I agree with A. Laurent’s assessment of Babs’ having the temperament. Its well documented her Mother’s attitude toward little Bar so I think that is true. And ultimately, physical type has never been a consideration – much to some of the real-life characters’ chagrin.
I worked with June Havoc one summer, and as we got to know each other better I felt more comfortable asking more “personal” questions. When the topic of “Gypsy” (the musical, not the sister – although June always called her “Louise” or “Hovick”) was finally broached, Tyne Daly had been the most recent Rose. I asked June about it and whether she felt Tyne got her Mom’s personality right. “Not really,” June said.
First off, she said, she enjoyed the skill of the musical but it wasn’t REALLY autobiographical. her mother and Louise were such tall tale tellers that a lot of the “legend” was accepted as truth. They talked to June, but she didn’t originally like the idea of her family’s circus being staged – she had divorced herself in many ways from the Hovics by that time, so stayed out of it. Once it opened and was a hit, she kept her mouth shut or was vague when asked. No dummy, she never turned down royalties.
When I asked why she felt Tyne was wrong, she said that everyone always wanted these loud Jewish “broads” to play her Mom. Like Merman, I said, to which she said Yeah, I guess. maybe that’s where it comes from. Ethel was like a trucker in a dress. But they didn’t start with Merman in mind; she’s who got the part once the show was gelling. And Merm was such a success, from that point after everyone thought that was Mama and followed suit. You got Roz Russell, and Merman and Tyne Daly . . .
When I asked June “what was your Mom really like. If you were picking someone to play her, who would you choose? she liked the question. After some thought, she said “Helen Hayes.” I laughed. but then she said, “I’m serious. Mama was tiny and Norwegian. That’s what they all forget. Mama looked a lot like me. (June was tiny and blonde and blue-eyed). “Louise was tall and dark, and once she became Gypsy Rose Lee she kept her hair dark, so folks assumed Mama was like that.” I said, but she was so loud and intimidating from the stories . . . ” June answered, that’s right. That’s what threw people off. This dainty lady with her cute little pin-curled daughters would show up to audition. Mama would sit in the back, then before you know it, this huge voice was filling the space, sounding like a truckdriver coming up the aisle. It came from a tiny little loud ‘lady’ who would not take “No.” THAT’s what I feel they’ve missed in my Mama. She WAS an actress, and she was tough, and she COULD have been a star. She played roles ALL the time and was good enough to get what she wanted most of the time. ”
I’ve never forgotten that story anytime that Gypsy casting is mentioned. Never saw Bernadette, but when I heard she was doing it, I thought “June will be happy.”