Bear with me.
When I was a little girl, I spent most of my time reading. Of course. One of my favorite novels took place in a theater. It was a ghost story. It was not a scary ghost story – it was not meant to be. But I was still scared and, during the day, at least, I liked it. I delighted in hiding in my closet, where I knew it was safe, and read about the adventures of a young girl who is cast in a play and, during rehearsals discovers that a sad lady ghost haunts the theater. Since I intended to win a Tony Award one day, and, of course, see a ghost, I felt like the book was almost about me and I ready it many times. (I confess that I cannot remember the name of this book, or its author, and that basic internet searches have failed me – I’m traveling home for the holidays and I hope to raid my childhood book boxes so I can amend this aside later).
In the book, when the kids are rehearsing the play, their adult director and musical director amuse themselves by insisting “Sing out, Louise!” whenever one of their charges is not projecting enough to fill the theater space. The students were confused, as was I. I did not know, at the time, to what this phrase alluded. But, I recalled that phrase with clarity – whenever I failed to project on stage the words tickled at my memory. A few years later, when I saw a high school production of Gyspy, I finally understood why.
“Sing out, Louise” is one of the central bits of dialogue from the great 1959 musical, Gypsy (written by Jule Styne, the also great Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents). The consummate stage mother, Mama Rose, admonishes her shy daughter, Louise, to “sing out” in her vaudeville act. Vaudeville, it turns out, is not where Louise’ talents lie, and while she scrapes a living in vaudeville, she is eventually drawn to burlesque, where she takes on the stage name, Gypsy Rose Lee, and becomes the greatest star in that field.
Gypsy Rose Lee published her memoir, Gypsy, in 1957 with Harper & Brothers. The book became the inspiration for the musical and two later films.
So now, finally, to the point.
I was delighted to find a battered first edition of Gypsy: A Memoir sitting on the Yale Club’s shelves this summer. Just seeing the title brought back memories from my childhood and I was excited to read about the real woman behind the “musical fable.” But, our copy was battered and fragile, so I pulled the book from the shelves and added it to our special collections and ordered a new edition for circulation.
I try to let new books sit on the NEW BOOK shelves for a couple of months before I let myself check them out, just to give members a crack at the exciting stuff. So, it was not until I was reading the early twentieth-century set, Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg (where one character – SPOILER – leaves home with a theater troupe and turns to stripping instead) early this month that I was inspired to turn to Gypsy: A Memoir.
The words “Sing out, Louise!” tickled at my memory.
Alas, although the book was still “available” in our catalog, Gypsy was not there. She had vanished, been ripped away, like strategically placed feathers on a costume. What a tease.