Gifts To A High Class Ecdysiast

Photo by Fred Palumbo, 1956

 
 

The performer with stage name Gypsy Rose Lee was born in Seattle, Washington, on February 9, 1911, as Rose Louise Hovick. She died of lung cancer in Los Angeles in 1970. June Havoc was her only full sibling.

In response to a request from Gypsy Rose Lee for a “more dignified” way to refer to her profession, and trying to describe what she was (a “high-class” stripper), H. L. Mencken coined the word “ecdysiast” – from “ecdysis”, meaning “to molt”.

 
 

 
 

She was also an actress, author, and playwright whose 1957 memoir was made into the stage musical (Gypsy: A Musical Fable by Arthur Laurents) and film Gypsy (Mervyn LeRoy, 1962) starring Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood and Karl Malden.

While she worked at Minsky’s Burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee had relationships with an assortment of characters, from comedian Rags Ragland to Eddy Bruns. In Hollywood, she married Arnold “Bob” Mizzy on August 25, 1937, at the insistence of the film studio. Gypsy was at one time in love with Michael Todd and in 1942, in an attempt to make him jealous, she married William Alexander Kirkland; they divorced in 1944. While married to Kirkland, she gave birth on December 11, 1944, to a son fathered by Otto Preminger; he was named Erik Lee and has been known successively as Erik Kirkland, Erik de Diego, and Erik Preminger. Gypsy Lee was married for a third time in 1948, to Julio de Diego, but they also eventually divorced.

 
 

Gypsy Rose Lee, Max Ernst, 1943

 
 

The walls of her Los Angeles home were adorned with pictures by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Dorothea Tanning, all of which were reportedly gifts to her by the artists themselves. Like Picasso, she was a supporter of the Popular Front movement in the Spanish Civil War and raised money for charity to alleviate the suffering of Spanish children during the conflict. “She became politically active, and supported Spanish Loyalists during Spain’s Civil War.

Advertisements

Carmen on The Big Screen

American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille (1915)

 
 

Theda Bara, epitome of the vamps, in a scene from Carmen (Raoul Walsh, 1915)

 
 

Gypsy Blood, 1918 German silent drama film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Pola Negri, Harry Liedtke and Leopold von Ledebur

 
 

Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger, 1954)

 
 

Venezuelan late actress Mayra Alejandra as Carmen, la que contaba 16 años (Carmen, Who Was 16 Years Old), directed by Román Chalbaud (1978)

 
 

Carmen (Carlos Saura, 1983). It was directed and choreographed in the flamenco style by Carlos Saura and María Pagés. It is the second part of Saura’s flamenco trilogy in the 1980s, preceded by Bodas de sangre and followed by El amor brujo, both inspired by Federico García Lorca.

 
 

Directed by Francesco Rosi (1984). Julia Migenes stars in the title role, Plácido Domingo as Don José, Ruggero Raimondi as Escamillo, and Faith Esham as Micaela. Rosi acknowledged Gustave Doré‘s illustrations for Baron Charles Davilliers Spain (which was published in serial form in 1873) as his principal source for the visual design. He believed that Bizet, who never visited Spain, was guided by these engravings, and shot scenes in some of the exact places that Doré drew.

 
 

This 2003 film was made with high production values and was another success with audiences for the veteran Spanish director Vicente Aranda

 
 

Carmen: A Hip Hopera is a 2001 musical film produced for television by MTV and directed by Robert Townsend. The film stars Beyoncé Knowles in her debut acting role, Mos Def, Rah Digga, Wyclef Jean, Mekhi Phifer, Da Brat, Joy Bryant, Jermaine Dupri and Lil’ Bow Wow.

A Real Bright Road For a Beautiful Butterfly

Otto Preminger was familiar with Dorothy Dandridge but felt she was incapable of exuding the sultry sex appeal the role of Carmen demanded, particularly after having seen Dandridge’s performance as a demure schoolteacher opposite Harry Belafonte in Bright Road (Gerald Mayer, 1953). Her agent’s office was in the same building where Preminger’s brother Ingo worked, and he asked Ingo to intercede on his client’s behalf.

At his first meeting with <Dandridge, Preminger told her she was "lovely" and looked like a "model" or "a beautiful butterfly," but not Carmen, and suggested she audition for the role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge took the script and left, and when she returned she was dressed and behaved exactly as Preminger envisioned Carmen.The director was impressed enough to schedule a screen test for mid-May, after Dandridge completed a singing engagement in St. Louis. In the interim he cast Juilliard School graduate Olga James as Cindy Lou.

On May 21, Preminger announced Dandridge had been cast as Carmen. Initially thrilled by the prospect of playing one of the best film roles ever offered an African American female, Dandridge quickly began to doubt her ability to do it justice. After several days, she told her agent to advise Preminger she was backing out of the project. The director drove to her apartment to reassure her and assuage her fears, and the two unexpectedly began a passionate affair.

 
 

Dandridge was the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role in the 1954 movie Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger, 1954)

Channeling Carmen Jones

Theatrical poster for the film Carmen Jones(Otto Preminger, 1954). Design by Scott McKowen

 
 

Dorothy Dandridge strikes a pose in a scene from the film Carmen Jones. Costume design by Mary Ann Nyberg

 
 

Janet Jackson

 
 

-scura_1-700x501Halle Berry in the television film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (Martha Coolidge, 1999)

 
 

Beyoncé Knowles

 
 

Rihanna

Wine, Women, Words and Entertainment

d

 
 

In 1946 Billy Rose‘s memoir Wine, Women and Words, dedicated to Rose’s early patron Bernard M. Baruch, was published in New York by Simon and Schuster. The book was illustrated, including the cover of the numbered and signed first edition of 1500 copies, by Salvador Dalí whom Rose met while producing events at the 1939 World’s Fair.

“William ‘Billy’ Rose was an American impresario, theatrical showman and lyricist. For decades preceding and immediately after the Second World War Billy Rose was a major force in entertainment, with shows, such as Jumbo (1935), Billy Rose’s Aquacade, and Carmen Jones (1943). His Diamond Horseshoe nightclub, and the Ziegfeld Theatre influencing the careers of many stars. Billy Rose was inducted as a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. In 1943, he produced Carmen Jones with an all-black cast. An adaptation of George Bizet‘s opera Carmen, the story was transplanted to World War II America by lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. It was an instant hit. The New York Telegraph called it ‘far and away the best show in New York’; The New York Times said it was ‘beautifully done … just call it wonderful’. The New York Herald Tribune said that Oscar Hammerstein II ‘must be considered one of the greatest librettists of our day’ and that Carmen Jones was ‘a masterly tour de force’. It was made into a motion picture by Otto Preminger in 1954, for which Dorothy Dandridge received an Academy Award nomination.