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A famous burlesque star came to the Sault in 1947 and went mostly unrecognized

This edition of Remember This looks back on the time Gypsy Rose Lee came through town on her way to a fishing holiday (and all the press that followed)

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Northern Ontario has long been a popular tourist attraction for fishing and other outdoors activities, attracting such notable people as Ernest Hemingway – and acclaimed burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee.

In July of 1947, the Sault Daily Star reported that Gypsy Rose Lee had come to town with her young son and spent about an hour in the Sault. For most of the time, she apparently explored Queen Street, although few of the city’s residents recognized her from the hundreds of images that appeared of her in magazines, in newspapers, and on screen.

Customs officers hadn’t recognized her either when she drove up in her convertible and trailer – at least until she had to sign her name.

The Star took care to highlight that she was “clad in faded blue jeans rolled up to her knees, a blue and white plaid shirt tied at her waist, tennis shoes and a red baseball cap adorned with fish flies and hooks.” They noted that “she looked like any one of the hundreds of American tourists that flock into the city daily,” with plenty of “fine-looking equipment” in the front seat next to her.

Her final destination wasn’t Sault Ste. Marie. Instead, she was passing through on her way to Mattawa and Moosehead Lodge, where she would take a fishing holiday in hopes of catching some muskies. “I’m looking for a muskie to match up with one I had made into a book-end last year . . . Then it’s back to work for me. It seems like a long time since anybody whistled at me,” she told the Globe and Mail.

On the way, she also stopped in North Bay. The Globe and Mail described how “a flurry” of shoppers “stopped to gawk” at her trailer – the trailer was “the largest ever seen in North Bay,” and the public was apparently more impressed by the vehicle than they were by its driver.

Indeed, that seemed to be the theme of her travels: folks not recognizing her. One tobacco store clerk gave her a hard time about being shorter than he thought, asking her, “You sure you’re Gypsy Rose?” She showed off her flat shoes and told him she stood six foot in heels. A police officer nearly bowled her over on his way to deal with a driver who had double parked; he didn’t recognize her, leading Miss Lee to quip, “Maybe I’ve been holidaying too long.”

While in North Bay, she also sat down with reporters for an interview, during which she discussed her knitting as well as her literary pursuits. An author as well as an entertainer, she was in the process of writing her third (and ultimately unpublished) novel, “The Duchess and the Goldfish Bowl.”

And, of course, she discussed fishing, with an impressed Globe and Mail reporter writing that “this Lee gal means business when she fishes.”

Incidentally, this wasn’t the only interview that highlighted her fishing skills. Approximately ten years later, she would receive Fisherwoman of the Year by Fisherman’s Magazine, and provide some words of wisdom: “Light your own cigarette. Bait your own hook. Clean your own fish – before you leave the boat.”

The Globe’s article ended with the question of why she had packed no dresses with her on her fishing excursion – to which she responded, “Heck . . . whoever heard of me making any money wearing a dress?”

And as for her time spent in Sault Ste. Marie, Miss Lee said, “I like it fine!” She was in the city for an hour, and few people recognized her. Nevertheless, it showed a love she had for fishing, for the great outdoors, and for Northern Ontario.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here