Gypsy Rose Lee inspired one of the greatest musicals of all time in Gypsy and one of the greatest character songs of all-time in "Zip," from Pal Joey. Her life story—or at least a version of it—has been told in the Jules Styne–Stephen Sondheim–Arthur Laurents musical on Broadway five times and counting, plus a feature film and a made-for-television movie. But how familiar are you with the world's most legendary stripper, born January 8?
1) She appeared on Broadway.
Lee made her Broadway debut in 1932's Hot-Cha, as Rose Louise. She wasn't billed as Gypsy Rose Lee on the Great White Way until the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies. She co-produced and starred in Mike Todd's 1942 extravaganza Star and Garter—but first, she replaced Ethel Merman in the Broadway company of DuBarry Was a Lady. (Of course, Merman went on to originate the role of Mama Rose in the original Gypsy.)
2) She was a best-selling writer.
In addition to her memoir, Gypsy, she also wrote two mysteries: The G-String Murders and Mother Finds a Body. The former was the basis for the Barbara Stanwyck film Lady of Burlesque (in which she memorably sings "Take It Off the E String and Play It on the G String"). She also wrote a play, The Naked Genius, about a burlesque artist that starred Joan Blondell.
3) She shared a house with legends.
During World War II, Lee lived in a Brooklyn brownstone with Carson McCullers, W.H. Auden, Jane and Paul Bowles, and composer Benjamin Britten, while she wrote The G-String Murders. The unlikely roommates are the subject of the book February House, which in turn was adapted into an Off-Broadway musical by the same title.
4) She was a talk show host.
In her later years, Lee hosted a morning talk show in San Francisco.
5) She had a career in Hollywood.
Lee's filmography isn't exactly studded with classics, but one movie does stand out: She appeared in 1966’s The Trouble With Angels, which starred Rosalind Russell, the first actor to bring Lee's mother to life on the screen in the 1962 film adaptation of Gypsy.