Gypsy Rose Lee was born Rose Louise Hovick on February 9, 1911, in Seattle, Washington.
Lee made her stage debut in vaudeville at age four, starring with her her sister as "Dainty June and her Newsboys." When June left the act by eloping in 1925, Lee became the star of "Madame Rose's Dancing Daughters" under the watchful eye of her stage mother. At age fifteen in 1929, Lee, now working under the name Gypsy Rose Lee, started taking exotic dancing lessons from a performer named Tessie the Tassel-Twirler, and that year, began her career as a burlesque artist in Kansas City.
By 1931 she was appearing in New York at Minsky's and other higher-class burlesque houses. Dubbing herself "The Literary Stripper", her act included lyrics from the Algonquin Round Table's Dwight Fiske and comic monologues such as "I Can't Strip to Brahms." Lee was introduced by writer Damon Runyon to an itellectual crowd, where, despite her lack of formal education, she held her own and charmed her new friends with her wit and sophistication. Her elaborate costumes evoked an earlier, more demure era. It wasn't every stripper who worked in Gibson Girl-style middy blouses, hoop skirts, lace-up corsets, seven-foot tulle trains and enormous plumed hats! In 1936, the dignified Lee was hired to appear in the Ziefeld Follies.
While dancing at the New York World's Fair in 1940 in the Streets of Paris show, Lee began writing a novel, The G-String Murders, in her dressing room after hours. The mystery was published in 1941 and it became a best-seller. She followed this by writing another successful murder mystery, Mother Finds the Body, in 1942.
Lee appeared on Broadway in Star and Garter (1942) and acted in several films,including Stage Door Canteen,(1943) in which she performed a satire about stripteasing; in The Trouble With Angels (1966) and The Over the Hill Gang (1969). She was the star of her own television talk show for several years in the late 1960s, and appeared on various sitcoms and the popular television game show, The Hollywood Squares. Lee's autobiography, Gypsy: A Memoir (1957), became the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Gypsy, which was later made into a motion picture starring Natalie Wood.
Lee had three husbands: Julio de Diego, Alexander Kirkland and Robert Mizzy. She had a son, Erik, by director Otto Preminger, born during her narriage to Kirkland.
Lee died of cancer April 26, 1970, in Los Angels at age fifty-nine.