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BY A GYPSY ORDAINED 

by David Westheimer

 

Both Dody and I have been avid readers since childhood so we must have read thousands of books in our longish lives. But in our senior years we own only a few hundred. Thats because periodically, when they began to overcrowd our shelves, we would weed them out and give away the surplus to library book drives or friends. When we bought a book we didnt look to see if it were a first edition. We didnt care. And we usually discarded the cover because we preferred our books naked.

So I guess its safe to say were readers, not collectors.

But theres one forty-seven-year-old first edition on our shelves that would be the gem of our collection if we were collectors: Gypsy Rose Lees Gypsy, with a typewritten, signed note to me from the gifted illusionist (she made you think she was taking all her clothes off) conferring on me a singular honor.

Back in 1957, when Miss Lees memoir was published, I was gainfully employed as television editor of the Houston Post, which was owned by another gifted lady, Oveta Culp Hobby (I never miss a chance to drop her name). I bought the book and was captivated. Frustrated, too, because I wanted to say so in print but I was the TV editor, not the book editor. Until I realized I could sneak a review into my daily column by establishing a television connection, however tenuous.

So I opened with a spurious conjecture that television was being overrun by folks baring their souls and that though Gypsy Rose Lee had bared almost everything else for the public, she hadnt bared her soul in her tell-all book (almost all), Gypsy, just written "an extraordinary blithe view of even the darkest moments" and launched into a rave review including the observation "Unfortunately, there probably isnt much chance of seeing Gypsy on TV, at least until it has had a run in some more lucrative mediumit would make a marvelous Broadway musical." I even proposed an alternate title, My Bare Lady.

Then in 1959, Gypsy, a musical comedy based on her memoir with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Steven Sondheim and with Ethel Merman as Rose burst upon the scene like a tidal wave that swept all before it.

I looked up my two-year-old column and sent Miss Rose a copy. I got back a chaste white note card, with Gypsy Rose Lee and an impressive Manhattan address elegantly engraved on the cover and a brief typed missive inside, saying

"Dear Mr., Westheimer: Thank you for your note and the clipping. This makes you a member of the Gypsy Fortune Telling Club."

Sincerely, (signed) Gypsy

I carefully glued my letter of appointment to the title page of my first edition, where it remains to this day to confound anyone who doubts my prowess.

But you will have to read it in situ. That book doesnt leave the premises. And Gypsy fortunes are told only in immediate proximity.

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