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From the S&S archives:Gypsy Rose Lee adds an exotic touch to the Orient

SAIGON — "An interview? An INTERVIEW?" the lady yelled. In further answer to the request she stepped in and planted a short right to the ribs.

It looked like no interview.

Well, she'd had a trying day (I ducked a long left), what with all that flying and going through immigration and clawing for baggage and the rest of it.

And the rest of it was plenty. Things just seem to happen to Gypsy Rose Lee, ex-stripper, author, stage, screen and video star, owner of a flock of canaries and a formidable right hook.

Sashaying into the USO entertainment office in Saigon Gypsy was magnificent; a psychedelic survivor of show-biz eons past. And more than a survivor.

Her legs were great. They disappeared upward into a muumuu made of some sort of Warholian print, downward into thonged Roman sandals. Her face was mysteriously veiled behind two-inch eyelashes and exterior decorating by Helena Rubenstein. That long left would have been ruinous had it landed; her knuckles were enhanced by golfball-size rings.

Still a lot more bump than grind, Gypsy came down the runway at Tan Son Nhut Airport Sunday morning, and made it obvious from the start that there was a hectic 38 days in store, for Vietnam as well as Miss Lee.

"Let's go to the market, darling," she ogled at her young escort, Capt. William Hooper. The Saigon market was not on her USO itinerary, but no matter.

Two cultures met that day at the Saigon market. Both gaped. Gypsy at the cunning, desperate vendors and their exotic produce, the vendors at exotic, cunning Gypsy.

Then the haggling started. The vendors soon found they weren't alone in the bargaining game. It ended a draw, but Gypsy won.

"Be a dear and pay the man, darling," she oozed at Hooper, hefting a bag of grapes, pomegranates and a watermelon.

The Continental Palace Hotel is a nice place. So nice that even during the horrors of the Communist Tet invasion last year, the veranda was crowded. On the porch you can look down Tu Do Street, where the action is. Or you can just sit.

Gypsy used it as a command post to outline strategy for her campaign in Vietnam.

Miss Lee wants to meet hospitalized GIs.

"When I go into a hospital ward I'm going to ask one of the boys if I can join him in bed," she laughed.

"I always ask that when I visit the boys in the hospitals. The first one's jaw drops about a foot. And when he says OK, I jump up on the bed with him and we talk. Of course by the time I get to the end of the ward, the guys figure out what is going on. Then I have to explain I meant on the bed and not in it."

(Be on the lookout, fellas. Gypsy's going to be everywhere from Quang Tri in the north to Dong Tam in the Delta in the next month).

As she sipped her tea, Gypsy looked out from the column-studded hotel. "Oh, such beautiful young women they have here," she gleamed. "That long, flowing black hair. It's beautiful. I can hardly wait to get back to tell all my husbands about Vietnam! "

Come to think of it, I never did get that interview.


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