Gypsy Rose Lee was a show-business phenomenon. Starting at the age of 5, when she appeared in vaudeville, she was a headliner in burlesque, carnivals and nightclubs. She starred on Broadway, appeared in a number of movies, hosted her own television show, wrote one play, two novels and a memoir, GYPSY, which became one of Broadway's greatest musicals.

There have many strippers, but only one Gypsy Rose Lee, and she was far more than stripper: comedian, best-selling author, actress, talk-show host, intellectual and mother - and these are what made her an icon of her age.

Few entertainers have been more honored on the front page of the New York Times Drama section. This is the piece that ran the Sunday after she died.

GYPSY ROSE LEE had no major talents. And I'm quoting her: she sang fairly well; she danced a little better. She was statuesque, but not beautiful. She acted with authority but without inspiration. What then made her a legend? She glowed. She stepped upon a stage, and she filled it, because she was a presence. God, or whoever arranges these matters, had given her the magic gifts of enthusiasm and incandescence, and the tenacity of a bulldog. From the age of 5 until her death, she never stopped working. She was difficult and demanding and maddeningly self-assured; she was different, and certain, and gloriously professional. She strode the stage with security, and if there was insecurity in her heart, no audience ever knew it — only perhaps her sister, June, or her son, Erik.

She was a famous figure, world-famous. She might even say notorious - the most popular strip-teaser ever known, and now, in the context of time, how innocent, how naive. What Gypsy was selling was not nudity; it was a comment, a wry and terribly funny comment on our hang-ups with sex.

Gypsy Rose Lee

She took off a glove, exposed a shoulder and smiled, and made the world laugh joyously with her — and at her. For she knew what she was. And in her books and in the pieces she wrote for The American Mercury, Collier's, The New Yorker, and Harper's, she revealed her in-depth intellect. In her defiance of an idiotic American Legion official who tried to have her blacklisted because of her support of the Spanish Loyalists, she showed her political guts.

What else? She loved luxury. She loved fame — and she had a dealer's eye for a Regency chair, and Empire cocoa pot, or a Rolls Royce. She was a total original. But, most of all, she was the most private public figure of her time. And who ever had a better friend?