‘Mama Rose’s Turn’ delves into Farmington history with help of Dakota County Tribune archives
Rose Thompson Hovick is the fascinating, misrepresented character immortalized in the musical “Gypsy.” The crazed stage mom who managed the vaudeville acts of daughters Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc captivated the attention of a 12-year-old Carolyn Quinn who saw the play.
She asked her parents why it was called a “musical fable” when the story was based on real people. They explained the producers cleaned the story up for public consumption.
“Can they do that?” she wondered.
“It got me thinking right away,” she said.
As she delved into books about Gypsy Rose Lee and Baby June Havoc, she saw different stories related.
“I had a feeling there was a mystery there,” she said, and her curiosity about the story continued throughout her life.
Since 2008, Quinn has pieced together the story of the Hovick family after she was surprised to learn her local library had the family’s archive of papers. For five hours, she engrossed herself in the story of the vaudeville romps of the 1920s.
Her discoveries are documented in the book “Mama Rose’s Turn: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mom” published by the University Press of Mississippi scheduled to release Nov. 1.
An administrative assistant at a medical school in New York by day, Quinn filled her weekends sifting through correspondences, interviewing family members and reading Dakota County archives about the family. Thanks to the Dakota County Historical Society she was able to uncover the Farmington roots from about the 1860s to 1895.
As Quinn delved deeper into the story, she discovered a connection to Farmington she claims was not well known. Before the vaudeville days, gin-brewing in bathtubs, extortion suits, lesbian romps and other scandals that followed Mama Rose, Hovick grew up in Farmington where her family had rooted itself after immigrating from Germany and Luxembourg.
Quinn was intrigued that “First of all that the family owned hotels, because in the musical they acted like this was this blue collar family,” she said. “The musical really misrepresented them. They were really prominent people from Farmington.”
Rose’s grandparents were Mary Herber and Lorenze Egle. The Herbers owned the Luxembourger Hof hotel in Dakota County. The Egles owned the Egle Saloon in Farmington, and later the Egle Hotel, which reopened as a hotel during prohibition days.
“The whole group was resourceful. Put them down anywhere in the world and they would’ve made money,” Quinn said. “Just like in Farmington it all started billiards, and reopened as hotel, after hotel, reopened, later became a candy store.”
Rose was born in Wahpeton, N.D., but her three other siblings were born in Farmington. Her father, who was also born in Farmington, worked for the Great Northern Railroad.
Rose lived with her grandma at the candy store, which burned down and the family moved toward Seattle.
Rose later had daughters Louise and June. Quinn said Rose and 2-year-old June sat in the back of Louise’s dance class. June started dancing in the back of the classroom on her toes.
“She was a dance prodigy,” Quinn said. Rose did not force her child to perform, Quinn claims.
“You can’t take a child and force a child to perform,” she said.
The divorced mother took the sister act starring Baby June Havoc on the road to the Pantages and Orpheum circuits. But when the depression hit, Louise moved to the burlesque circuit and performed as Gypsy Rose Lee much to her mother’s dismay.
“Rose didn’t want to push her into it because it was so low class,” Quinn said. “But it was the depression.”
The family remained in the spotlight once Gypsy Rose took off, inspiring the eventual musical. Quinn’s story offers a more holistic look at Mama Rose’s “resourceful and adaptable” lifestyle.
While Quinn has never been to Farmington, she is hoping to travel there for a book signing.
She describes the books as, “The story of seven strong women – Rose, her grandmother, mother, sisters and daughters – who had 21 surnames between them. Those included her daughters’ stage names, but mostly they were all of the names of the women’s husbands. Rose and her two sisters had eight marriages that I know about – possibly more.”
Quinn’s book promises intrigue, scandal along with some Farmington history.
“Mama Rose’s Turn” can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com for $23.89.