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Love-child secret of Hollywood’s gypsy queen


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She was the most famous strip-tease artist in the world. He was one of Hollywood's most powerful and despotic directors. Few people guessed they even knew each other. Not even the most perceptive gossips in Hollywood guessed the secret that they shared for nearly 20 years.

Gypsy Rose Lee, the stripper who had brains as well as beauty, who made a $5 million fortune touring the world's vaudeville theatres, met movie director Otto Preminger at a party in 1945.

He was fascinated by the woman who drove a Rolls-Royce limousine, swore like a trooper and claimed she was related to the King of Norway!

Within days of meeting they were having an affair. Preminger was married and had only recently moved to Hollywood from Vienna to direct for 20th Century Fox. Soon he was madly in love with the vaudeville star and talking about getting a divorce so that he could marry her.

Throughout the summer of l945 they met secretly in the bungalow Gypsy Rose was renting while she made a musical for Universal Pictures.  By now, Preminger was certain that he could not live without her.

"All my plans for the future involved her," he was to remember. "Then one day I phoned her and the studio told me she had left and gone back to New York. I was absolutely shattered."

Preminger spent the next few days trying to contact his lost love in New York. Finally he discovered from a mutual friend that she was in hospital. "I thought that perhaps she had suffered an accident. I got the next train from Hollywood to New York."

The reunion was hardly what he expected. "I immediately went to the hospital to see her, but instead of being in the accident department she was in the maternity wing. When I saw her she was holding a tiny baby.
"Her first words were: 'Congratulations. This morning we had a son.'"

Otto Preminger was beside himself with joy. He had always wanted children but his wife didn't. Now he had got the child of which he had always dreamed of. Then came the bombshell.

"Take a good look," Gypsy Rose told him. "You'll never see him again. He's not even going to know that you are his father."

Preminger was devastated. In vain he pleaded to be allowed to at least support the child but Gypsy Rose was adamant. "I don't need your money," she said. "I have money of my own. Erik is going to be my son."

Over the years, Gypsy Rose Lee became one of America's most original celebrities. After 26 years she gave up striptease and became a best-selling writer and TV show host. She was a woman of taste, intelligence and style and her elegant New York home was filled with books, paintings and antiques. She had three husbands and numerous lovers including flamboyant showman Mike Todd. But always in the background was Otto Preminger still hoping that one day she would become his wife.

In 1963, when he was 18, Erik was determined to discover who his father was. For years every inquiry had been evaded by Gypsy Rose. Now, on the night before he was due to enter the US army for military service, Erik was determined to get a straight answer.

"Who is my father?" he asked. "I thought you might ask that," his mother replied. "And I have decided not to tell you." It's none of your business..."

When Erik persisted, she finally gave in. "It's Otto Preminger," she said. "But you must promise that you will make no attempt to contact him."

He didn't have to. A year later Otto Preminger wrote to Erik suggesting a meeting in Paris. Erik agreed. "I don't know who was the most nervous," he later recalled.

"We walked the streets of Paris for two hours and he told me how he loved my mother and how much he regretted not being involved with my upbringing.

"He said he would have contacted me long ago but it was my mother who had insisted we should not meet. Now I was 19 and he had decided I was old enough to make up my own mind.

"I had. More than anything in life I wanted to find out what it was like to have a real father. And I knew that after all these years Otto Preminger was still in love with my mother.

"I still had this romantic dream that even now there was time to give the story a happy ending."

But there wasn't. A year later, at the age of 56, Gypsy Rose Lee died suddenly of cancer. The following year Otto Preminger officially adopted Erik as his son.

"Together we can make sure we never forget her," Otto Preminger said and he never did. Until his own death in 1986 he regularly placed red roses on Gypsy Rose Lee's grave. The message was always the same: "In memory of what might have been..."

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