Baby June Can Still Entertain Us With Truths


Who could be more relevant to the current Broadway scene than 95-year-old June Havoc, the woman who was the basis for the character of Baby June in the musical Gypsy, which just closed but which will ring in our theater-queen eyes and ears for all time?

Havoc not only has the Gypsy connection, she also was in the original cast of Pal Joey, as Gladys–currently being played on Broadway by Martha Plimpton–a show which has the classic deadpan song “Zip,” a spoof of June’s stripping sister, Gypsy! Weird!!!

So I went back to June’s book More Havoc for some insight into these two always hovering shows and here’s what I got:

*Like so many true stories, Gypsy peeled off some layers of truth in favor of dramatic license. According to June, Gypsy Rose Lee was never an awkward Cinderella-in-the-making–she had aggression and confidence from day one; June herself was not any kind of whiny no-talent; and Gypsy never would have cared about the guy June ran away with–she wouldn’t even sit at the same table with him. But Gypsy loved the idea of the musical because it was a “monument” to her persona. For June, it was more like a tombstone to her values.

*As for Pal Joey, the part of Gladys was beefed up a lot, thanks to June herself. At first she only had a bit in Act Two, but she kept pushing for more business and even auditioning for it and she ended up with a much juicier role, sprinkled throughout both acts. Of course in the current version, Plimpton has gotten her own extra bits. She even gets to sing “Zip” about Gypsy Rose Lee! (And by the way, Gypsy didn’t care for that song because she didn’t use zippers–but she loved the, ahem, exposure anyway.)

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 14, 2009

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