Sunday, March 28, 2010

R.I.P. Baby June

June Havoc, a show-business legend whose hard-knocks childhood as a stage performer was depicted in the classic "musical fable" GYPSY, died March 28, according to the Village Voice. She was 96. She had outlived her only child - a daughter April, who died in 1998.

Driven by a ruthless stage mother, young Ellen Evangeline Hovick and her sister Louise—who would become legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee—were forced into Vaudeville at an early age. Ms. Havoc was billed as "Baby June," and later "Dainty June" (as she got older).

Blonde, blue-eyed and pretty, she danced and sang and high-kicked her way through four shows a day on the Keith Orpheum Circuit and earned $1,500 a week (a fortune during the Depression—and still not bad today) for her family at the peak of her popularity.

June was not happy with the way she was portrayed in her sister's autobiography, and the two were long estranged. They reconciled shortly before Gypsy Rose Lee's death in 1970.

"All I wanted was the truth to be told," she told the New York Times in 2003. "That the little kid went out and killed the people." She tells vaudeville details in this interview.

June once told a reporter: 'My sister was beautiful and clever -- and ruthless. My mother was endearing and adorable -- and lethal. They were the same person. I was the fool of the family. The one who thought I really was loved for me, for myself.''

June abandoned her stage mother Rose's world when she eloped at 13 with fellow performer Bobby Reed. The two teenagers scraped by entering, and winning, dance marathons.

Her film career began in 1942 and was littered with mainly "B" material. A few credits stood out, however, including the comedy "My Sister Eileen" and "Gentleman's Agreement," in which she played a racist secretary.

In 1963, Ms. Havoc turned her book "Early Havoc" into the play Marathon '33, which she both wrote and directed. Set in 1933, it starred Julie Harris as June. Ms. Havoc was nominated for a 1964 Tony Award as Best Director, and Harris as Best Actress in a Play. The show ran only 48 performances, but it did provide the basis for the hit movie "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," set at a Depression-era dance marathon.

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