Musical Monday: Gypsy (1962)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

gypsy 7This week’s musical:
Gypsy (1962) – Musical #164

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
Mervyn LeRoy

Starring:
Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, Ann Jillian, Karl Malden, Paul Wallace, Morgan Brittany (billed as Suzanne Cupito), Diane Pace, Betty Bruce, Jean Willis, Parley Baer, Harry Shannon, Faith Dane, Roxanne Arlen, Jack Benny (uncredited), Harvey Korman (uncredited), Bert Michaels (uncredited), Cubby O’Brien (uncredited), Trudi Ames (uncredited), Dick Winslow (uncredited),

Plot:
A look at the lives of performers June Havoc (Brittany, Jillian) and Louise, who became Gypsy Rose Lee (Pace, Wood), and how they were thrust into show business by their stage mother Rose (Russell). The story starts when June and Louise are young and progresses as vaudeville declines.

Trivia:
• The story is based on the Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1957 memoir. The film is based on the Broadway musical adapted from Lee’s memoir, which opened May 21, 1959, and closed March 25, 1961.
• Rosalind Russell is dubbed by Lisa Kirk except “Mr. Goldstone” and spoken parts of “Rose’s Turn.” Natalie Wood is partially dubbed by Marni Nixon.
• Gypsy Rose Lee gave Natalie Wood striptease lessons for the film.
• Composer Jule Styne is seen during the opening credits conducting the orchestra.
• First feature film of:
– Morgan Brittany, who was billed as Suzanne Cupito.
– Harvey Korman
– Trudi Ames
– Diane Pace, which was only one of two film or TV appearance for her.
• Faith Dane and Paul Wallace were in the originally Broadway production of “Gypsy.”
• While most of the songs from the original Broadway production were used in the film, “Together, Wherever We Go” was filmed but cut from the film. This was the only song where Karl Malden had the chance to sing.
• Ann-Margret was considered for the role of Gypsy Rose Lee.

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Highlights:
• When Rosalind Russell is stage mothering and dancing on and off stage as she instructs the young performers.
• The appearance of Jack Benny, the “unknown comic” Rose mentions.
• The baby lamb

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Notable Songs:
• “Let Me Entertain You” performed by Morgan Brittany and Ann Jillian in separate scenes, reprised by Natalie Wood
• “Some People” performed by Rosalind Russell, dubbed by Lisa Kirk
• “Baby June and the Newsboys” performed by Morgan Brittany
• “Little Lamb” performed by Natalie Wood
• “Dainty June and her Farmboys” performed by Ann Jillian
• “If Mama Was Married” performed Ann Jillian and Natalie Wood
• “Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses” performed by Rosalind Russell, dubbed by Lisa Kirk

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My review:
Films can sometimes imitate the life of the actors performing in the film. While Natalie Wood portrayed famed burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, the story of an overbearing stage mother wasn’t an unfamiliar one to Wood.

Wood’s sister Lana later said that Natalie Wood joked Rosalind Russell was actually playing their mother, Maria, in the film.

The film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Broadway musical, “Gypsy,” which was based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1957 memoirs. The film beings when Lee (or Louise) and her sister June are children, with their mother constantly trying to get them into vaudeville shows. June is the talented one, and while Louise is always in the act, she doesn’t sing or dance well. Their mother, Mama Rose, drags the girls from town to town, adapting their performance to showcase June and forever trying to make sure that the girls stay children. All the while, Mama Rose’s boyfriend Herbie (Malden) faithfully helps them along, hoping Rose will marry him. When June suddenly leaves, Louise is left to carry the act, though it never really works. Finding themselves in a burlesque house as a performance to “keep the police away,” Louise eventually stands in for the closing strip act and quickly becomes the top burlesque performer in the business, under the name Gypsy Rose Lee … leaving Rose in the dust.

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Natalie Wood and Gypsy Rose Lee on the set of “Gypsy”

Wood campaigned for the role for 18 months and some believe that the role was an outlet for coping with being pushed into show business as a child by her own mother.

While the film may be parallel to Wood’s own life, truly this is Rosalind Russell’s movie. Russell is excellent as Mama Rose and steals the show. Though the character is ruthless, Russell plays it with humor and you can’t help but laugh. Even though Russell’s voice was dubbed, Lisa Kirk matched Russell’s voice better than other dubbers. My favorite part is during the big audition. Mama Rose dances on and off stage as she instructs the young performers. At the end of the scene, she is fully on stage, acting along said Dainty June. It’s both hilarious as a viewer and cringey/horrifying. It’s unfortunately what too many young child stars experienced, including Wood.

It’s said Russell was worried Wood would take all the attention away, as the younger star playing the title role. Russell even only wrote one page about the film in her autobiography. The trailer even focuses on Wood with the sexy striptease scenes to entice the audience into seeing the film. However, Russell had nothing to worry about. This is truly her film.

Natalie Wood is also very good in this movie, especially in the last hour to 30 minutes when the focus shifts more to her character of Louise/Gypsy. She breaks your heart in different scenes. The sweet, sad “Little Lamb” song on her birthday that is so quickly forgotten. When she first dresses for a burlesque number and says, “Mama, I’m pretty.” And then when Rose and Gypsy are fighting and Rose asks, “What did I do all of this for?” And Gypsy says, “I thought you did it for me, mama.” That got me. When she said, “Mama, you’ve got to let go of me,” it made me think of Wood’s real life.

Morgan Brittany, who played Baby June, said Wood was nervous that they would make the decision to dub her singing. But director Mervyn LeRoy reassured her that they wouldn’t and that Louise wasn’t supposed to be a good singer.

Outside of the two titan performers of Russell and Wood, the rest of the cast is outstanding too. Karl Malden is wonderful and it will make you sad how he follows Rose, hoping they will one day get married. Malden called filming “a joy from start to finish,” he said in his autobiography; calling Russell and Wood two of the most professional in the business. Malden wrote in his autobiography that he actively pursued this role and practiced his one song with his family, “Together, Wherever We Go.” Unfortunately the song was cut from the film, but can be seen in DVD extras. Malden does a great job!

Ann Jillian was good as June, but I loved the character even more when it was played by Morgan Brittany as the younger June. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be, but the Baby (or Dainty) June character is so outrageous that I always have thought it’s quite funny. I love her entrance of spinning on to the stage going into a split and shouting, “My name is June, what’s yours?!”

Diane Pace was also perfectly cast to play young Louise, looking very similar to Natalie Wood. Also blink and you will miss Harvey Korman at the end of the film as Gypsy’s press agent.

There are so many great lines in this film, like “Sing out, Louise!” “Hello everybody, my name is June. WHAT’S YOURS?” And of course, “Everything’s coming up roses.”

There are also so many famous, memorable songs. I was humming to myself the whole time and it’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s funny, because this was only my third time watching this movie, but I remembered all the songs like I watched it yesterday. There are a couple songs I don’t care for, like “Gotta Get a Gimmick,” mainly because the first singer is a bit annoying (though I like Betty Bruce), but I understand that the song is important to the storytelling. Paul Wallace’s solo of “All I Need is the Girl” is also not a favorite, but I also understand why it’s necessary, as Louise begins to have dreams for herself beyond June.

While musicals were starting to decline by this period, “Gypsy” has the glimmers of the golden era of musicals in the 1950s. It’s colorful, moves briskly even at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and is filled with excellent songs. It makes you laugh and will tug at your heart strings.

I like “Gypsy” a more every time I watch it. Really excellent and wonderful performances from all involved.

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