Gabrielle Ray

'Gabrielle Ray said, 'I am always dancing; I love it! When I don't dance, I sing. What else is there to do?'


Gabrielle Ray

(1883 – 1973)

 “Out, out, brief candle!”

 Gabrielle Ray, born Gabrielle Elizabeth Clifford Cook on 28th April 1883 at Bramford Grange, Cheadle, Stockport; the fifth child of William Austin Cook a prosperous iron merchant and Justice of the Peace for Cheshire and his wife Anne Maria Elizabeth nee Holden [i] [ii] [Fig 1.].

Fig. 1.

A blue plaque has been placed at the site of her family home in Stockport by the  Gabrielle Ray Appreciation Society Stockport . Miss Ray remains the only woman to have a commemorative blue plaque in Stockport however it is a disapointment that she does not appear on their list of famous stopfordians .

Miss Ray’s stage début was as “Eveleen” in John Hollinghead’s comic operetta “Maimi” at The Princess’s Theatre, Oxford Street, London on 17th October 1893, aged 10. She performed various roles before appearing as “Red Riding Hood” in the East / Daly production at the Lyric Theatre in 1902. East has first engaged Miss Ray as the “Breath of the Morning” in his production of “Sinbad the Sailor” in 1899, he was so impressed with her performance that he became the first manager to entrust her with a staring role. In addition he invited George Edwardes, a renowned theatre manager to the performance who invited Miss Ray to understudy Gertie Millar in “The Toreador” at the Gaiety Theatre when her current engagement with East had finished [i].

Many young artists, like Gabrielle Ray, who possessed the capacity for hard work, enthusiasm and ambition soon learnt the business and had the satisfaction of knowing that West End managers had the habit of visiting the Lyric, scouting for talent. In this way many young artists progressed straight to the London stage or into principle parts on tour [ii].

At the conclusion of the performance the curtain fell to rapturous applause. Early that evening there was a gasp of admiration as an enchanting vision of loveliness floated onto the stage, with large blue eyes and a heart shaped face framed in a mist of burnished golden hair. She moved with graceful fluidity; her dancing was such that her feet scarcely touched the boards. This was Red Riding Hood herself. Her success was assured from that first entrance. An unknown artist Gabrielle Ray, nineteen years of age was on the threshold of her dazzling career [iii].

Some years later Richard Wallis, the son of Mr and Mrs Herbert Wallis, who were frequent guests of John M. East recalled that there were many things to intrigue a child at the lyric, especially in the paint room, and the nearby railway arches, beneath which the scenery was stored. But of all of Jack East “discoveries I choose to remember the enchanting Gabrielle Ray, who appeared as his Red Riding Hood; I fell in love with her on sight [iv].

She was to become the most photographed girl of the Edwardian era. Her photographs sold by the thousands until Gabrielle Ray’s fame became international. “Temps” of Paris described her as the most beautiful woman in the United Kingdom [v].

Despite such glowing tributes not everyone spoke or wrote so highly of Miss Ray, Cecil Beaton wrote;

Gabrielle Ray was not a talented actress, not even a good dancer, but her parakeet features were not without possibilities. By sheer cleverness she was able to fascinate an audience and make it susceptible to her self created prettiness. She metamorphosed herself into a sort of Maude Goodman nursery picture book unreality, with masses of soft, silky curls falling about her raised head and a straw hat hanging over her shoulder from a ribbon. The effect was as though butter would never melt in her mouth, yet there was an intriguing perversity about such excessive prettiness. Gabrielle Ray was the precursor of the Marie Laurencin School of pink-and-white feminity.”

“Lily Elsie, the star of the operettas in which Miss Ray appeared, was to tell me many years later of some of her colleague’s experiments in make-up. A past mistress of pointillism, Gabrielle Ray would, for her stage appearance, put mauve and green dots at the edges of her eyes, with little red and mauve dots at the corner of her nostrils. As meticulously as Seurat working over one of his canvases, she shaded her eyelids and temples in different colours of the mushroom, while her cheeks were tinted with varying pinks from coral to bois de rose. The chin was touched with a hare’s-foot brush dipped in terracotta powder, and the lobes of the ears and the tip of the nose would be flicked with salmon colour. Thus painted Gabrielle Ray appeared before the audience enamelled like a china doll. Perhaps better than any other actress, this dancer knew how to pose for a photographer. Doubtless she was one of those forerunners of photographic facial surgery, for she would have a piece of silk thread held under her nose by assistants who stood at either side of her, up tilting the nose just the amount that she wished. With little talent but much imagination Gabrielle Ray, during her brief career, turned herself into a small work of art.” [vi]

Rubenstein wrote, which sounds more like a tribute to her use of make-up rather than a criticism. “Around 1908 only actresses wore make up, among them, the most inventive may have been Gabrielle Ray. She had discovered that by patting a slight bit of make-up on her nostrils (she used spots of red and mauve), she could make her nose look smaller, using a little make-up on her eyelids and temples made her eyes look larger and added a sparkle. She also blended rouge on her cheeks, then dipped a powder puff into ochre powder to colour her earlobes and chin” [vii]

Roles became frequent as her popularity increased until Miss Ray retired from the stage in 1911 to marry Eric Loder. The wedding was arranged for 29th February 1912 at St. Edwards Roman Catholic Church, Windsor. However Miss Ray did not arrive and the wedding was cancelled, eventually marrying on 1st March 1912; the marriage ended in divorce two years later. Miss Ray returned to the stage in 1916 in George Edward’s production of “Betty” at Dalys’ Theatre and in “Flying Colours” at the London Hippodrome. However these were her final West End appearances; there followed several pantomime and infrequent appearances but her career was over by 1920. A contribution of depression and alcohol coupled with her eccentric character brought about a breakdown resulting in admission to a psychiatric hospital in 1936 where she remained until her death some forty years later on 21st May 1973 at Holloway Sanatorium in Egham, Surry at the age of 90 [viii].

Blythman (2014) wrote “Another famous inmate was the former “Gaiety Girl” Gabrielle Ray, born Gabrielle Elizabeth Clifford Cook in Stockport in 1883. The Gaiety Girls were the chorus girls in musical comedies of the nineteenth century and Edwardian period and would appear on stage in bathing attire (which at the time was so designed as to be somewhat chaste by modern standards) or in the latest fashions. They were the style icons of their time. Gaiety Girls were in fact polite, well-behaved, respectable and intended to be symbols of ideal womanhood.

Gabrielle Ray, or “Gabs” as she was known to her friends and admirers, was one of the most famous. A talented actress, singer and dancer, who appeared in other kinds of theatre including pantomime, she was considered among the most beautiful women in Britain by a Paris magazine and became one of the most photographed in the world. Sadly, upset by the philandering of her husband Eric Loder, she took to drink and suffering from alcoholism and depression – mental illness ran in the family – was forced to retire from the stage in 1924. Subsequently she was placed by her relatives in Holloway Sanatorium where she remained until her death in May 1973 aged ninety. She spent some of her time at the main site and some at Lyne Place.

Her long stay at the Sanatorium, where she was registered as Mrs Eric Loder, was a happy one. Everyone liked her – the infectious smile seen in her photographs gives a clue as to why – and she was treated with great kindness and affection. She was visited by other former Gaiety Girls such as Gertie Millar and Lily Elsie, who had become firm friends, and by Lord Dudley, the owner of Great Fosters. She loved her walks into the village for shopping, being taken on car rides several times a week, and sitting in the grounds feeding the birds and squirrels. She continued to take great care over her appearance, always wearing smart clothes and hats and dressing her hair immaculately. When she died, one of the last of the Gaiety Girls, her few surviving relatives were present at her funeral as well as people from the Sanatorium. She is buried in Englefield Green cemetery.” [ix]

After further discussions with Guy Blythman about Miss Ray’s continued stay at The Holloway Sanatorium he said that her relatives didn’t want her back because of the stigma of mental illness and the alcohol/drugs involved. Also she needed to remain in a controlled environment because she wasn’t capable of looking after herself. He added that from his research, the Loder family never accepted Miss Ray and didn’t visit her at Holloway; one of her former nurses recalled “she was a very quiet lady, small and neat, who did not give any indication of the high life she must have enjoyed”.

East wrote that he visited Miss Ray in hospital “but the past is a total void and the talk is of other things” [x].

The Times reported Miss Ray’s death with the following brief notice in their personal column, Wednesday May 23rd 1973, page 36; [xi] [Fig. 2.]

Fig. 2.

This brief summary reminds me of Miss Eugenie Robinson’s stage audition; “An actor is soon forgotten – he reigns as a King a while: He’s feted, and cheered and honoured, and he basks in the Publics’ smile. But the moment his work is over, and gone is the power to please, He has drained the cup of pleasure and come to the bitter lees” [xii].


Gabrielle Ray Appreciation Society Stockport


[i] East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George Allen  and Unwin Ltd, London. (p145 / 146)

[ii] East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George Allen  and Unwin Ltd, London. (p 98)

[iii] East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London. (p146)

[iv] East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London. (p192 / 193)

[v] East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George Allen  and Unwin Ltd, London. (p146)

[vi]  Beaton, C. (1954) “The Glass of Fashion” cited on Henry Jaremko,  accessed 27th April 2010

[vii] Rustenholtz, A. (2003) “Make Up”, Hachette Illustrated UK, Octopus Publishing Group, London. (p22)

[viii] Wikipedia,  accessed 27th April 2010

[ix] East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London. (p146)

[x] Blythman, G. (2014) “The Holloway Sanatorium” Egham and Runnymede Historical Society (p 65)

[xi] Times,!pdy_36_0FFO-1973-MAY23-036-F?sw_aep=suf_earl  accessed 30th April 2010

[xii]  East, J.M. (1967) “’Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family”, George  Allen and Unwin Ltd, London. (p76).


June 8, 2010 - Posted by | Actress, Biography, Blue Plaque, Gabrielle Ray, Social History, Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. […] Biography June 2010 […]

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  2. […] “An actor is soon forgotten – he reigns as a King a while: He’s feted, and cheered and honoure… […]

    Pingback by Gabrielle Ray – Grave « Gabrielle Ray | September 29, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hi
    Do you know what happened to the hospital in Surrey and where she was buried?

    Comment by Reg | October 2, 2011 | Reply

    • In 1948 it was transferred to the National Health Service. In the year 2000, after a period in which it had been neglected, it became a gated housing development with many of the original features preserved under the direction of English Heritage.

      Comment by summertime75 | October 2, 2011 | Reply

  4. I publish the Englefield Green (Surrey) Village Magazine and have written about Gabrielle as she is buried in out cemetery. Her gave is in a sorry state and wonder if something can be done about it. I have the location and a photo if anyone would like it emailed. Bob Green
    PS Holloway Sanitorium was converted into Virginia Park luxury apartments in 1990s.

    Comment by Bob Green | October 5, 2014 | Reply

    • Thank you Bob, I have emailed you regarding this issue, I hope that we can resolve the sorry state of her grave.

      Comment by summertime75 | October 5, 2014 | Reply

  5. […] Miss Ray but I haven’t included this as I have already posted a summary under the heading of Biography. He also mentioned this blog and I am grateful for his acknowledgment and comments, […]

    Pingback by Bamford Grange: A Lost House in Adswood « Gabrielle Ray | April 30, 2015 | Reply

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