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June Havoc ( 1912 - 2010)
Hollywood and Broadway star whose family life inspired the musical Gypsy
Those who know the gorgeously gaudy Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Gypsy (1959) will remember the refrain of "my name is June, what's yours?" addressed to the audience by the curly-haired child performer. "Baby" June was based on June Havoc, who has died aged 97, and the show was inspired by her early days in US vaudeville with her "monstrous" stage mother and older sister Rose Louise, who became Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous stripper.
"I think Gypsy was one of the most smashing shows I've seen in my life," Havoc once told me. "But very little to do with fact. My mother was not such a monster. Few parents who had a child who, at the age of two, stood on her toes and danced every time she heard music, could resist putting her forward. Particularly if the child was happy doing it. 'Stage mother' is such an old, flat description of a woman who is trying to give the child something that the child obviously wants and probably needs. Look at the wonderful life that has come out of my childhood. I wouldn't trade a minute of it."
I got to know the warm and vibrant Havoc when she came over to London to perform her one-woman show, An Unexpected Evening With June Havoc, at the Donmar Warehouse in 1985. We continued to see each other in England and Connecticut, where she ran a donkey sanctuary. Every time we spoke, she revealed something new and "unexpected" about her past that I had not heard before nor found in her two fascinating autobiographies, Early Havoc (1959) and More Havoc (1980).
She was born Ellen Evangeline Hovick in Vancouver, Canada, though the family moved to Seattle when she was still a baby. She made her professional debut, aged two, playing bits in silent film shorts. She remembered one film in which she had to cry in a courtroom. "Just before the take, mother told me that my beloved dog had been run over." By the age of five, she was a headliner on the Keith Orpheum Circuit in vaudeville, billed at first as Baby June and then as Dainty June, earning $1,500 a week.
But in 1929, just turned 16, she ran away with one of the boys in the show to get married. The marriage did not last and she went back into vaudeville until, in early 1930s, hit by the Depression, vaudeville died. "But, I didn't die with it, although I was hungry enough," said Havoc, as she liked to call herself. She survived by participating in dance marathons, vividly evoked in her Broadway play Marathon '33 (1963), which she also directed.
In 1936, aged 23, her child-star days behind her, Havoc started to appear in musical comedies on Broadway. Her big break came four years later as the night-club performer Gladys in the Rodgers and Hart hit Pal Joey, starring Gene Kelly. One critic wrote: "June Havoc, who has been Gypsy Rose Lee's sister so long she is sick of the classification, came into her own as a comedienne."
Her success in Pal Joey, in which she had five songs, resulted in an invitation to Hollywood. She made her screen debut in Four Jacks and a Jill (1941), in which she played a band-singer with a gangster boyfriend, played by Jack Durant, her co-star in Pal Joey. The following year, in Sing Your Worries Away, she played a stripper, taking off her clothes and her sister. She had another smallish part in My Sister Eileen (1942), which starred Rosalind Russell, who would later play her mother in the screen version of Gypsy (1962).
In the colourful Fox musical, Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943), she and the rotund comic Jack Oakie were a vaudevillian duo, singing Ragtime Cowboy Joe, and the title song with Alice Faye. She continued in supporting roles in No Time for Love (1943), starring Claudette Colbert, and in Brewster's Millions (1945), the funniest of the six screen versions of the play. Most of what she did was lightweight stuff until her role in Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement (1947), in which she was very effective as Elaine Wales, a Jew who has hidden her origins out of convenience.
She followed this with another drama, Intrigue (1947), which provided one of her best screen roles; she played Madame Baranoff, a blonde tiger-woman dressed in diamonds, the boss of a smling ring who is tracked down and made love to by George Raft. She then went on to support bigger female stars such as Gene Tierney, in The Iron Curtain (1948), and Betty Grable, in When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948), again providing low comedy with Oakie. But the parts were, on the whole, mediocre.
"I never had a contract. If I had I wouldn't have been able to freelance all over the world. I'm a renegade. I wanted to have the freedom to accept a theatre job. I did 22 Broadway plays." Among her roles on stage in the 1940s were the title roles in Elmer Rice's Dream Girl, and Sadie Thompson in Rouben Mamoulian's production of Rain, based on Somerset
You wonder how warm it is outside? Well, listen up. Im Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Tom Walker is an entomologist at the University of Florida. He says that if you pay attention to the songs of crickets and katydids you can actually hear the temperature.
The songs of crickets and katydids get slower at lower temperatures and they get faster at higher temperatures. Crickets and katydids don't maintain a constant body temperature. Their temperature essentially takes on whatever the environmental temperature is, and, it happens, the nerves and muscles have chemistry that is slower at cold temperatures than at warm temperatures. So, things go slow at low temperatures and fast at high temperatures. I have a snowy tree cricket and I'll play a song of a warm one, a hot one, and a cold one. And so we'll start off with the warm one. (Plays song) So here's a hot one. (Plays song) And finally here's the cold one. (Plays song)
The snowy tree cricket sometimes called the thermometer cricket because it has a very predictable chirp rate relative to temperature. It's a very simple sort of relationship. For instance, if you count the number of chirps in 13 seconds and add 41 you get the Fahrenheit temperature - if you're in the eastern United States. On the West Coast the snowy tree cricket sings a little faster and there you count the number of chirps in 12 seconds and add 38. But, there's another snowy tree cricket on the West Coast, which is called Riley's Tree Cricket, and that one's quite slow, so you count the number of chirps in 21 seconds, and then add 38.
Please visit our website and check out our new blog. Thats at pulseplanet, one word, pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. Im Jim Metzner.
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