Pinky Pie

Baby June, Lake Wobegon & Me

Posted on: April 2, 2010

Gypsy Rose Lee at her typewriter.

June Havoc, apparently dancing out, not singing it out.

For those of us who have ever been stage mothers – with or without a stage – the words, “Sing out, Baby June” will ring forever.

Yup, even with me, mild-mannered and slightly insane mother.

Baby June Hovick, the grownup who was once told to sing out, sang her last tune Sunday at age 97.

June, the younger sister of internationally-known stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, had a musical career that continued throughout her life even without instructions from Mama.

It was the story – or “fable” as June insisted – of her sister that is immortalized in the musical, “Gypsy.” I saw that wonderful musical in 1962 when I was about ten. I loved the music, but had no desire to become a stripper.

When her marriage broke up, Rose Thompson Hovick did what any stage mother did then and maybe still tries to do today. She attempted to make her children into stars by taking them on the road tap dancing and singing in Vaudeville shows.

Born Ellen Evangeline Hovick, June was the more talented of the sisters, becoming known as “Dainty June.”  The great pressure put on by her stage mother was immortalized in the musical in which she as called Baby June.

After hearing “Sing out, Baby June!” or “Sing out Dainty June!” one  too many times, June ran off at age 13 to marry a 16-year-old dancer named Bobby Reed.

Bobby and June for a time had a much more profitable career in marathon dancing, a desperate act that was popular during the Great Depression. The last couple still standing after many, many hours won a prize.

Mama apparently had Reed arrested and once appeared at a train station with a gun aimed at him.

June went on to write a Tony-nominated Broadway play about her experience called “Marathon 33.” She wrote three other plays and two memoirs, performed on Broadway and was in 26 films, including “My Sister Eileen” and “Gentleman’s Agreement.” She was last on Broadway as Miss Hannigan in “Annie.”

Older sister Louise turned to stripping – with great humor – when she could not make a living with singing and dancing even under Mama’s direction. She became internationally known as a “high-class” stripper. Her first success was stripping in Burlesque shows – with great humor – that she was said to have emphasized the tease in striptease. Later, she wrote her memoirs and crime novels.

“Sing out Baby June” was something that I heard at auditions from the La Crosse Community Theater’s  managing director, Morrie Enders. It was a reminder to the parents attending the auditions that we needed to back off and let the kids do their things. Word was passed between parents that Morrie didn’t like stage mothers and no child of a stage mother would be cast.

The message wasn’t directed specifically at me but it might have been. Inside I was Mama Rose if not outwardly.  And when my son Michael was in karate, I felt my body moving with his every move in various “forms.” I also was way too involved in Michael’s jazz performance and in following Maggie’s articles in newspapers on line.

A friend of mine called the response of mothers to protect their kids as “mother bears.” It’s not much different than the emotions related to pushing your kid forward. I must confess that I once cried when one of my kids didn’t get a part in a play.

It is the same emotion that goes along with the Garrison Keillor description of his fictional hometown on Prairie Home Companion, “where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” We are convinced that our children are above average – way above average – and the world must recognize it.

It’s called the Lake Wobegon effect, which refers to the belief that we are better than others, has been related to all sorts of folks from CEOs to state education officials, and from driers to college students and their parents/

For the record, my kids certainly are above average, but I never encouraged them to become strippers.

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