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?'

Theatre – A Joy For Ever – Manchester Evening News – Saturday 5th January 1946




From left to right: Patricia Burke, Joan Maude, Zena Dare, Vivien Leigh, and Lily Elsie.


ONE of the easiest ways I know of starting a really warm argument among devoted playgoers is to say something like this, with measured conviction: “Do you remember So-and-so? Quite the most beautiful woman I have seen on the stage.”

For the next five minutes the air will be full of the names of yesterday’s lovelies, each one conjured out of the past by the memory of an admirer, and the same result will always be the same – total disagreement. But one thing will strike you very forcibly, and that is that rarely indeed will any actress of the present generation be put forward as a serious competitor.

The golden age seems to have been the Edwardian, the age of Daly’s and the Gaiety, with the late Victorian a good second and Georgian I and Georgian II a bad third and fourth.

It is, of course, necessary to begin by pointing out that simple physical beauty is all that is at stake. Brains have nothing to do with it. Nora Nitwit has as good a chance as Betty Bluestocking. On the other hand the matter is a good deal complicated by the fact that the most beautiful woman in the world is soon forgotten if she has nothing else to recommend her, and everyone who has the likeness of a lovely woman etched on his memory has been affected by something more than face and form.

They may, of course, have the excuse of that fine old actor, the late Fred Kerr, who had a favourite story he used to tell about a farmer’s dance in Sussex.

He was a young man at the time and he found himself dancing with an extraordinarily pretty girl. She was also a very good dancer. He had no idea who she was, and she had little or nothing to say, but they danced on in a state approaching rapture until the dance ended. Whereupon, with a bewitching smile lighting up her perfect features, she said: “’Ow my shift do stick to my back!”

Is the stage to-day as prodigal of beauty as it was? The answer is obviously in the negative. When the vogue of the big musical show was at its zenith and every stage was littered with young women who were showgirls first and actresses later – if at all – then, perforce, you might see as many beauties in a single evening as you will see now in a season.

Those were the days when Gladys Cooper, Moya Mannering, and Julia James were three of George Edwardes’s “Young Ladies,” when Lily Elsie and Gertie Millar were the toasts of the town; when Marie Studholme was the picture postcard queen when Lily Langtry (the Jersey Lily), Gabrielle Ray, and Ellaline Terriss were at the top and the Dare sisters, Zena and Phyllis, were climbing the first rung.

The odd thing is that so many of the prettiest of them graduated from the musical stage and became accomplished players of “straight” parts, like Miss Cooper.

The postcard age is over, thank goodness, and classical beauty is to-day no passport at all to success. Which is just as it should be. But that does not lessen the appeal when, as still occasionally happens, real talent is accompanied by striking good looks.

If it were necessary to stand up for the moderns – which it isn’t – then I do not remember seeing a lovelier young actress than Joan Maude at the time when she was playing opposite Matheson Lang in “Jew Suss”; it is a pity she has gone over to films. And no doubt the modern equivalent of the “stage door johnnie,” if there is one in these more earnest days, is ready to swear by the vivid beauty of a Vivien Leigh or a Patricia Burke. Not that it matters. “Handsome is ….” But it’s nice when it happens.


Alan Bendle


Manchester Evening News – Saturday 5th January 1946


















January 17, 2019 - Posted by | Actress, Biography, Gabrielle Ray, Social History, Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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