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?'

Macqueen-Pope on The Orchid

Walter James MacQueen-Pope (11th April 1888 – 27th June 1960) was an English theatre historian and publicist. From a theatrical family which could be traced back to contemporaries of Shakespeare he was in management for the first part of his career, but switched to publicity, in which field he became well-known. He was a prolific writer of books about the theatre, and in particular its more glamorous aspects.

Macqueen-Pope wrote of “The Orchid”[i];

What would the show be like? The Toreador had broken the succession of Girls, and this time the name was floral. It was The Orchid. The programme had all the old names on it, but there was one new one. Well, the stars were born at the Gaiety. Perhaps the theatre’s rebirth would see the birth of a new star as well. It did.

There was Gertie Millar, a leading lady now, and justly so. There was Marie Studholme, there was Connie Ediss, there was Lionel Mac-kinder, Fred Wright,Robert Nainby, Arthur Hatherton (made up to exactly resemble Joe Chamberlain, orchid, eyeglass, sharp nose and all), there was Hilda Jacobsen, Olive May, Kitty Mason, and all the rest. And there was ‘The Hon. Guy Scrymgeour’ in the elegant person of George Grossmith (in brown morning coat and topper), and a quaint little gardener named Meakin, who was Edmund Payne. It was all for our delight. But the new name on the programme was attached to the character of ‘Thisbe,’ described as ‘The Minister’s Private Secretary,’ and the new name proclaimed itself to be Gabrielle Ray. These were before the days of the publicity agent and we knew nothing about her. It was said that she had been one of the girls with the Guv’nor’s touring companies, which were the glasshouses where the stars were raised. The Minister, by the way, was Arthur Hatherton, a Gaiety regular, who was ‘The Minister of Commerce.’ No such rank in the Cabinet, of course, but what did we care? He told us that he was pushful, pushful, oh, so very pushful, and that he pursued the pathway of a pushful perseverance. As he also informed us that his fortune was based on a new kind of screw which fastened by the way you pushed it in, we had no doubt in spotting his prototype. If we had, his make-up proclaimed it. For these were the days whenJoe Chamberlain was beginning the cry of ‘Tariff Reform,’ when you either worshippedJoe or reviled him. But we were also agog to see this pushful Minister’s Private Secretary. And then, she burst upon us. She came into our sight, a demure figure in a Quaker grey gown, with a white lace collar and an accordion pleated skirt. A grey confection of a picture hat rested on her glorious golden head, and her face, which was prettier than any we had ever seen on a chocolate box, had large and sparkling blue eyes. In a tiny voice she told us

“I am the Minister’s Private Secretary Always exceedingly circumspect and wary If he should order iced champagne Surely nobody can complain Of the Minister’s charming private secretary.”

And then—she danced. Danced? It was not dancing. It was a piece of silvery thistledown floating in a sunbeam. She did not touch the stage with her dainty feet, she was blown by the breeze, hither and thither. She was grace, she was allure, she was another Gaiety incarna­tion. And then she kicked. Up went her leg, up went her little shoe far above that golden head, without any visible effort, just as the wind might blow a spray of apple blossom or honeysuckle. And her kick knocked us for six, we acclaimed with all our power. There was a new star in the new Gaiety. Seldom has anyone fresh so completely danced into prominence. In the space of a few days her face was to be everywhere, to gaze at us from magazines, from photographers, from the innumerable picture postcards which we bought so eagerly, stuck in our albums and sent to our friends. Young men and girls competed to see who could get the most postcards of Gabrielle Ray—and it was a breathless hunt— for they poured forth daily, or so it seemed.

In the second act Gabrielle Ray danced to us again. She wore a wine-coloured ballet dress. Later on, in the second edition, she wore pink pyjamas. Oh, the thrill. Women did not wear pyjamas then, many men were still true to nightshirts, but Gabs wore the simplest and daintiest pink silk pyjamas, and looked so appealing as she sang;

“I’m a Pink Pyjama Girl, all pink and rosy I’m a lovely little lady to adore If you’re a pink pyjama girlie you’re all righty And you’ll never wear a nighty any more.”

We could not have agreed with her more.

Later Macqueen-Pope would write [ii];

That brilliant cast all scored, but there was one name on the programme which, as the audience read it, had an unfamiliar sound: “Thisbe (private secretary to Mr. Chesterton)…..Miss Gabrielle Ray.”

Chesterton was Harry Grattan, made up exactly like Joseph Chamberlain, orchid, eyeglass and all (and there were no complaints) who, as Minister of Commerce (no such post existed) sang of being “Pushful, pushful, I’m so very pushful.” But who was this girl who was to play his secretary? Another of “the Guv’nor’s” finds?

The audience was not long kept in suspense. On to the stage came a little slim figure in a simple Quakerish dress, an accordion-pleated skirt and a big hat. Her face was as pretty as any that had ever been dreamed of to adorn a painter’s canvas as a Cupid, or a most expensive box of chocolates. This loveliness, adorned with two large innocent blue eyes, was itself framed within a mist of burnished golden hair. It was an entrancing vision, and the house gave a gasp of admiration.

Gabrielle sang in a slightly thin and shepherd’s pipe of a voice a little ditty to the effect that she was the Minister’s lady secretary, playing a sort of good attendant fairy, and explained her very discreet duties. And then she danced—if dancing is an adequate word. A sunlit piece of thistledown on a soft summer breeze was not more light and graceful. She scarcely seemed to touch the .stage—and then of a sudden, up went the long slim leg right over her head without the slightest effort or trouble.

A new Gaiety star was born when Gabrielle Ray appeared. At once the shops were full of her in picture postcard form. In this photographic competition with the others, Marie Studholme, Ellaline Terriss, Edna May, the Sisters Dare and the rest, it is probable that she even took the lead, for she was eminently photogenic and incredibly lovely. If plain truth must be told, neither her singing or her acting were her strong points: but who cared when she could dance as she did and look as she did? And when she appeared in pink pyjamas and danced in them, every young man’s head was awhirl.

The Orchid was a success. George Edwardes was smiling and happy. He had won again. The Gaiety was the Gaiety, and there was a run of 559 performances. There had been no break in the lure of the Gaiety, and the allure of the Girls was stronger than ever.


[i] Macqueen-Pope, W. (1947) “Carriages at Eleven – The story of the Edwardian Theatre”, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd; London. (p 111 – 112)

[ii] Macqueen-Pope, W. (1949) “Gaiety – Theatre of Enchantment”, W. H.  Allen, London. (p 390)

August 8, 2011 - Posted by | Actress, Biography, Gabrielle Ray, Index, Social History, The Orchid, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] Macqueen-Pope wrote that when Miss Ray appeared in pink pyjamas and danced in them, every young man’s head was awhirl [i]. Two years earlier, in 1901 Pauline Chase scandalised American audiences when she appeared in a clinging pair of pink pyjamas as Kathleen Gay in “The Liberty Belles”. Several years later audiences were still shocked when in 1914 Billy Burke in “Jerry” wore pink pyjamas and a pair of heeled slippers. “She flounced into bed and out of bed with wriggling agility” [ii] . The pink pyjamas were not only an exquisite creation with the wearer looking bewitchingly beautiful in them but they represented a touch of daring daintiness designed to enhance the role and excite the audience. […]

    Pingback by The Orchid (Philco 3274 F) « Gabrielle Ray | April 13, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] Macqueen-Pope on The Orchid […]

    Pingback by The Orchid « Gabrielle Ray | March 23, 2013 | Reply

  3. […] Macqueen-Pope on The Orchid […]

    Pingback by The Orchid « Gabrielle Ray | July 7, 2013 | Reply

  4. […] ran for 559 performances and introduced an unknown Miss Gabrielle Ray in the role of Thisbe, and as Macqueen-Pope wrote “A new Gaiety star was […]

    Pingback by The Theatre of Enchantment « Gabrielle Ray | July 18, 2013 | Reply

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