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.
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.