Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Women of Mystery: Gypsy and Craig

By Jeffrey Marks

Two women in the 1940s likely had more names than most of their era -- Craig Rice (also known as Georgiana Craig Rice Follows Lipton DeMott) and Gypsy Rose Lee (also known as Rose Louise Hovacs.) They had much more in common as well. Both were fixtures in Chicago. Both loved the nightlife and weren’t too concerned about married lovers. Both were also mystery writers.

Craig had written a string of mystery novels in the early 1940s, beginning with 8 Faces at 3, her first novel, in 1939. She’d published several by the time that Gypsy decided to write one as well.

The rumor has long run through the mystery community that Craig ghostwrote Gypsy’s two mystery novels. Craig mentioned Gypsy in her Time magazine interview. There was correspondence including Craig distributed as part of the publicity campaign for The G-String Murders. And Craig did write a mystery novel for George Sanders, which was a poorly kept secret.

The situation became even more complicated when Craig worked on the screenplay for "Lady of Burlesque" starring Barbara Stanwyck, which was based on The G-String Murders. Craig told Time magazine that she had worked as Gypsy’s publicist, which only fueled the fires.

The relationship between the two authors does cause some suspicion about collaboration. I did my best to debunk the myth in my biography of Craig Rice, using the laws of physics that a body cannot be in two places at once. During the times in question, Craig and Gypsy lived nowhere near each other.

Two recent biographies have shed additional light on the writing of Gypsy’s books.

At the time that she was writing The G-String Murders, Gypsy was living in Brooklyn at a home with W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers and other well-known authors. Harper’s Bazaar’s fiction editor, George Davis, helped Gypsy during this time. He helped her write the first chapters of the book and edited the following chapters as she took over the creation of the work.

Abbott’s biography of Gypsy, American Rose, goes so far as to detail how Gypsy managed to use a typewriter with those long fingernails. Abbott does intimate that Gypsy might have had another kind of literary assistance, however, reporting a rumor that Gypsy and Simon & Schuster editor Lee Wright might have carried on a lesbian affair during the creation of the first novel.

In Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, Noralee Frankel has located information on the relationship between Craig and Gypsy. This correspondence is most telling. Rice wrote that The G-String Murders left her breathless, hardly the word to describe one’s own work. She asked Gypsy for tips on how she did it. Rice also offered any assistance she could in quashing the rumors about the authorship of Gypsy’s two mystery novels.

These new biographies, while approaching the subject in different ways, both agree on one point: Gypsy wrote her own novels. Her son, Erik Lee Preminger, was able to verify that his mother wrote her own memoirs, so her literary talent cannot be denied. Hopefully, now these two literary titans can stand separately but as friends.

Jeffrey Marks is the award-winning author of "Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: Queen of the Screwball Mystery," "Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s and 1950s," and the Anthony Award-winning "Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography." He is also the author of the U.S. Grant mystery series that includes "The Ambush of My Name" and "A Good Soldier." Marks lives in Cincinnati.


Polly said...

I remember Gypsy from her TV show. She was funny, irreverent, and highly intelligent. No doubt in my mind that she wrote her own books.

Rochelle Staab said...

Craig Rice is on my TBR list - your interest stirred up mine. I'm so curious to read her work. Thanks!

Ellis Vidler said...

This should be fun--Gypsy Rose and Craig Rice. Both were fascinating charaters--I'm looking forward to it, Jeff.

Chuck Mosberger said...

Well said. As Noralee Frankel pointed out, Gypsy did her own writing. If Rice had ghost written Gypsy's books she must also have written the multitude of letters Gypsy wrote over decades. Gypsy had a distinct style all her own in writing and in life. A correction: Gypsy's actual name was Rose Louise HOVICK.