June Havoc, performing in the play, "Mexican Hayride" (Getty Images / Time Life Pictures / George Karger)
The perils of being a child star – and having overenthusiastic show-biz parents – are often discussed these days. We watch Toddlers and Tiaras and shake our heads, hoping the kids will turn out all right. We follow the careers of those who hit the limelight young – Miley Cyrus, Lindsey Lohan, the Olsen twins – wondering if they'll emerge gracefully from their early stardom. And we see too many of them die young: Brittany Murphy, Corey Haim, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Michael Jackson.
But long before the young stars we watch carefully now, long before those who made it big in the '70s or '80s, long even before Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple or Judy Garland, there was June Havoc.
Havoc was one of the first child movie stars, and she was one of the youngest. She also had one of the most difficult stage parents of all time – her seriously overbearing mother, Rose Hovick, who pushed June and her sister into vaudeville and movies when they were just toddlers as a way to support their family.
That the sisters would rebel against their mother was, perhaps, predictable. June's sister grew up to be Gypsy Rose Lee, one of the most famous strippers of the burlesque stage. And June was just 15 when she eloped with a fellow performer, trying to escape her mother's influence.
But June couldn't resist the call of the stage, the only life she'd known since earliest childhood. She continued to appear in movies and on Broadway, eventually graduating to writing and directing. Her vaudeville roots often showed through, in her great singing and dancing.
The story of June's and Gypsy's childhoods eventually became legend, thanks to Gypsy's memoir and the subsequent Broadway musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable. June wasn't happy with the way she was characterized, but she was convinced to let it go for her sister's sake.
So how did June Havoc turn out? Did she suffer the fate of so many child stars, descending into a debauched lifestyle that led to an early death? Far from it. She continued acting successfully for much of her life – and a long life it was. She died two years ago today at the impressive age of 97, long outliving her mother, her sister… and any critics who might have been watching her early career with bated breath, waiting for her to fail.
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.