Arthur Olson had many scrap books with her pictures in them she was not happy to hear this her camera man asked if he could take a picture of us I said sure but I asked that Gypsy sign her real name and she said no so no picture was taken this happened in 1969 in the month of jan or feb as near as I can remember what stood out then as well as now is this beautiful tall women was sitting on my bed and she had no stockings and her legs were absolutely fantastic there were better looking than a 16 teen year olds well that’s my story about Gypsy

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