Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sauced Silverscreen: Gypsy (1962) & the other half-bottle of Lulu B. Pinot Noir

I started watching Gypsy on Sunday evening a week ago and the first half hour just dragged. But I knew Natalie Wood made an appearance in this film and I was determined to tough it out and see her part. I told Buddy Holly if she showed up and it still dragged, we'd just drop it. So on we went through some more plot exposition and singing, and then Natalie Wood appeared and it was still boring and then, just when I was about to give up hope, she started singing to a lamb wearing a diaper.
Me: You know what's weird about this movie? All the songs are really specific. Rather than a song about love or a person, it's about what's happening right at that moment. It's like a Taylor Swift song.
Buddy Holly: You know what's weird about this movie? She's singing to a lamb wearing a diaper.
Me: ...Yeah...turn it off, I'm going to have to start it over and blog about it. This is too ridiculous to not have its own entry.

So, here we are. I knew I'd need alcohol to get through this one, so grab something to drink and come hear the tale of Gypsy Rose Lee.

For serious this is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous striptease artist. Artist seems like a generous title. The memoirs focused on her relationship with her mother, Rose, and her sister, June, who would go on to be the somewhat famous actress, June Havoc.

Our tale begins with Uncle Jocko's Kiddie Kapers. Uncle Jocko, played by Karl Malden is the MC of a children's talent revue and is currently holding auditions.

He is being hounded by pushy stage mothers all wanting their progeny to have top billing. But none of these mamas hold a candle to Rose, who sweeps in with her act, Baby June and Co., AKA her two daughters, June, the precocious star of the show, and Louise, who has no talent and plays a backup dressed as a boy.

Baby June embarks on her song and dance number, "Let Me Entertain You", which will become the running theme song of this musical. She'll do some kicks, a few tap steps, curtsy, and be, in general, nauseating. Louise will attempt to follow her sister's steps, attempt to sing, fail, and is, in general, pitiful. Mama Rose is pushy, manipulative, and has had three husbands. She's been carrying a tiny teacup dog since before you were born and its name is Chowsie, short for Chow Mein. It is painfully obvious that Mama Rose wanted to be on the stage but never got her chance. 

When Mama Rose learns that the audition has been rigged by the management, all hell breaks loose. Jocko refuses to play unfair and quits. Mama Rose storms out with her daughters in tow. And all of this happened in less than ten minutes.

So, Mama Rose and the girls make their way back to Grandpa's house in Seattle. Along the way, the car breaks down and to pay for repairs they'll need to book a few showings in the nearest town, Klamath Falls.
Baby June: "Have you got brothers in this town too, Mama?"
Louise: "Practically all men in America are Mama's brothers."

In Klamath Falls, Rose runs across Jocko (he has another name, Herbie, I think). Jocko is now selling candy but helps get her the gig. They take luncheon together. I don't know where June and Louise are, the hotel maybe? Sitting in the car? I hope Rose cracked a window for them. Over lunch, Jocko provides his expert advice on how to better manage the Baby June franchise and offers to use his connections to help them get booked, he knows everyone. They admit to liking one another (all of five minutes later) but she never wants to marry again and he wants nothing to do with show business, both insurmountable barriers. They sing a song and Jocko offers to escort them to Seattle and somehow ends up their manager and Rose's boyfriend anyway.

Jocko goes ahead to Chicago and sends word when he's arranged for an audition. They'll need at least four boys for the act and some money for costumes and sets. Rose, reading the letter, is already wheedling her father for the rest of the bank. But Grandpa refuses. He's spent a lot of money on this show business drain and he's had enough. It's time for Rose to get married, settle down, and give her daughters a life. The fruits of his steady, mundane life are evidenced in his home and a solid gold plaque, earned from working for the railroad. Rose sings a song about never settling down and boring people and at the end of it steals her father's plaque to pawn it. What a great daughter.

In Chicago, their act follows some unknown comic, Jack Benny, who'll never amount to a thing. And pretty soon they're on the Vaudeville circuit. We watch Baby June and Her Newsboys, consisting of six boys and Louise (who is still not very good - can't keep up, doesn't know the words) singing "Let Me Entertain You" (the Robbie Williams' version it is not). In a montage, all of these kids mature into young adulthood. Baby June matures into Dainty June. Louise matures into Natalie Wood. Louise is the Neville of this group.

We filter back into the flow of time to catch Dainty June's show in Newark. The entire cast, except Jocko, is living in a two room apartment; Mama Rose and June in one room and Louise shacking up with the six boys in the other. So much for decorum! This day also happens to be Louise's birthday and the family has planned a surprise party for her. Her birthday cake only has ten candles and there has only been ten candles for a number of years because, in this act, no one is over twelve. (Psst! Half of them are totes over twelve.) Even though they still aren't making a salary, the boys and June have all gotten gifts for Louise. Tulsa, Louise's crush, nicked her a music box shaped like a rooster. Mama Rose gives Louise a pet lamb. Like a live one and it's wearing a diaper... They're having Chow Mein for breakfast. Uh...actual Chow Mein, not the dog. As they settle over the food, Mama Rose tells them about a dream she had (Mama is always having dreams) for a new act. A barnyard act with a dancing cow. They'll call it Dainty June and Her Farm Boys.

Their celebration is doubled by the arrival of Jocko with Mr. Goldstone, a big name in show biz, who can get them a great audition. They cajole him with song and Chinese food. Meanwhile, Louise has disappeared with her lamb and birthday presents. She sings to them.

Buddy Holly: This song should never have made the final cut.
Me: For having six boys to keep her company, she seems to have some debilitating anti-social tendencies. Preferring to make friends with inanimate objects.
Please note that Louise does not know how old she is, because she's been ten for years. So healthy!

On the road again, we see them struggle. They've made coats out of a blanket, they save all of the leftovers to take home, Mama Rose tosses the silverware into her purse. Mama Rose wants to escort the girl's back to the hotel, which is two doors down. Jocko berates her for treating the girls like babies and refusing to let them grow up. He berates her for not seeing the inevitable downfall of Vaudeville with the arrival of the talkies. He berates her for not paying the boys a salary. He berates her for not marrying him. Mama Rose promises Jocko that once they make the Orpheum Circuit, she'll marry him.
(Psst! She's totes stringing him along.)

So, they audition the new act for an Orpheum Theatre. P.S. despite now being farm hands, the boy still open the show with "Extra! Extra! Look at the Headlines!" from their Newsies days. Louise is the front of the dancing cow. She gets to moo. She is still talentless. Throughout the audition Mama Rose is on stage, silently reciting along with June. The theatre offers a contract but is for a backwater, no-account stage a few streets down and only for a week's booking. Mama Rose refuses this piddling offer. They counter with an offer for June. She could be a great actress in musical comedy, maybe on Broadway, but the rest of the act has to drop and Mama Rose would have to relinquish the reins. WOAH! No way! That would mean Mama Rose and Louise would have to be normal people. Mama Rose might have to gasp get a job. Or worse, marry Jocko. Louise would go to school. Ew. It would all be so mundane. Everyone thinks this is a good idea because it is. But Mama Rose is one of the original hipsters and she wants nothing to do with the mainstream lifestyle. She will cling to Vaudeville in its dying in days, in fact, you know what? Vaudeville isn't even dying. It's going to make a comeback, it will trounce film, and Mama Rose will be there when it does.

So they open at Backwater Orpheum Theatre. The boys are grumbling about not making a paycheck and Jocko is grumbling for them. Tulsa is secretly rehearsing a new dance routine, for a team dance. All he needs is the girl and he describes to Louise exactly the kind of girl she'll be:

  • Pretty, because that's what people look at in a team act
  • Not necessarily that great of a dancer or singer, because he'll be doing that part
  • More than just a dance partner

And Louise melts, totally ready to be his partner. Instead, she offers to make their costumes. Oh, Louise, you have no game.

Getting gigs is harder and harder, even on the Orpheum circuit. In Nebraska, the boys quit. They're too old, they want to be paid, they're leaving. Tulsa and Louise share a sweet goodbye, as he, blissfully unaware of her feelings, tells Louise that he wanted June to be his partner and that Louise was "always one of the boys." Then, waiting for the train, comes the real blow, a letter from June. She has run off with one of the other boys and is going to be a real actress. She's only thirteen but, in Pioneer country, it's legal for her to marry the seventeen year old. Mama Rose is grief stricken and Jocko and Louise try to make her see sense. The show is done. They should get married and settle down.

Rose refuses. It wasn't June who made the act but Rose. She made it once and she'll do it again, this time with Louise. She sings "Everything's Coming Up Roses," which is the only reason this musical is known, I'd wager.

Mama Rose has a dream about a new act, the Toreadorables. The dancing cow will become a bull, they'll get six little girls to be senoritas, and Louise will be a toreador. They're back on the road as soon as Jocko gets them the back-up girls. P.S. despite being dressed as senoritas, they are still singing the Newsboys' "Extra, Extra! Look at the headlines!" song. During their rehearsals, Louise is stiff, unconvincing. She can't dance, she can't sing, and she can't do the splits. Worse, Mama Rose is still trying to make Louise into June, even going so far as to have Louise wear a blonde wig. Louise fights against it, trying to make her mother see sense. She's no good and no amount of rehearsing is going to make her better. Louise, Mama Rose, and Jocko brainstorm.

Maybe they could get a bucket of peroxide and make all the girls blonde. They'll call it "Madam Rose and Her Hollywood Blondes." Except Louise, who will stay a brunette because she's the star, says Mama. Well, Louise argues, if she's the star, shouldn't it be "Louise and her Hollywood Blondes?" They finally agree on "Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes."

They get a two week booking at the Wichita Opera House but when the girls arrive, ahead of Mama and Jocko, they discover that this is a burlesque house and "Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes" are only here to add an air of respectability and keep the cops off the theatre's back. The moment Mama Rose arrives, she has a conniption. Are the minds of these girls to be thus polluted?! They will never work with such filth and Jocko is in big trouble for even thinking of getting this booking. Pack it up! They're leaving! But Louise puts her foot down. They need work and they have to take what they can get. When a Vaudeville act is booked for Burlesque, it's all washed up. This is the end of the line and they might as well make it good while they can. And when this booking is done, they break up the act and send the other girls on their way.

Louise starts taking side work wherever she can get it, sewing costumes for the other burlesque dancers, taking on stock bits in the comic acts, etc. The other dancers start calling her Gypsy Rose because she's traveled all over. Like Louise, they were all in theatre or vaudeville, not talent ballerinas and stage girls who ended up strippers. But they have the most important thing to succeed in burlesque. A gimmick. One is dressed as a centurion and blows on a bugle horn while she undulates, another is dressed as a Christmas tree and lights up as she shakes her moneymaker, and, the one time ballerina, exudes grace and plies as she strips.

Right about here is where the length of this movie really starts to hit.

Mama Rose & Jocko are set to marry the day they close at the burlesque. Jocko is so freaking excited. Mama Rose is...not. Overhearing that one of the strippers has been arrested and won't make the show, Mama Rose rushes to offer Louise. Without consulting Louise, of course. Louise can do it, it doesn't require any talent, she just walks around in time to the music, maybe show a shoulder or a knee. She can still be a real lady and doesn't even need to actually strip. They can walk away proud, they won't have to quit. It is a sad and pathetic last ditch effort to stay in the limelight. Jocko and Louise are both so disappointed and Jocko looks positively disgusted that Rose would serve her daughter up this way. But Louise does it, for her Mama. As Mama digs up June's old "Let Me Entertain You" song, Jocko leaves quietly, and Louise changes into a gown.

Louise has upgraded to star level Natalie Wood, a real lady, except for the part where she's about to go out and degrade herself for a bunch of drunk and desperate men. She is announced as Gypsy Rose Lee (mispronouncing Louise) and shimmies out. Well, not really, she kind of stiltedly teeters out. She's so nervous, doesn't know what to do with her arms, and still can't sing. It is horribly, horribly awkward.
"Oh yeah, yeah, sassy. Sass it up. Wave to a friend. Wave like a human being. 
You remember waving?"

And yet they seem to love her. So, on she goes to Chicago, Philadelphia, etc., and, with each show, the act gets just a little bit racier. Her confidence begins to grow and it is not too long before she is the incomparable Gypsy Rose Lee, the star of New York Burlesque, the highest paid stripper in the business.

Me: I wonder when Tulsa is going to make his grand re-entrance and win her back.
Buddy Holly: Hopefully never. I mean, not because I don't think they shouldn't be together but because this movie has already been three hours long. Three hours that has felt closer to twenty-four hours.

Instead of Tulsa, Mama Rose shows up. She's obviously jealous of Louise's wealth and fame. She wants to remind Louise of where she came from and that she could still become an actress yet. Louise shakes her mother off - June is the actress, Louise is proud of what she does and is in charge of her own life, at long last. It kills Mama to not be charge, to no longer have a place in the family biz.

P.S. Natalie Wood is the Queen of the crazy, impassioned, yelling at her mother monologue. See Splendor in the Grass.

P.P.S. Natalie Wood, what is that hat you're wearing? Ew.

Mama sings to the empty theatre while Louise finishes a photo shoot for a magazine. Louise catches the end of her song, they make up, and go to a party together.

The end.

Wait, what? The end? What the hell kind of end was that? I mean, thank God, because this movie was RIDICULOUSLY long but that's it?

Tell you what, save some time and listen to this Tony Olando song. It's pretty much the same.


  1. LOL WHUT.

    You wouldn't think a movie about a famous striptease artist (is there really such a thing?) would be so boring.

    Louise is the Neville in that she's accident probe or in that she grows up to be much better-looking than anyone anticipated?

    Does this movie have a song about getting a gimmick? Because I somehow ended up watching that on YouTube, and it had the worst singing EVER. Ugh. If the whole movie is like that. EESH.

    Bahaha, what is that furry thing she's covering up with?


  2. When I spoke of Louise being Neville, I meant that she matures into someone much more attractive than anticipated. However, both options hold true in that she is also quite clumsy.

    There IS a song about having a gimmick, which is what you need to succeed in burlesque. I almost included it in this post but it is a TERRIBLE song and the singing is worse. Unfortunately, yes, most of the songs are equally ear-grating. Natalie Wood does not have the strongest voice but hers is the least offensive. Rosalind Russel *shakes head*. It's painful.

    It's like a giant make-up pouf, right?! So weird!

    Don't waste your time. It's not worth it.