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While making West Side Story, Natalie Wood played the music from Gypsy in her trailer. Knowing the life of a child star herself, the story of an overbearing mother seemed to resonate with her own experiences.
“She used to kid that Rosalind Russell was actually portraying our mom,” Lana Wood, her sister, said.
1. Russell came with the show.
The musical was based on the memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee. Ethel Merman originated the Broadway role, and it caused somewhat of a stir that the star would be replaced for the film version. However, Frederick Brisson, who owned the rights, agreed to sell them to Warner if his wife, Rosalind Russell, played the mother. Russell, however, remembered getting the job from Director Mervyn LeRoy. She said, “He needed a trained movie actress who could flesh out the character.” Russell, of course, had learned to mix pushy and playful well approximately four years earlier in Auntie Mame.
2. Natalie Wood got help from the real gypsy.
Gypsy Rose Lee herself showed Natalie Wood how to work the audience while doing the routine. She even divulged the secret to taking off a long glove – taking it off like she had all the time in the world. Wood was quite nervous that the real performer was in the audience when she was playing the part. “She was scared stiff that Gypsy Rose Lee was there and was gonna tell her things and that she was having to strip,” remembered Karl Malden.
3. Russell was dubbed.
Originally, Russell hoped to star in a non-musical adaption of the memoir. Nevertheless, Russell was no stranger to singing and had lent her voice in musicals The Girl Rush and Wonderful Town. However, given the robust score, Lisa Kirk dubbed the actress – a practice not-at-all-strange for the time, as even Natalie Wood was dubbed in West Side Story.