Gypsy—and Gypsy—has loomed large over Erik Preminger’s life. The only child of Gypsy Rose Lee, Preminger admits that she “almost raised me to be her historian,” something he achieved, in a way, with the publication of his excellent memoir Gypsy and Me: At Home and On the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee. “And once you fall into that trap, it’s hard to get out of it,” he says. “I’ve tried to get out of it occasionally, but when there’s nothing else doing, it’s this. And it’s rewarding. My mother was a narcissist who wanted to be remembered forever and, for a stripper, that’s a pretty high bar. But she did it!”
Of course, she was helped out immeasurably with the creation of Gypsy, frequently cited as a perfect musical comedy and a showcase for leading ladies ranging from Ethel Merman to Bernadette Peters. Now, Gypsy is back onstage at Bay Area Musicals, near Preminger’s home, in a production directed and choreographed by Matthew McCoy, running November 9–December 8.
Asked if he’s grown weary of the musical, Preminger demurs. “With every viewing, I latch on to a different part of the show,” he says. “And I’ve been especially interested lately in the vaudeville aspects of it and how important vaudeville was in its time. Even if you see the acts, today they do seem very cheesy and simplistic, but June was one of the best. And you don’t get the sense of that enough for me. And I did not like June, so this is not out of affection. But credit where credit is due, this little girl supported her whole family for a long time.”
Recalling the Broadway opening night, Preminger explains that he and his mother had already seen many, many preview performances and out of town tryout performances. “Every time, she sobbed at ‘Little Lamb,’” he recalls. “And [opening night], we held hands and it was very moving to see. For show biz, which is what I was raised in, this is a pretty lofty summit. And being associated with something like that, makes you feel good. I love to talk to the casts. I love to tell stories about my mother. It’s what I do best, and I enjoy it tremendously.”
As for the real-life Rose, Preminger only met her three times. But her presence always loomed large over his mother’s life, whether in her memoir, the Broadway show, or in Mother Finds a Body, the little-remembered sequel to Lee’s first mystery, The G-String Murders (adapted into Lady of Burlesque, starring Barbara Stanwyck).
“I do think sometimes that it’s ridiculous for a man at my age to be talking about his mother, right?” Preminger says. “But it is what it is, judge it however you want. I can only say that there are a lot of rewards to having love and affection for one’s parents. In a way, I think, ‘Instead of fighting it, Erik, just go with the flow.’”