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At her 'end of the Rainbow' home, June Havoc recalls a bitter past

By JAMES V. HEALION

WILTON, Conn. -- Actress June Havoc compares her present existence to living in the land of Oz. In her emerald village, you get the feeling as Dorothy did that you're not in Kansas anymore.

There are creatures with Shakespearean names, a burro named 'Ariel,' for example, eight castaway dogs she tends to lovingly, and a bend in the Norwalk River abounding with wildfowl and jumping fish.

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The twittering of exotic caged birds inside her house in the afternoon shade suggest along with its Victorian decor a setting for some stark drama that like her antique furniture lies in the past.

She tells that searing story in her new book, 'More Havoc,' but prefers for the moment to talk about her 8-acre domain known as Cannon's Crossing, a pre-Civil War village she is restoring to its original simplicity.

A sign says 'June Havoc's Cannon Crossing, Antiques -- Crafts, Gourmet Food,' and this rural setting is her stage, the tourists who come to shop her audience.

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Miss Havoc at 64 looks and acts like the Connecticut suburbanite she has been for the past 15 years, and speaks in a strong, measured voice.

'Hi, beautiful girl,' she calls to the burro. 'Hello, pretty thing. She just loves to be hugged.' The comment alone seems to go with the image. But then she says she can run the bulldozer parked nearby, too.

'It's the end of the rainbow,' she said looking up at the aristocratic pines and oaks. 'This is what I wanted since I was 3.'

At age 2, she was dancing as 'Baby June the Pocketsized Pavlova.' At age 4, she was in the movies. At 7, she was a vaudeville star making $1,500 a week -- and at 10, June Havoc was a mental case.

Her illness stopped the money flow and her mother's adoration. From then on, she was a failure in her mother's eyes and was shunted aside. Mother lavished her attention on another daughter, Louise, whom she renamed Gypsy Rose Lee.

June havoc was doomed to remain in the shadows as Gypsy pirouetted to burlesque success and stripped to the accompaniment of police raids and newspaper headlines.

A semblance of the story was told in the musical, 'Gypsy,' appropriately subtitled 'a fable,' and Miss Havoc delayed setting the record straight until now.She said she didn't want it to interfere with her late sister's fame.

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Mother was in reality a brassy virago whose last gasps were a denunciation -- strangely, not of June Havoc, but of Gypsy -- the daughter she professed to love.

'You'll never forget how I'm holding you right this minute,' she rasps on her deathbed as she grips Gypsy in a chilling embrace, 'holding you as strongly as I can, wishing with all my heart I could take you all the way -- all the way down.'

June Havoc watched speechless as her mother spilled out her hate, and later asked why her mother chose to reprove Gypsy and not her. Her sister told her:

'Because you failed her. You didn't turn out to be exciting enough to create the kind of reflection she needed to live in. No tabloids, no carnival, no sirens, no arrests. How many rides in the paddywagon did you give her?'

June Havoc had no formal education. Her mother didn't believe in it. She fled her mother's tyranny to surive. She honed her steel as a teenager on the marathon dance circuit and all the sleaze that went with it. Her first lover taught her the multiplication table.

Her second love affair was with words. They fascinated her. She married as a teenager, a brief fling. She turned up pregnant later, flat broke, and not a friend in the world -- except mother. She got no compassion, just a wearying tirade on the primitive aspects of pregnancy.

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The best help she got was from an obstetrics nurse -- a customer in her mother's pickup joint -- who made an appointment with a phsyician and planned the successful delivery of the baby, a girl she named April.

'Mother was an extraordinary person,' Miss Havoc said, 'a driven person,' who today would have been treated for her emotional problems.

That's putting a kind face on it.

Her mother once introduced herself and June Havoc to a gangster after a dawn delivery of stolen furniture to her Rego Park, N.Y., apartment saying, 'I am the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee. And this is my baby. She used to be somebody.'

The stolen furniture in place, Gypsy adjusted a film projector so mother could finish watching a favorite scene in a pornographic movie. Mother hated men and if the movie June Havoc describes in her book suggests anything, she probably disliked women, too.

Miss Havoc, dressed in jeans, an oxford shirt, sneakers, and her long blonde hair piled high under a kerchief, gives no indication in casual meetings that her life has been so unusual.

That's because she is somebody, a successful actress, a good writer, and as her book suggests, a woman unafraid to tell a blunt, biting tale even if it intrudes from time to time in the land of Oz.

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