As Close to Crime: Mama Rose


In a slight break with tradition, I’ve decided to write about a more well-known individual. 

Hopefully, I’ll provide something new or I’ll manage to bring together a variety of sources in an interesting way. 

Since I’ll be quoting multiple sources throughout, I’ve decided to assign each voice their own individual font.

Today’s story is a classic “Did she or didn’t she?” from the world of entertainment. This is for anyone who loves musical theater and has seen some version of “Gypsy.” 

Curtain up….light the lights…’s Mama Rose’s turn.

Rose Evangeline Hovick nee’ Thompson (1890 – 1954) is rumored to have killed three people in her lifetime. But what is true and what is rumor? She was certainly guilty of fraud, theft, bunco, extortion, harassment and emotional blackmail but was she a murderer? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “everyone’s wrong about Rose” or “she was just misunderstood” but let’s take a closer look at those three homicides. 


If you’re looking for more in-depth biographical information on Rose Hovick, I recommend Carolyn
Quinn’s 2013 book “Mama Rose’s
Turn: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mother.”

If the name Rose Hovick isn’t immediately familiar – she is the infamous stage mother of Gypsy Rose Lee (real name Rose Louise Hovick) & June Havoc (real name Ellen June Evangeline Hovick).

Have these stories of a murderous Rose Hovick become the stuff of legend chiefly because of the character “Mama Rose” as seen in the highly successful musical “Gypsy?” 

This singing and dancing version of Rose first appeared before audiences in 1959. The first movie adaptation was in 1962. 

The musical is based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s bestselling 1957 memoir, “Gypsy.” 

With music by Jule Stein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book written by Arthur Laurents, “Gypsy” is a staple of musical theater. 

The original 1959 musical was produced by David Merrick; choreographed and directed by Jerome Robbins; and starred the incomparable Ethel Merman as Mama Rose. Sandra Church played Gypsy; Lane Bradbury played June.

Arthur Laurents wasn’t really interested in adapting Gypsy’s memoir until he heard several provocative stories about Rose at a cocktail party. Proof positive that rumors about Rose were circulating before the musical’s premiere. 

In the play, Rose is portrayed as a determined, thieving, manipulative and (depending upon who plays her) a truly monstrous woman. 

It’s not possible to know what Rose Hovick would have thought of “Mama Rose” because she died five years before the play premiered but June Havoc so disliked the way she was represented in the musical, as “Baby June,” that Gypsy was forced to make a concession – the subtitle “A Musical Fable” was added. 

June claims she didn’t want to shut the production down entirely, because it meant so much to her sister, but she felt Gypsy had altered the facts to either get a laugh or make a point. This is a bit of a pot and kettle situation.

June’s 1st memoir

June Havoc later wrote two autobiographies (published in 1960 & 1980). These books were June’s chance to alter the image of her that the musical had implanted in the minds of the public. Neither memoir paints an overly kind portrait of their mother. 

Gypsy was interviewed by Herb Feinstein in September 1965 for Pacifica Radio. In their discussion, Herb said he noticed a definite difference in the way she and her sister each recalled their mother and their childhood. Herb suggested June’s portrayal of their mother was “mean.”  

 Gypsy’s response was:

“Oh, she doesn’t mean it to be mean. Uh, I think if you take any two sisters or any two brothers in the whole wide world, and asked them to remember certain instances of their childhood, and they will invariably give you different answers because our memories play peculiar tricks on us. We have our own ways of making the past .. um, well, palatable isn’t the word … livable, perhaps. And my sister, uh, didn’t find it as amusing as I. And, of course, there are many reasons why she didn’t find it as amusing. June worked much harder than I did. She was the star of the act.” 

Rose Louise & “Dainty June” (circa 1925)

Before delving into the homicides, it bears mentioning that Rose also reportedly once attempted to kill dancer Weldon Hyde (who was known to use the stage names ‘Bobby Reed’ and “Bobby Hyde” as well as his real name). 

His offense? He had the audacity to marry Rose’s youngest daughter (and the family’s meal ticket) ‘Dainty June’ in 1928. 

I’ll refer to him as ‘Bobby’ because that’s what June chose to do in her memoir.

Rose had tried to squash the budding romance by threatening to fire Bobby after catching the two of them sharing a kiss backstage. When Rose realized it didn’t make good business sense to fire a cast member who would be difficult to replace on such short notice, Bobby was allowed to stay. June and Bobby later wed in secret on November 30, 1928 in North Platte, Nebraska.

According to Variety (in January 1929) and June’s memoir “Early Havoc” (1960), the newlyweds kept their wedding a secret from Rose until after a performance in Topeka, Kansas on December 29, 1928. 

The way Variety reports on the melodrama – it was Bobby who told Mama Rose that he and June were man and wife. 

Throop Hotel

However, June’s and Gypsy’s individual autobiographies tell the story a bit differently and it seems Variety left out some of the most dramatic parts of the story.

According to June, both she and Bobby were worried about Mama Rose’s reaction to news of the nuptials so they agreed to sneak away from Topeka’s Throop Hotel after everyone was asleep. However, before the lovers could meet up and make their way safely out of town, Rose awoke, saw June’s goodbye note on a window sill and she blew a gasket. 

June’s note, according to Gypsy, who had seen it, read:

We were married two weeks ago in North Platte so you can’t have it annulled. Please don’t try to find me. I can’t go on doing the same act all my life. I’d rather die. Bobby loves me …

Rose phoned the police. She demanded they locate the couple and arrest Bobby Reed.

June hid from her family and the police; she eavesdropped on the conversation between her mother and the detectives. Rose had wanted Bobby arrested and now June heard that her husband was already in police custody, along with his luggage. 

It was Rose’s contention that Bobby Reed was a degenerate dope fiend marrying an innocent child. “What about the Mann Act?”, Rose asked the police. 

For her part, June didn’t really know her true age because Rose had altered June’s and Gypsy’s birth date so many times over the years – both backwards and forwards. June had at least 5 different birth certificates. 

Rose wanted June to remain ‘Dainty’ but if her two daughters were underage, she would have to worry about child labor laws and mandatory education regulations. If they were adults, she couldn’t buy them half-price train fare. 

June knew she was lying when she listed her age as 22-years-old on the marriage license but she thought she was probably 16-years-old. Some accounts place her age at the time as young as 13-years-old. Even June herself, in interviews, has said she was 13-years-old when she married Bobby.

The 1930 US Census (enumerated on April 3, 1930 – roughly 17 months after the wedding) lists June’s age as 18-years-old; Bobby’s age is listed as 24-years-old. Their stated professions were Vaudeville entertainers. That year, they were living in Portland, Oregon with Bobby’s family.

From her hiding place, June watched as Rose was driven away in a police car. June supposed her mother was heading to the police station to file a formal complaint.

This is how Variety reported on the fallout:

Saturday night after the last performance at the Jayhawk here, son-in-law thought it was time to tell mother-in-law. Immediately she besought the cops to arrest him. When he showed a marriage certificate, the cops demurred.

They left the police station still arguing. An hour later a call came to cop station by sis-in-law stating, “Now you’ve got something to arrest him for. He just socked mother in the jaw.”

Son-in-law and his bride had left when the officers arrived. They looked ma-in-law over and didn’t try to stop the escaping pair, as they could not be sure that any sock had been landed.

With what was left of her company and minus Dainty June, Mrs. Hovick chartered a motor car for El Paso, cancelling Kansas City and other engagements.

The whereabouts of the newlyweds is unknown.

Rose Hovick

What Variety fails to mention is Rose brandishing a weapon…in front of police…in the police station. 

This event is featured in both of June Havoc’s autobiographies (1960 & 1980) but it is absent from Gypsy’s 1957 memoir and the play “Gypsy.”

According to June, once Bobby showed detectives the valid marriage certificate, they had no reason to hold him. Bobby, leaving his luggage at the station house, reconnected with June near the Throop Hotel. Bobby then rented a seedy hotel room for June to hide out in while he returned to the police station to retrieve his luggage. It was here that Bobby and Rose met face to face.

At the station house, Rose was confronted with the reality that June and Bobby were legally married. Police had seen the marriage license and having investigated the situation (they made a few phone calls), detectives were satisfied no crime had been committed.

If Rose admitted now that June’s birth certificate was fake, she would once again be in trouble with the authorities for violating child labor laws. Rose had to agree with police that June was an adult and was free to marry. Rose, however, argued that although her daughter was of age, she wasn’t emotionally ready for marriage. It fell on deaf ears.

It was that suggested Rose and Bobby shake hands and make their peace. Bobby extended his hand and Mama Rose pulled out a small automatic. She pointed the gun at Bobby’s chest and pulled the trigger – once … twice.

Fortunately for all involved, Rose hadn’t disengaged the safety on the weapon. When she pulled the trigger, nothing happened and this gave the policemen an opportunity to relieve Rose of her weapon. Rose lunged at Bobby and used her fists, knees, fingernails and teeth to express her displeasure.

Mama Rose was detained at the police station long enough for Bobby and June to leave town.

June wrote that it was a police lieutenant who drove Bobby to where June was waiting. Then the lieutenant took the pair to his home, where his wife served them hot coffee and pancakes. The older couple also kindly drove the newlyweds 30 miles out of town to catch the train to Portland, Oregon, which they’d missed at midnight. Bobby was anxious to introduce June to his family.

Is June’s account true? Was it an over-exaggeration of facts as relayed to her by Bobby? Or is it simply June employing some dramatic license for her memoir(s)?

Rose Hovick biographer Carolyn Quinn calls June’s account in to question in her 2013 book “Mama Rose’s Turn: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mother.” 

Quinn references a December 31, 1929 Topeka State Journal newspaper article which confirms “the police confiscated a small revolver she carried” but there is no mention of attempted murder.

I highly recommend Quinn’s book to anyone who is interested in all things Rose Hovick. Quinn has clearly done a fair amount of independent research rather than opting to rely chiefly on June Havoc’s and Gypsy’s memoirs. And as you’ll see later on in this account, she was right to do so.

Arthur Laurents, who worked with Gypsy Rose Lee in creating the musical version of her memoir described Gypsy as being “allergic to the truth. I tried to find things out from her … she was funny, she was charming and she was evasive. You just couldn’t get anything out of her. I mean I asked her where she got her name, she said ‘Oh darling, I’ve given so many versions – make up your own. It’ll be better.'”

(front) Robbins, Gypsy, Styne – (back) Sondheim, Laurents – at Gypsy rehearsals 1959 (NYPL)  

Surely, nobody (other than Arthur Laurents, apparently) could blame Gypsy for electing to not relive any misery, humiliation and heartbreak of her life for the purposes of light entertainment. Besides, Gypsy had been in show business for decades – she wanted people to be entertained, the truth could take a backseat.

Gypsy’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, recognized this about his mother. In his 1984 memoir “Gypsy & Me,” Erik wrote:

She had a peculiar attitude toward the truth: she would bend it, obscure it, exaggerate it, or conceal it without the slightest compunction; but she’d tell a direct lie only if it was absolutely necessary. It was not a moral position but a superstitious one. She said that direct lies always came back to haunt her.

As Gypsy told interviewer Herb Feinstein in 1965, “We all have a tendency to glamorize the past … color it a little bit.”

The musical “Gypsy” closes it’s first act with June’s off-stage departure and Mama Rose vowing to build a new act around her eldest daughter, Louise. The curtain comes down as Rose sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

June’s marriage to Bobby Reed lasted a few years before ending amicably in divorce. They toured together for awhile as “June and Weldon Hyde” and as “June and Bobby Hyde.”

The Seattle Star (Oct 6, 1930)
Harrisburg Telegraph (Jan 19, 1932)

Harrisburg Telegraph (Jan 21, 1932)

June’s Hovick’s first screen credit as “June Havoc” was for the movie “Four Jacks and a Jill” (released January 23, 1942). June had appeared alongside Harold Lloyd in 1918 as June Hovick.

Now on to the three homicides supposedly committed by Mama Rose:

As far as I know, neither I nor anyone else researching Rose Hovick’s history can find genuine substantiation for the oft-told story of Rose pushing a hotel manager out of a window when he threatened to evict her and her vaudeville troupe. 

The event, said to have happened at some point in the 1920s, is widely referenced but without any details. The accepted version has the man falling to his death and Rose evading justice by claiming self-defense. Apparently, no charges were filed. 

This story is difficult to investigate because we don’t know where or when it happened and the man’s name is never revealed. I can’t prove it nor can I disprove it.

It might not be a true story but it’s a great story and it lives on in infamy.

Gypsy’s biographer Karen Abbott certainly believes the story to be true.

This excerpt is from Abbott’s 2010 book “American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare – The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee”:

An unnamed hotel manager in an unnamed city affronted Rose in an unspecified way. He insulted her daughters, or threatened eviction because their room was overrun with boys, or looked at Rose in a way that dredged up every sore moment with Daddy Jack and Daddy Bub and Murray Gordon and the rest she never cared to name. Louise had to ask herself: if she were Mother under these circumstances, would she have stood by passively and withstood yet another indignity? Or would she have allowed her best instincts to meld with her worst, thinking of her daughters, broken and diminished, while she closed her eyes tightly and pushed that manager out the window?

The why didn’t matter after the fact, only that the police accepted Rose’s alibi of self-defense, and that the murder was never spoken of again. Louise honored this pact even later, when Rose knew all of her secrets and threatened to remember them out loud.

Was it truly a vow of secrecy between all parties involved that allowed details of this crime to remain so vague or is it a backstage rumor that won’t go away? June, who proved willing in both of her memoirs to throw her mother under the bus, doesn’t write about this incident in either.

The second death attributed to Rose is said to have happened after June’s 1929 departure, when the “Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes” act were touring the country and camping under the stars (to save money on rent, no doubt). 

Legend has it that when the gals heard a prowler outside their tent one night, Rose fired a shot through the canvas and killed a man. 

The real story, as related by Gypsy Rose Lee in her memoir “Gypsy” and later May Sherwood (one of the Hollywood Blondes) was that Rose DID fire a blind shot through the tent wall but she killed a stray cow not a man. 

According to Gypsy, once Rose realized she’d killed a defenseless cow, she was filled with regret and fixated on why nobody had heard a cow bell. In Gypsy’s memoir, she claims everyone took turns digging a tremendous hole and they buried the animal. 

According to May Sherwood, Rose threw a tarpaulin over the body which May and the other girls sat on top of the next morning when the farmer came looking for his cow. 

The third death was one for which there was actually a body, a police investigation and a formal inquest. The victim was 29-year-old Genevieve Augustine, who also went by “Ginny.”

Genevieve H. Augustine (March 19, 1908 – June 1, 1937) was an aspiring artist and former teacher, originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin. She was the first of Charles and Lillian Augustine’s fifteen children.

G.A.’s HS yearbook photo

Genevieve graduated from Kenosha High School in 1927. Genevieve had entered the school as a senior after transferring from St. Clara’s Academy (in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin). 

Biographical info for Genevieve in the high school’s yearbook, called “Spy,” states that while at St. Clara’s Academy, Genevieve “won second place in the extemporaneous speaking contest of the forensic league; here she worked on the Spy staff and was a member of the Golf Club. She intended to be a criminal lawyer; we wish her the best of success.”

Genevieve had functioned as an associate editor for the yearbook. Her professed interest in the law seems out of place because art seems to be Genevieve’s sole focus after high school.

Genevieve studied at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois (a private liberal arts college). Then, as a scholarship student, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Genevieve had won several cash prizes and awards during her time there, most notably in 1931.

For the 38th Annual Exhibition of the Art Students’ League (1931), Genevieve submitted 6 oils, 5 water colors, 3 soap carvings and 1 photograph. The league was comprised of forty members; 66 pieces were submitted for judgement. Genevieve was awarded $25 for “Best Composition in Oil.” She and two other artist were presented with a Frederick Magnus Brand Memorial Award for Composition – another $25 prize. (The Inflation Calculator says that, in today’s money, $25.00 = $496.44.)

Blackshear’s “The Strummer”

One year earlier, according to the 1930 US Census, 22-year-old Genevieve was an art student living in Houston, Texas. She was then a boarder of Kathleen Blackshear, an art teacher and painter. 

In April 1930, while under Miss Blackshear’s roof and tutelage, one of Genevieve’s oil paintings, a cactus still life, was accepted as an entry in the Houston 6th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, sponsored by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. That year, Miss Blackshear’s painting “The Strummer” won the museum purchase prize of $250.00. (The Inflation Calculator says that, in today’s money, $250.00 = $4,518.50.)

While it’s impossible for me to know how the two met, Miss Blackshear and Genevieve had the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in common. Blackshear was a SAIC alumna and then a teacher at the school until her retirement in 1961.

Kathleen Blackshear

Kathleen Blackshear (June 6, 1897 – October 14, 1988) has her own Wikipedia page, should you wish to know more about her, and images of her artwork can be easily found via any search engine.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time searching online for an example of Genevieve’s art but I haven’t found any – and that’s unfortunate.

Following Genevieve’s graduation from the SAIC there was an announcement in the Chattanooga Daily Times (on November 20, 1932) concerning her appointment to a teaching position at the newly organized Academy of Fine Arts in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A similar announcement appeared in the Kenosha News on November 26, 1932.

Genevieve, 1932

However, a two paragraph item in the January 9, 1933 issue of the Chattanooga Daily Times indicates things might still have been in the planning stages…for Genevieve, at least.

The newspaper tells readers about a lecture Genevieve gave before members of the Central High School Art Club. Her talk was titled “Problems Confronting Modern Artists.” 

The article concludes with the line “Miss Augustine has planned to organize an art school here in Chattanooga which will be called the Academy of Art. Mr. Clebourne Hatfield, instructor in architectural drawing at Central, will assist in this school.”

 That same month, the same newspaper ran this ad:

Chattanooga Daily Times (Jan 1 & 8, 1933)

Did the school go ahead without Genevieve?

The September 3, 1933 edition of the Kenosha News carried word that Genevieve, having spent her summer vacation in Wisconsin with her parents, had “returned to New York City where she is a teacher of art at the University of New York.”

Jamaica Jewish Center

In March 1934, Genevieve (listed as a Jamaica, NY resident) participated in an art exhibit, sponsored by the Jamaica Jewish Center. She was one of roughly 40 artists who had submitted oil paintings.

Textile High School

Genevieve’s last teaching job was at the Textile High School in New York City (351 W. 18th Street) – later renamed the Straubenmuller Textile High School; now the Bayard Rustin Educational Center. 

When Genevieve learned the high school was not going to renew her teaching contract, she scrambled to find work. 

At the time of her death, Genevieve was working as Rose Hovick’s chauffeur and living in Witchwood Manor, a home owned by Gypsy Rose Lee.

photo and caption from “Woodbury, Orange County” (a 2014 book)

The house was located at 187 County Highway 105, Highland Mills, NY (about 60 miles from NYC). Gypsy had bought the property in 1934; she described the location as being “just a snob’s throw from Tuxedo Park.”

On Tuesday, June 1, 1937 police received a phone call from Witchwood Manor. Genevieve was dead from a single .22 caliber gunshot wound to her head. One discharged cartridge was in the rifle. No other cartridges were found. Ownership of the gun was not established. No suicide note was found. And, according to the Kenosha Evening News (on Nov 26, 1937), no fingerprint impressions were taken from the weapon.

There were at least seven people staying at the house when it happened, celebrating the Memorial Day weekend. All of the female guests, it was said, had some ties to the field of entertainment. 

Pearl Brooks nee’ Kamp, Anna Matt and Helen Leudhart were identified early on as having been present that weekend. Also on the property when Genevieve died were two handymen, Joseph Bush and John Beck. 

Rose’s guests were outside relaxing in lawn chairs when, at 5 P.M., Genevieve announced she was going to take a bath and she excused herself from the group. 

One hour later, when the party moved inside, they discovered Genevieve’s body. The crime scene was immediately compromised but the police were quickly summoned.

photo of the compromised crime scene

It was a shock but, upon reflection, expected; the young woman had attempted suicide previously and those who had been in her company said Genevieve seemed terribly despondent as of late. 

Authorities also learned Genevieve was in need of some type of surgery, the nature of which was not disclosed to the press.  

Health concerns were viewed as another potential motive for her suicide. (All I know about this procedure is that it didn’t involve Genevieve’s appendix. According to an article in the November 14, 1927 Kenosha Evening News, Genevieve was back in Kenosha from Illinois’ Knox College for the purpose of having her appendix surgically removed at St. Catherine’s Hospital on November 12th.)

June 2, 1937

Coroner Edward Garrison ruled her death a suicide and police closed the case. 

This apparently was a disappointment to Genevieve’s former roommate, a woman named Kay Ray, because she quickly inserted herself into the drama.

Shortly after Genevieve’s death and before the retrieval of her body by her parents, Mr. Augustine received a communication from Kay Ray, a self-described designer of women’s clothes and hats and a former roommate of Genevieve’s. 

Mrs. Augustine would also be contacted by this woman. Those missives, which implored them to do nothing until they heard from her, cast non-specific suspicion on the incident. 

The Kenosha News reported, on June 4, 1937, that Kay Ray “had demanded an investigation of her friend’s death.”

June 11, 1937

Newspaper accounts of Genevieve’s father’s reaction to his daughter’s death vary. According to the Middletown Times Herald, Charles O. Augustine said she’s always been a problem child.

The Kenosha News quoted Mr. Augustine as saying (perhaps untruthfully), “As far as I know, she had no motive whatever. She did not want for anything, and was making rapid progress in her art work. She had met with no disappointments and enjoyed her work as an art instructor.”

While it’s natural to feel sorry for his loss, author Carolyn Quinn paints a rather unfavorable portrait of Genevieve’s father in her book “Mama Rose’s Turn: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mother.” It’s absolutely worth a read because Quinn, more than any other author, has delved into the Augustine family dynamic.

On October 26, 1937, at the insistence of Genevieve’s mother, the case was reopened. What if the mysterious interloper Kay Ray was right?

A grand jury of twenty men was convened. The jury listened to testimony from people who were at Witchwood Manor the weekend Genevieve died.

The Middletown Times Herald identified seven grand jury witnesses as “nightclub entertainers and actresses”: Mrs. Pearl Brooks; Anna Matt; Juanita Lopez; Alice Whitehead; Marcia Miller; Rose Hart and Helen Leudardt.

Middletown Times Herald (Oct 26, 1937)  


NY Daily News (May 25, 1932)

Wisconsin’s Kenosha News also reported on the grand jury proceedings. 

Their November 26, 1937 edition provided the names of two additional witnesses who were guests of Rose Hovick that weekend: Marie V. Payne (a NYC taxi driver) and Mme. Martha Bacardi (socialite ex-wife of Jose Baccardi, of Bacardi Rum fame). 

Mme. Martha Bacardi (Pensacola News Journal-Dec 23, 1923)

The jurors visited the home where the death occurred; Rose acted as tour guide. They heard the coroner’s report on how the bullet entered Genevieve’s temple, exited above her ear, hit the ceiling and ricocheted onto the fireplace mantle. 

It’s unlikely Kay Ray testified. She would only have an opinion to offer rather than first-hand knowledge. She had not been present at Witchwood Manor the day of Genevieve’s death or ever, it is believed.

One month later, the Orange County grand jury submitted their conclusion – death by suicide. And yet, to this day, despite never being detained or charged, Rose is considered a prime suspect in Genevieve’s death.

Little is known of Kay Ray. Author Carolyn Quinn wonders if that’s even her real name. 

Personally, I’d like it if Kay Ray was a “designer of women’s clothes” in the same way that Gypsy was a clothing designer – maybe she was an entertainer who sewed her own costumes. 

March 18, 1937 (Ohio)

(Sept 8, 1934)

There is a Kay Ray who, according to several newspaper articles I found, was a fan dancer in 1934; toured with “Melodies of 1937” as a singer and dancer; and also appeared in the 1945 Tex Guinan biopic “Incendiary Blonde” with Betty Hutton.

I can’t find Kay Ray on IMDb but perhaps the woman worked in that film as one of the dancing girls.


Maybe the Kay Ray who danced is the same Kay Ray who was the female vocalist on two Myron Hanly and the California Ramblers records (78s) – “Cry, Baby, Cry” and “Two Shadows.”

Both were recorded in 1938 

Here is a YouTube link, if you’d like to listen to “Cry, Baby, Cry.

“Cry, Baby, Cry” (1938)

I felt strongly enough about this theory that I brought my suspicions to Carolyn Quinn. 

I expected Carolyn to tell me she’d considered this individual as being a match for Genevieve’s roommate then dismissed her but I was mistaken. Mama Rose’s biographer actually seemed a little excited about the possibility since she had difficulty discovering information about Kay Ray when she was conducting research her book. 

I’d like it if I was right but I’m not sure how to substantiate any of it and I try not to present my guess work as fact. But what if Genevieve, an art teacher, heard about an opening at Witchwood Manor through dancer/singer Kay Ray, a person who might have been moving in the same business and social circles as Gypsy Rose Lee’s friends.

It is true that Kay and Genevieve once shared a NYC apartment, we know this from Genevieve herself, but they did not part friends.  

On January 1st, 1937, when Kay and Genevieve were still roommates, Genevieve slit her wrists with a razor blade. Following a hospital stay, she moved out of the shared apartment.

Is this suicide attempt the reason Irving Textile High School chose not to renew her contract?

A desperate Genevieve managed to secure lodgings & employment at Witchwood but shortly thereafter, Kay Ray sent several letters to Gypsy Rose Lee suggesting that maybe Genevieve shouldn’t be permitted to stay at Witchwood Manor. 

The exact content of the letters is unknown as Gypsy apparently didn’t retain them.

Genevieve felt the need to defend herself and her character to Gypsy, who owned Witchwood Manor. What exactly had transpired between Kay and Genevieve to warrant Kay’s interference? Was Kay’s behavior a contributing factor to Genevieve’s suicidal state? Who knows? 

It would have been helpful to take a little peek at Genevieve’s diary but, according to June Havoc, Mama Rose burned it.

Here’s the introduction of Genevieve’s overly formal letter to Gypsy Rose Lee, dated February 21, 1937 – as re-printed in the 2013 biography of Mama Rose by Carolyn Quinn. The letter is part of the Gypsy Rose Lee papers, housed in the New York Public Library (The Billy Rose Theatre Division):

My dear Miss Hovick, 

I have been given to understand you have received letters of a nature concerning myself, and that these letters were in every view detrimental to my character, as well as inclusive with false statements. 

Consequently, I am taking this time to enclose such proof as will disprove a few of the misinformed statements made to you ….

This letter was written by Genevieve seven weeks after her suicide attempt. Instead of getting her life back on track, she was concerned about holding onto her livelihood and a continued residency at Witchwood Manor.

Genevieve wrote:

Witchwood Manor is all that an artist would want. I find an abundance to paint here; the atmosphere is ideal, and your family very wholesome. They no doubt will be in frames before next Fall.

I am starting a portrait of your mother next week. It will be close to life size.

Genevieve’s letter goes into some detail concerning all the projects she’d intended to complete while at Witchwood Manor. 

In addition to painting Rose’s portrait, Genevieve was planning to paint portraits of Gypsy’s grandmother (known as “Big Lady”) and her Aunt Belle. When she ran out of human subjects, Genevieve said she would turn to Witchwood’s chickens for inspiration.

“You see, there is a wealth of material here and I shall be very greedy to do it all justice.”

It seems Genevieve was hoping to gain admittance to a Greenwich Village artists association and she needed 50 completed works to even be considered. 

From 2010’s “American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare – The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee” by Karen Abbott, we have these words from Genevieve (from the same letter):

Miss Louise, I want you to know that I enjoy being here, and I love doing anything I can to make life more comfortable for our mother and your family, and I hope to continue doing so as long as I can be of assistance to any one of  them.

In her letter to Gypsy, Genevieve describes Kay Ray as an unwelcome, ungrateful and unladylike guest in her home. 

There are no specific reasons given for Kay’s presence in her home or the nature of their falling out.

Following the conclusion of the Grand Jury investigation, Kay Ray seems to distance herself from the Augustine family and the Hovicks.. 

Life magazine (Dec 14, 1942)

Years later, June Havoc and Georgia Sothern, Gypsy’s close friend, revealed their own accounts of what happened at Witchwood Manor on June 1, 1937.

According to June’s 1980 autobiography, “More Havoc,” (published a decade after Gypsy’s death), Rose Hovick admitted to berating a despondent Genevieve; ultimately suggesting the young woman take her own life, if she was so miserable. 

June never mentions Genevieve by name.

Here’s is an excerpt:

“I didn’t do a thing.” Mother was earnest. “She took the shotgun out of my hand, put the nozzle in her mouth, stepped on the trigger, and pow!”

I guess my speechlessness compelled more detail.

“I didn’t actually offer the gun, don’t you see? I just had it, that’s all.” She shook her head. “You should have read the crazy lies she wrote in that diary, June. She was deceitful and — and bad. With your sister trying so hard to be a Hollywood star, and that fool girl blowing the whole top of her head off.” She sighed. “Well, the studio put the lid on any big publicity, if that’s what she was after, although I don’t understand this censorship business. After all, living and dying is life.”

Mother’s mouth hardened in contempt. “I’ve never been able to stomach a poor loser. I never told her she was moving in with me.” The violet eyes were wide. “Why would I clutter up my life with a wild tramp like that?” She was making herself angry.

“Does anyone know you burned that diary?” I asked.

“Of course not!” She was furious now. “What do you think I am? That stupid girl was renting a room here, and that-is-all.” She turned to the huge pot of bubbling fruit juices on the stove. “I’m tired of getting into other people’s muckups, just because I know what loneliness is.” She lifted the huge pot from the flame.

“I hope you never have to suffer the way I have, June — abandoned, ignored. Sometimes I think I’d be better off dead, too. I told her that, I did. I said, Why not just check out if you’re that unhappy?, and there was the gun, and — well, I think she knew what she was doing.” She lifted a spoonful of the jam to her lips. “Dammit,” she said, “it’s too late to add more sugar, now. When will I ever learn not to try to do too many things at one time?”

This is a pretty damning account June provides. But is it true?

I gave a lot of credit to author Carolyn Quinn for calling bullshit on June’s conversation with Rose regarding the suicide of Genevieve Augustine.

It is in “Mama Rose’s Turn” that we learn Genevieve’s niece Kathy Wagner later confronted June about this passage in her book and June replied that it was “just something I wrote.”

According to Carolyn Quinn, the only known surviving comment by Rose concerning Genevieve’s suicide was contained in a letter to Gypsy in which she writes, “I will regret for as long as I live the unfortunate, unhappiness I caused you through the Ginny affair that I was helpless to avoid.”

Georgia Sothern

Georgia Sothern, vaudeville and burlesque dancer/stripper, later claimed that not only were both she and Gypsy were at the house that weekend but that Rose and Genevieve were lesbian lovers and when Genevieve made a pass at daughter Gypsy, a jealous Rose shot her. 

Gypsy, it should be noted, was clearly in California at the time of Genevieve’s death and none of the police reports mention Miss Sothern. There is also no proof that Rose and Genevieve were lovers. 

 This is how author Karen Abbott describes Genevieve:

She was slim and pretty, with straight blond hair that swept her neck and pouty rosebud lips. She taught art classes at the Textile High School in Manhattan and: displayed her work at the Municipal Art Gallery on West 53rd Street, watercolors that were deemed “a credible though not at all momentous showing.” (*) She had a history of depression and suicide attempts, most recently slashing her wrists with a razor blade. When she heard about the farm named Witchwood Manor up in Highland Mills, she knew she had to live there. She arrived and painted and tended to Rose and her family for months, without incident.

 (*) New York Times (January 12, 1936) – Karen Abbott misquotes the New York Times article. The actual line is “Water-colors and gouaches are placed in the rooms on the fourth floor. It is a creditable though not at all momentous showing, with these artists as participants:” The names of 12 artists follow this line, one of whom is “Genevieve H. Augustin.” According to the January 15, 1936 issue of Art Digest, Genevieve had submitted a water color painting.

And this is what Abbott writes about the official word on Genevieve’s death plus the rumors concerning who fired the fatal shot, who was there that weekend and who covered it up:

Blood soaked the carpet and spread as far as the door, but not one splatter marred the walls. She left no note. The body was discovered by Rose Thompson Hovick, and the coroner pronounced the death a suicide. Gypsy Rose Lee, former striptease artist, known as Louise Hovick in motion pictures, was not present at the cottage at the time of the shooting.
Maybe she was, and maybe she wasn’t. Her old Minsky comrade Georgia Sothern would swear Gypsy had been there, as would a deputy sheriff named E. Sergio. Either way, she had to get involved. Mother and daughter, keepers of each other’s secrets, hoarders of a devastating currency they couldn’t afford to trade. Gypsy had never said a word about certain incidents from their vaudeville days—the unfortunate cow that wasn’t really a cow at all, the hotel manager who “fell” from a window—and neither would she say anything about Ginny Augustin. The rumors would linger past Gypsy’s lifetime, rumors she never confirmed or denied: there was a party attended by Rose’s six boarders, numerous neighborhood men, assorted friends, and Gypsy. Ginny Augustin made a pass at Gypsy, which infuriated Rose; she did not want to compete for attention or affection with either one for either one.

Rose followed Ginny into her bedroom and shot her, once, in the head. She burned the girl’s diary, full of what she called “crazy lies” that could hurt Gypsy’s Hollywood career, and concocted her story.

Rose sat back and trusted the incident would be covered up because of Gypsy, and it was. Sheriff Sergio took charge of quieting things down. Ginny Augustin’s mother, unconvinced that her daughter committed suicide, demanded an investigation. Members of a grand jury descended upon Witchwood Manor. They walked the grounds, toured the little theater room decorated with cutouts of Gypsy, saw the studio where Ginny painted portraits of Rose and Aunt Belle and Big Lady, sat on the bed where the girl got her final night’s sleep. Four days later, they issued a report that the Orange County district attorney deemed “tantamount to refusal to indict.”

The clamor subsided, Ginny Augustin was forgotten, but the aftershocks rumbled in Gypsy’s ears. Mother was on the other side of the country, but Gypsy could sense the ominous jumble of her thoughts, anticipate her growing cache of trouble and threats.

Author Noralee Frankel has this to say about the death of Genevieve Augustin in her 2010 biography “Stripping Gypsy – The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee”:

On June 2, 1937, the coroner was summoned to Witchwood Manor and found Augustin on a bedroom floor with a rifle by her side. The coroner determined that Augustin had shot herself in the temple during a house party for some of Gypsy’s friends, although Gypsy was not there and Rose acted as hostess. In November, a grand jury convened to investigate the supposed suicide at the request of Augustin’s mother, who had raised concerns. The grand jury ultimately agreed with the coroner...

Frankel repeats June Havoc’s conversation with her mother regarding the matter then adds – 

Erik Preminger (2019)

Recently, when Gypsy’s son recounted the story, instead of describing it as a suicide he stated that his grandmother shot the woman. According to Gypsy’s son, “the girl was Rose’s lover and she made a pass at my mother.” (*)

All these accounts have inconsistencies. The official coroner’s version is suspect given the difficulty of shooting oneself in the temple with a rifle. Rose’s story about where Genevieve placed the gun is inconsistent with the woman being shot in the temple. Eric’s version ignores the fact that Gypsy was not present that weekend; she was probably in Hollywood. Whether Rose actually shot her or goaded her, the story demonstrates Rose’s callousness.!

 (*) The above quote by Gypsy’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, is taken from a March 2003 Vanity Fair article. Erik also told author Karen Abbott that “Rose and Genevieve were lovers” in November 2009. Is this what Erik knows to be true or is he relating to the authors what Georgia Sothern told him?

Genevieve Augustine is buried in the Augustine family plot in Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Saint James Cemetery. image, courtesy of “Grave Recorder”

note – The spelling of Genevieve’s last name in newspapers is either
“Augustine” or “Augustin.” An article in the October 27, 1937 edition of
the Wisconsin State Journal claims Genevieve “dropped the ‘e’ on the
end of the family name.”

In 1942, Gypsy Rose Lee’s second novel, a murder mystery, was published. The title, quite provocatively, was “Mother Finds a Body.”

my copy


first murder mystery, published in 1941, was “The G-String Murders.” The book was adapted for the screen
and re-titled “Lady of Burlesque.” The 1943 film starred Barbara Stanwyck and, if
you haven’t seen it – you should. If you’ve already seen it – watch it


Gypsy at a 1941 book signing

Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy in “Lady of Burlesque”

It’s difficult to know when to stop writing this blog entry because the Hovicks were quite the dysfunctional family. 

Fortunately, there is a wealth of information out there and the burden isn’t on me to provide every twist and turn. However, I’ll contribute a bit more before closing.

Mama Rose would continue to demand even more attention and more money from both her daughters right up until the very end of her life. 

June’s and Gypsy’s relationship was complicated. There were private resentments and periods of estrangement but family is family. 

Gypsy grew up in her younger sister’s shadow and was made to feel inferior to June. In her memoir, Gypsy recalls Rose wanting to drop her from the act and the touring company when her performance wasn’t up to snuff. Rose had seriously considered letting Gypsy’s Aunt Helma and Uncle Fred adopt her. 

Imagine your own mother being willing to give you up because your poor sense of timing was throwing the other dancers off? 

 Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ll work harder in the act, Mother,” I said. “I’ll practice every day, honest I will. I’ll do anything but, please, don’t let me be adopted.”

I remember how Mother sighed and told me to go and get my coat, and how Aunt Helma and Uncle Fred waved good-by to us from the front porch of their big white house. I took Mother’s hand as we walked down the street. “I’ll make up for it some way,” I said. “Just wait and see.” 

June Havoc, for all her early success as a child performer and later as a serious actress, had seen some truly lean years after breaking away from her mother. 

In fairness, IT WAS the Great Depression. During those tough times, Gypsy moved into burlesque while June participated in grueling dance marathons. 

In Gypsy’s memoir, she recalls a stage manager handing her a small stack of mail.

A postcard from San Francisco had a picture of a blonde girl and a young boy. They were in a dancing pose but both of them appeared to be asleep on their feet. They leaned against one another, the girl holding the boy’s arms on her shoulders. Her hair fell over her face in uncombed curls; a pair of dark glasses hung from her ear. Printed below was “Jean and Bobby, the favorite brother and sister team, who have been dancing for five hundred hours at Connely’s Arena. Excitement! Endurance! Thrills! Come and bet on your favorite team.”

The blonde was June. I had to look at the picture twice to make sure, but it really was my sister, and the boy with her was Bobby, the one she had eloped with. I turned the card over and read the message scrawled on the back, “How could you stoop to Burlesque! You have disgraced all of us.” It was signed “June.”

Mother snatched the postcard from me. An anguished cry came from her as she stared at it. “A marathon dancer! Dancing in a marathon after all I sacrificed for her!” She let the card drop as she clung, sobbing, to the back of a chair.

The card had been addressed to me, to my new name at the Rialto Theatre. “How did she know?” I asked.

Mother faced me angrily. “I wrote her, that’s how, in care of Billboard. I told her you were a star with your own show, that your name was up in electric lights! I wanted her to know what she gave up, what she missed out on.”

“She could have been a big star. If only she’d listened to me. If only she’d waited. I could have done for her what I’ve done for you.”

June later wrote and directed the play “Marathon ’33” based on her experiences in these contests. Its Broadway run was from December 22, 1963 to February 1, 1964. 

“Marathon ’33” received three Tony nominations: Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play – Julie Harris (who lost to Barbara Loden for “After the Fall”); Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play – Lee Allen (he lost to Hume Cronyn who was Polonius to Richard Burton’s “Hamlet”); and Best Direction of a Play – June Havoc. June lost to Mike Nichols, who had directed “Barefoot in the Park,” but what an accomplishment to be nominated.

For those who are curious, June Havoc was not the first woman to be nominated for Best Director of a Play. That distinction goes to Joan Littlewood (1914-2002) who was nominated in 1961 for “The Hostage.” Littlewood is also the first woman nominated for Best Director of a Musical – “Oh, What a Lovely War” in 1965. She never won a Tony; she lost to John Gielgud in 1961 (“Big Fish, Little Fish”) and Jerome Robbins in 1965 (“Fiddler on the Roof”).

June eventually built a respectable career as a serious stage, film and television actress but when she died, a large majority of June’s obituaries lead with “sister of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee” or “…immortalized in ‘Gypsy’.” The worm had turned.

Rose Hovick died on January 28, 1954 at the age of 63 from colorectal cancer. She had suffered a stroke two weeks earlier. She is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack, NY in an unmarked grave.

Gypsy Rose Lee died on April 26, 1970, from lung cancer. Her age was listed as 59. She is buried in Inglewood Park Cemtery, Inglewood, California. image


June Havoc died on March 28, 2010, from unspecified causes. Her age was listed as 97 years. June was cremated and her ashes scattered in the garden of her Connecticut home.

The Throop Hotel in Topeka, Kansas (on whose window sill June left that note to her mother) was destroyed by fire on April 25, 1950.

Throop Hotel, 1950 fire


Witchwood Manor survived several devastating fires. The first in October 2009; the second in 2014. Each time, the home was rebuilt and restored rather than razed. 

Witchwood Manor after the Oct 2009 fire – photo from Carolyn Quinn’s Splendiferous website

Actor Victor Garber, who purchased the property for $1.3 million in 2009, put the property on the market in 2018. The asking price was $1.649 million.

Witchwood Manor in 2012      

Witchwood Manor in 2018


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