Gypsy Rose Lee: One of the Greatest Female Authors of the 20th Century

It is often repeated in writers’ workshops throughout America that you should write what you know. And who did that better than the illustrious Gypsy Rose Lee? The innovator of the striptease not only wrote a telling autobiography, but, most importantly, a mystery novel entitled The G-String Murders. Although she was most loved for her body (even Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote her a telegram that urged, “May your bare ass always be shining.”), let us not forget about the literary prowess of one, Gypsy Rose Lee.

Gypsy’s debut, rightly The G-String Murders, was released in 1941 (the year of Pearl Harbor and loose morals) to more than mild interest. Although many have speculated that famed detective fiction writer Craig Rice (a woman) was the true author of the book, I think we can all deduce that no one could write about the sordid life of a burlesque theater behind the scenes with as much authority and precision as Gypsy. Fittingly, the movie was eventually adapted into a film starring Barbara Stanwyck–renamed to the far less scandalous title, Lady of Burlesque.

On the heels of The G-String Murders was the sequel, Mother Finds A Body (perhaps one of the best titles in mystery/pulp fiction history). Published in 1942, the novel explores, yet again, a murderous tale of intrigue from the perspective of our narrator, Gypsy Rose Lee (a caricaturized version of her, presumably). Tragically, there were never any follow-ups to these lurid, so-called “trash” novels. Granted, she did write a play called The Naked Genius in 1943, but that’s hardly enough to quell anyone’s zeal for her literature. Most likely Gypsy was 1) Preoccupied with her whirlwind romances/salacious stripteases and 2) Felt it was sufficient to make her last book the 1958 memoir Gypsy: A Memoir. Sweeping and sultry, it was this autobiography that would one day give us the Stephen Sondheim musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable.

The writer's side of Gypsy.
The writer’s side of Gypsy.

Even Gypsy’s son, Erik Lee Preminger (because Gypsy had to bone Otto Preminger, obviously), notes in his foreword of Mother Finds A Body that his mother was an avid reader in genres and matters of varying subjects. Her passion for letters and her passion for passion was a combination to be reckoned with. And maybe her greatest form of literary genius (in addition to her naked genius) was in opting not to be prolific. For her modus operandi, after all, was the tease, the ability to leave us wanting more.