For one night in Surrey, the life of Gypsy Rose Lee will be revealed with film, photos and stories by her son, who travelled the world with the legendary burlesque performer.
Erik Lee Preminger’s “Together Wherever We Go” stage show, which is booked to play Surrey Arts Centre’s Studio Theatre on Oct. 28, aims to offer an intimate evening of show-business nostalgia, starting in the Vaudeville era and continuing through the 1960s.
Born in Seattle, Gypsy Rose Lee became a star as one of the first burlesque artists to give striptease grace, style and humour. A late-1930s stint in the Ziegfeld Follies was followed by work in Hollywood on a series of movies, musicals, TV shows, novels and more.
“She was a very down-to-earth, funny comedian more than she was a nude performer,” Preminger told a Florida radio host in 2020. “I mean, we’re talking the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and things were very different in those days, and most of her act was about comedy.”
When Lee died of cancer in 1970, she left her son a treasure trove of scrapbooks, film, photos and newsreels he used to help create his stage show, which debuted seven years ago at San Franscisco’s Castro Theatre. It was the first time Preminger had performed for an audience, after a life of behind-the-scenes work as a filmmaker, television producer, author and entertainment reporter.
“It was a packed house,” Preminger recalled. “I got a standing ovation and I thought to myself, ‘So this is why everyone wants to be up here on stage.’ It’s such a thrill!”
Surrey Arts Centre’s Studio Theatre, at Bear Creek Park, is a new venue for the Friday show, in a move from city hall’s Centre Stage. The Oct. 28 date, presented by Surrey Civic Theatres, marks the Canadian debut of “Together Wherever We Go,” which includes a post-show Q&A session with Preminger — for as long as fans want to stick around to learn more about him, his mother and their show-biz lives, he says.
“They’re going to turn it into a cabaret with cocktail tables and drinks. It will feel like being back on the nightclub circuit with my mother.”
Preminger, now 77, spent much of his childhood touring across the United States, the U.K., Australia and other countries.
“The easiest way for me to explain the show is that in the 1930s, my mother got one of the very first 16mm home movie cameras and she started filming herself and her environment, places she travelled to and who she was with,” recalled Preminger. “She documented her life like this throughout her entire life. And when I was old enough, I became the official camera man. I have assembled lots of these movies into a collection that I narrate about her life.”
Preminger met his father, filmmaker Otto Preminger, for the first time when he was 22. He worked for him for four years, contributing to the films “Skidoo” with Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx, “Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon” with Liza Minnelli and “Such Good Friends” with Dyan Cannon.
More recently, Preminger authored the memoir “Gypsy and Me: At Home and On the Road with Gypsy Rose Lee,” later reissued as “My G-String Mother.” In the 1980s he was the entertainment producer on KGO-TV’s live morning talk show “AM San Francisco.”
A documentary about his mother won awards at film festivals, and is the basis for Preminger’s one-man show, which should appeal to people curious about what the entertainment world was like and how people lived in the early days of Hollywood.
“It was so different for celebrities back then,” Preminger noted. “These days, big names have private jets, and entertainers are treated like royalty. But in my mother’s time, we lived in very modest hotels, and she used to travel with her own frying pan, and we would cook our meals in the hotel room. For six months of the year, we were on the road. Although mind you, we did drive a Rolls Royce. We would load everything into the car, including the dogs and the cats and off we went.”
Tickets are $28 to see “Together Wherever We Go” at Surrey Arts Centre, on tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566.
Learn more about Gypsy Rose Lee on Preminger’s website, gypsyroselee.net.
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