Saturday night, I went to an event at the New York Public Library in honor of the centennial of Gypsy Rose Lee’s birthday. A woman did pop out of a cake at the end, but you knew that already.
Along the way, we saw some great old burlesque and vaudeville footage, including a gem of snippet of a very, very young Gypsy (circa 1931), looking softer and more lovely than the streamlined, ironic version of her latter heyday.
There has been a mini-Gypsy renaissance in recent years, both within the burlesque revival and in books. Last year there was Rachel Shteir’s captivating and whip-smart Gypsy: The Art of the Tease. And now there is Karen Abbott’s new American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare–The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, which I’m eager to read, especially after hearing Abbott share at the Centennial event some tantalizing tidbits from her interviews with June Havoc, Gypsy’s sister and child star (“Dainty June”), who has always fascinated me (her memoirs were childhood favorite of mine, for the marathon dancing sections alone).
But a special and unexpected treat Saturday night was some footage introduced by Abbott that featured one Hadji Ali, a popular vaudevillian known as, well, the Great Regurgitator (or, alternately, The Egyptian Enigma, The Human Aquarium and The 9th Wonder of the Scientific World — what was the tenth, I ask you?).
This is a long clip but, for the intensely curious and not easily dismayed among you, it’s well worth a look. (And yes, that’s Oliver Hardy, dubbed in Spanish!)