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?'

The Merry Widow Dinner – The Era – Saturday 6th February 1909


 

“MERRY WIDOW” DINNER.

 

The O. P. Club, founded in 1900, by Mr. Carl Hentschel, has been responsible for many interesting functions. The most noticeable that may be mentioned are the Welcome Home Dinner to Sir Henry Irving and Miss Ellen Terry, the Congratulatory Dinner to Sir Charles Wyndham, the Welcome Home Supper to Mr. Charles Hawtrey and Mr. Lionel Brough, and Congratulatory Dinner to Sir John Hare and Sir Charles Santley, and recently the celebrated Savoyard Dinner. Last Sunday’s function, The Merry Widow Dinner, held at the Hotel Cecil, eclipsed all others in point of numbers and interest. It was the first time that any body of playgoers 550 strong had assembled celebrate the success of any particular play. The O.P. Club were honouring not only Mr. George Edwardes, who is, indeed, rarely seen at public dinners, but also they were welcoming the artists who have taken part in this world-famed opera. The President, Mr. Max Pemberton, proposed the toast of “The Hit of the Century,” to which Mr. George Edwardes replied, and Mr. Mostyn T. Piggott proposed The Merry Widow, which Miss Lily Elsie and Mr. Joseph Coyne responded. As a memento of dinner, Mr. Mostyn T. Pigott, on behalf of the O.P. Club, presented to Miss Lily Elsie neat silver jewel casket, tortoiseshell top inlaid with silver, bearing the inscription: “The O.P. Club “Merry Widow” Dinner. Jan. 31, 1909.” A pretty and exceedingly artistic souvenir menu, which had been specially prepared for this dinner, and designed and produced by Mr. Carl Hentschel, was in the hands of every guest.

Amongst those present were Mr. L. A. Atherley-Jones, K.C., M.P., Mr. Frank Boor, Miss Phyllis Broughton, Miss Alexandra Carlisle, Major Campbell Coffin, Mrs. Campbell Coffin, Mr. Algernon Collins, Mrs. Algernon L. Collins, Mr. Joseph Coyne, Mr. Harding Cox, Miss Evelyn D’Alroy, Miss Marie Dainton, Mr. Frank Dcsprez, Miss Desprez, Miss Irene Desmond, Miss Constance Drever, Mr. G. Spencer Edwards, Mr. George Edwardes, Miss Lily Elsie, Miss Clara Evelyn, Mr. Robert Evett, Mr. Thomas Fraser, Mr. Fred Farren, Mr. Albert Garcia, Mr. George Grosssmith, jun., Miss Evie Greene, Mr. Carl Hentschel, Mrs. Carl Hentschel, Miss Hentschel, Miss Elsie Irving, Mr. Herman Jacoby, Miss Nora Kerin, Mr. Maurice Levy, Miss Phyllis Legrand, Col. Henry Mapleson, Miss Greville Moore, Mr. Ernest Mayer, Miss Gertie Millar, Mr. J. F. McArdle, Mr. G. E. Minor, Mr. Edmund Payne, Mrs. Edmund Payne, Mr. Max Pemberton, Mrs. Max Pemberton, Mme. Petite, Miss Jessie Rose, Mr. Harry Randall, Mr. George Rollit, Miss Gabrielle Ray, Mr. T. McDonald Rendie, Mr. Frank Richardson, Miss Vera Thornton, Miss Gertrude Thornton, Sir J. Somers Vine, and Miss Kate Welch.

After the toast of “The King” had been heartily honoured,

The CHAIRMAN, proposing “The Hit the Century,” said, in the course of his remarks: I cannot say that Mr. George Edwardes has satisfied me. He has not told me how make the hit the century. His secret, ghastly or otherwise, remains in his own possession, and so I am left to answer for him, and tell you that the secret of his life is success, and that we are here to celebrate that success with all the goodwill we can command. We are here, indeed, to recognise the fact that has spent more than twenty-five years in a continuous endeavour to amuse the people. I need hardly say that such task provokes criticism, that it makes enemies but best of all that it makes friends. If you amuse the people you are criticised by those who not amuse the people. These about crying the Ephesians of old, “Great are Shaw and the Shavians,” but you will discover them none the less where widows are merry, and you will not be surprised that Superman, who has known them, drowns the memory in a lingering waltz. I repeat they do not amuse the people. Now, it would be impossible celebrate Mr. George Edwardes’ many triumphs and to ignore the particular form of entertainment by which they have been won. I might speak of musical comedy in many phases. I might speak of its educational side as well ordered system for the secondary training of peers, a system embracing considerable knowledge of geography and topography, with some sidelights upon the manners and customs of alien people. I might ask how many schoolboys—public school boys—knew much of Dantzig or Gottenberg, or the French Riviera before Mr. George Edwardes personally conducted them to those interesting localities. One might even venture the question: How far was the economic status of the shop-girl understood before the production of The Girl from Kay’s? These I will avoid, preferring to regard musical comedy as the oldest fashion of all mere emotional display. Is it not after all, just singing and dancing, and is not that all the world? May we not believe that the children of Israel had their musical comedies in the desert, and that Moses took a stage box, while the show was generally presented by Moses? More than this, am I not permitted by the theologians to tell you that, whatever be the fate of mere comedy and drama in the world to come, singing and dancing will be the permanent recreations of the blessed. If this implies that the problem play must be performed in a somewhat heated atmosphere, the fault is not mine. I claim elemental virtues for this form of art or recreation or whatsoever you choose to call it, and I say that there no nonsense about it. When the young art student said to Whistler, “I paint what I see” he retorted, “Ah, but the tragedy will come when you see what you paint.” The man who produces a successful musical comedy must see what his artists paint all the time, and there must be no tragedy about it. For twenty-five years and more has Mr. George Edwardes done this – lavishly, fearlessly with honest purpose, great courage, and splendid achievement. He himself is the true story of musical comedy. It was in the year 1885 that he presented to us his first study of the criminal law, Little Jack Sheppard. With one exception our guest is thus the doyen of London managers. I hold in my hand a list of his children; is it not an instructive document? Seven bouncing girls to begin with, a few boys to keep the house lively-children of many lands and many colours – Greeks, Spaniards, Germans, aristocratic collaterals, and indispensable poor relations. As we read it the names of many delightful players recur to us. Some of these children have left the old home for the splendour of palaces and the realisation of unlimited bank balance – some, perhaps, have found the balances not what they expected – I pass over that; but out of it all the supreme fact emerges that though girls may come and girls may go, all London will re-echo the wish that Mr. George Edwardes – the very father of our gaiety-may for ever. Such is the sentiment I venture to commend to you. We are here – the ladies will permit me for the moment to address the mere males – we are here, most of us, married men, to celebrate the joyousness of widows. To this has our simple human nature been led by the thunderbolt which Mr. George Edwardes has fired among us, the hit which still leaves our ears singing. By him we have learned that when, gentlemen, are dead and gone, are seeking  new melodies from unfamiliar instruments, then our widows will be spending the twenty millions we intend to leave them in vulgar flirtations in a beer garden. This needs much courage to contemplate, but where courage is concerned, Mr. Edwardes is our friend. By him consolation shall come; by him the wind shall tempered to the shorn lamb; with him we will forget for a little while that brief life is here our portion, and that the funds are falling one by one. He, indeed, is our true friend, and caring little about hits and little about misses, I ask you to drink his health with gratitude and with enthusiasm.

GEORGE EDWARDES, who, in rising, was received with tumultuous applause, said, in reply to the toast:- Mr. President. Ladies and Gentlemen, – It is with some diffidence that I rise to return thanks for the toast that my friend Mr. Pemberton has brightly proposed. The delivery of speeches from the stage and elsewhere is not department managerial duty in which I profess to be proficient. It does not matter much on a first night, because some kind friends are cheering and other kind friends are booing, and nobody hears a word. If 1 could confine my speeches to there rare occasions – they could not be too rare – I might acquire a reputation as an orator. But in the presence of audience of orators I will be brief and not more tedious than I can help. It is good of you to allude to the piece with which I am connected as the “Hit of the Century,” I hope it will not be the only hit of the century, for there are ninety-one more years to run, and I cannot afford to run Daly’s Theatre for ninety-one years on the surplus profits of The Merry Widow. Certainly The Merry Widow has had a wider success than any musical piece since The Mikado. I feel somewhat shy in returning thanks for The Merry Widow and those concerned in presenting her to London. I have had long experience in dealing with girls – Gaiety girls who never went to the Gaiety, and all sorts of other girls who did, but this is my first widow. Well, I won the widow by methods of wooing unnecessary to mention here, and having won her I had to introduce her to the British public. To begin with, I had to teach her to speak English, and then I had find her an English-speaking lover and a circle of friends.

It was not easy to settle on the people to play the widow or her lover. Prima donnas for light opera have never been plentiful in England, and those who had already attained fame in that position were mostly engaged. I had to choose some lady, not so much for what the public had seen her do as for what I hoped they would see her do. The lady I need not name. The authors and the composer said, “Who this lady? We have not heard her.” I replied “Come and see her!” They came, and there was no more trouble. But with the part Danilo there was more difficulty. Danilo is, as those of you who have been in Germany will know, a singing part, and it is also an acting part. Now when one author and the composer came over, they said, “Who is your tenor? Who is going sing Damlo?” Then I had to explain that my tenor, though an admirable vocalist, was somewhat out voice – that was nervous. When they insisted on hearing Mr. Joseph Coyne, I used to turn on Mr. Adrian Ross to talk German them. Well, by hook or crook, and by exhausting all the resources of managerial mendacity, I delayed the evil day, but at last Mr. Leon and Mr. Lehar heard my tenor, and they said, or at least Mr. Leon, who speaks English, said, “Why, your tenor does not sing at all – he talks” “Yes,” I answered, “but did you ever hear man talk a song better?” They were indignant – they wanted to start for Vienna at once. I had put Mr. Ross on to tell them the next train in German, and by the time he had finished the train had gone. Eventually, being very nice people, they quieted down. They did want to tell what they thought of my conduct, but it was agreed that Mr. Lehar should express it In Hungarian or Czech. I don’t speak Czech, though I write it well. They stayed to the first night – and I will say more. To show you the difficulties with which managers have to contend, I was once negotiating with lady to go to India as prima donna, and I thought I would approach the question artfully. We were nearly agreed – the difference between us was a paltry £100 a week – I offered her £100, the same salary as I had paid to Miss Farren, and she asked me £200 a week. I began to tell her of the rest for her voice. I spoke of the lovely voyage, the quiet Bay of Biscay, the blue Mediterranean, her arrival at Calcutta, the glories of India, how the lady would win the hearts of all the princes, of Jams and Rams and Dams, Nawabs and Nabobs, Rajahs and Maharajahs. I said, “They’ll send you ropes of pearls to tie up your dresses, elephants with trunks full of emeralds, and diamonds enough for a skirt – and skirts were skirts in those days.” I said, “What is a miserable hundred a week the side of that?” Well, I thought I had impressed the lady. She promised think it over. She did. Next day I got note :-

“Dear Mr. Edwardes,

Give terms and you can keep the presents.”

If I am not boring you I would like to tell yon a little story of the last night of the old Gaiety. Well. I was very anxious to get Sir Henry Irving to come and say a few farewell words for us on the stage at the end of the performance, but I was rather afraid that would not turn up, so on the night before I called at Drury Lane Theatre, where he was then playing Dante, and I went his room see him. I told him that there was intense excitement about the last night, I reminded him that he was an old Gaiety actor, and that the public were very anxious to see him at the Gaiety. “Great excitement to see me, is there?” he said. “The greatest.” I replied. “Inquiries if I’m coming all day the box office, eh?” “The telephones have not ceased ringing,” was answer. “Telegrams and letters all day, too!” “All day!” “Edwardes, what d –d liar you are!” And now, before I sit down, let say how much I value the kindly welcome that we of The Merry Widow have had here to-night. It is a great honour to be entertained by the O.P. Club. There were once O.P. riots at the theatre. I am sure none of the members of the club would do anything of that sort. There is another sense in which O.P. is used on the stage – it means opposite to prompt. That also is not the meaning of this club. In their real for the best interests of the drama, in their friendly welcome to excellence, native or foreign, they are prompt – not the opposite. But whenever I go on the stage to rehearse before production, or booed after it, I shall look across to the O. P. side and remember to-night.  For we managers, even managers of musical plays, have our artistic ambitions, even if we have to think of business considerations. We try to give the best we can get; we do not intentionally bore the critics and the public, as some people seem to think. We do not instruct the librettists to put in an especially stupid line order to annoy the fastidious people in the stalls. Perhaps we didn’t know the line was stupid – or perhaps didn’t put it in at all. We try our best – if we fail, generally know it better than others, but, after all, it is not criminal, if we succeed we, value better than the money rewards of success the kindly recognition and welcome of those who know – our friends and hosts of the O.P. Club.

Mr, MOSTYN T. PIGOTT, in submitting the toast of The Merry Widow said; “You have learnt how the Merry Widow has cast her spell over the major portion of the civilised world; how Germany, Austria, and the United States have formed a Triple Alliance to do her honour; how the Antipodes have bowed beneath her sway; and how even the illimitable veldt has yielded to her blandishments. France alone has so far kept clear of the entanglement, but there can be doubt that before very long that beauty-loving and laughter-loving land will echo the cries of “Vive la Veuve!” But there are certain illuminating facts to which your attention has so far not been directed. From certain unimpeachable authorities I have from time to time gleaned many items of interest and value. For instance, I find that since The Merry Widow was first produced, the various interpreters of the title-role have received between them no less than 19,066 proposals of marriage; that the various impresarios have comfortably banked the cool sum of £19,000,002 as their profits; and that there is a not inconsiderable section of the House of Lords which believes that the best method of reforming that much-abused institution would be to co-opt Mr. Joseph Coyne. With regard to the last-named item, I may say that I think personally that it would be a graceful act to make a peer of the realm of one who, though by the mere accident of birth an American, has been adopted by this country as a Coyne of the realm, and a sound, sterling, and true-ringing Coyne at that. And what of Miss Lily Elsie? Zounds, oddsbodikins, and gadzooks! as Mr. Max Pemberton’s heroes have a habit of remarking, to say that she has brought a whole nation to her feet would to put the matter but mildly. In these days, when, unfortunately, only too many of our leading actors and actresses appear to get bored with a part after a run of 100 nights, it is deliciously refreshing to see Miss Elsie, as I saw her only yesterday afternoon, playing her part with the same charming freshness, the same sincerity, and the same absence of exaggeration as she displayed twenty months ago. It is constantly, being hurled at us as a reproach nowadays that we are as a nation wallowing in abyss of apathy, that we are deaf to the call of duty, and blind to the imminence of danger. But I make bold to say that, were there danger impending, Miss Lily Elsie has only don the uniform the Territorial Army and sound her bugle, and there would not male inhabitant of these islands who would not cheerfully enrol himself under her banner, and who would not march to death or glory with smiling face to the accompaniment of that haunting melody to which we have luncheoned, dined, supped, aye, and even taken our morning tubs for so long. Under the lithe and lissome leadership of our Marsovial Joan of Arc we should literally waltz round our unfortunate and foredoomed foe. But we must not let this evening pass without some words of recognition to others to whom honour is due. There are other ladies present who have charmingly represented The Merry Widow, and there are other ladies and gentlemen present amongst us who, by their sweet singing, their graceful dancing, and their genial and unforced humour, have largely contributed to the unprecedented success of this wonderful piece as members of one of the most thoroughly gifted casts ever seen in London. We are not here to-night say “Farewell” to The Merry Widow. She is in her zenith, and it may be years and years before that sad word must said. So it is not only with hearts full of thanks for the past but also with hearts full of hope for the future that we will drink to the toast of “The Merry Widow.” But before that toast is formally put to you for your enthusiastic reception I have a pleasing duty to perform. I am deputed by the committee of the O.P. Club to ask Miss Lily Elsie to accept this little jewel casket, and to express the hope that she will live for many many years to look upon it with kindly eyes as souvenir of celebration which has been to her, we trust, delightful, and which has been, we know, well won.

MISS LILY ELSIE, who received a most enthusiastic ovation, responded the following words: Mr. Ladies, Mrs. President, and Gentlemen, – Oh! there, I’ve mixed it up. I’m sorry, but I am so nervous. I don’t think I was worse my own first night. I tried to learn a speech; I couldn’t. All yesterday I was thinking. I was thinking where I could hide these few notes; they are not my salary. Mr. Edwardes has that, I hope. First I thought of putting in my hat, but it wasn’t large enough – my hat, I mean. I thought of putting it under these gloves, but they faded. So here are my thanks in writing – own. It’s awful writing; I can hardly read it, however. Oh! I’ve put down something funny I thought of. I think it most appropriate I should address you, because you are merry. I don’t mean too merry – is that good? – and although you are not widows, you are smoking my weeds. Mr. Coyne will say that to-morrow night. That’s half my speech. Would you like any more? Very well. I want to say how much I owe my dear manager, Mr. Edwardes, for I fully realise that it is the part that makes the artist, not the artist who makes the part. I thought you would have said “No, no!” And another thing, it has been a pleasure to act with Mr. Joseph Coyne. Ladies, gentlemen, and others, I want to sit down, as I am so nervous; but before I do, will you allow very gratefully to thank you to thank you from my heart for the way in which you have been indulgent enough to endorse Mr. Edwardes’s choice of the obscure little girl I was, and am still? I thank you; indeed I do.

Mr. JOSEPH COYNE, replying the same toast, said in the coarse of his remarks: I have not only the O. P. Club to thank for your kind invitation to this delightful gathering, but also Mr. Edwardes, who made it possible for me to be a member of The Merry Widow company, because, as everyone knows by this time, the part of Danilo in The Merry Widow is a singing part absolutely, and, as everyone knows now – or at least they knew before the first night was over – I was not singer. When Mr. Edwardes offered me the part of Danilo I knew there was a lot of music to be sung, and told him that I knew and felt could not sing it. But he insisted. He told that what I could not sing or did not sing I could recite, and after much persuasion he finally got me to consent to accept the part on condition that I could recite what I did not sing. Well, rehearsals started, and of course while Mr. Edwardes was directing them everything went all right as far as I was concerned. Finally, the week before the production Mr. Edwards had Mr. Lehar, the composer, and Mr. Leon, the author, over to attend the final rehearsals. Everything went swimmingly until my entrance as Prince to sing the Maxim song, and as soon as I opened my mouth and started to sing Mr Lehar’s smiles turned to frowns, he fidgeted in his chair, and did not strike the keys at all. In fact, he looked from one to another, first at Mr. Edwardes, then at Mr. Leon and Mr. Slavinsky, as much as to say, “What the devil is this? What is this you are springing me? “The song was finished Mr. Lehar immediately left the piano, and got his hat and coat, and called Mr Leon and Mr Slavinsky, and all three of them left the theatre abruptly. Immediately they went to their hotel and packed their belongings, paid their bill, and sent to Mr. Edwaedes that they were going to return Vienna at once. Mr Edwardes went the hotel to find out what the trouble was, and through Slavinsky he learned that Mr. Lehar objected me – he objected to my playing the part of Danilo, and went off in his German, “”Mein Gott, this man Coyne – he cannot sing – he will ruin my opera – Danilo! he can’t sing my music” – and said that would not consent to the production of the piece unless they got man in my place who could sing. Of course, time was getting short, and Mr. Edwardes, through Mr. Slavinsky, said, “Well, my goodness!  we must have this man. There other man available. Besides, this man, Coyne – I know can’t sing, but he can dance and he can act, and must have him – he is a funny man. Tell him he’s a really funny man – a very funny man,” and Mr. Lenar’s reply was. “Well, you tell Mr. Edwardes I haven t written any funny music” So, as I said before, through Mr. Edwares’s loyalty to me and your kindness, here I am.”

Mr. W. H BERRY proposed “The Chairman,” and Mr. Max Pemberton’s reply brought the speech-making to an end.

The musical arrangements during the evening were directed Messrs. Bernard Dickson and Stanley Greig, and the orchestra played many delightful selections from Mr. George Edwardes’s productions. Among the artists who assisted to make the function still more attractive by vocal and other contributions were: Miss Constance Drever, Miss Evie Greene, Mr. Robert Evett, Mr Charles Copland, Mr Morris Harvey, Mr. Walter Churcher, Miss Clara Evelyn, Miss Blanche Gaston-Murray, Mr. George Grossmith, jun., Mr. Albert Garcia, Mr. Spencer Thomas, and the “Daly” Glee.

The arrangements of the dinner were in the hands of Mr. Carl Hentschel, Mr. T. McDonald Rendle, and the hon. secretaries, Messrs. J. Davis and Stanley Greig.

 

The Era – Saturday 6th February 1909

 

 

 

 

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May 13, 2019 - Posted by | Actress, Gabrielle Ray, Lily Elsie, Social History, The Era, The Merry Widow, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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