Past exhibitions - Gaiety Girls exhibition

Florence Smithson as O Hana San in The Mousmé
Florence Smithson had a voice of operatic quality, with a wide range; she could sing soft high Ds and Es that were almost unearthly in their quality. Her most famous role was Sombra in The Arcadians, in which she sang 'The Pipes of Pan' and 'Arcady Is Ever Young'. Here she is shown in her role as Hana in The Mousmé (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1911), a noble Geisha girl, who works in a tea-house to pay off her lover's gambling debts. The fashion for all things Japanese had been launched in London back in the 1860s, but continued right up until the First World War.

Gina Palerme
by Bassano Ltd
24 September 1915
NPG x32230

Gina Palerme
Actress and dancer. Gina Palerme first came to prominence as Toinette in Lionel Monckton's The Quaker Girl (1910). Other roles followed in The Dancing Mistress (1912), Betty (1914) and Vanity Fair (1916). Cecil Beaton was fascinated by her and wrote, 'Gina Palerme brought the glamour of the French cocotte to London. Her off-stage appearances were as sensational as her stage escapades...sometimes she wore a velvet tam-o'-shanter and men's riding breeches while relaxing in the richly ornate gilt of her Maida Vale drawing-room.'
In the 1920s she returned to France and made appearances in several silent films. She is shown here whilst appearing in the revue Bric-à-Brac at the Palace Theatre in 1915.

Moya Nugent
Actress. As a child Nugent appeared in Rip Van Winkle and as Liza in Peter Pan. As an adult, she alternated parts in revues Pell-Mell (1917), and Wake Up and Dream (1929), pantomime and comedy. Nugent was one of Noël Coward's favourite character actresses, and he cast her in many of his productions, from This Year Of Grace (1928) to Conversation Piece (1934) and Blithe Spirit (1941) in which she was Mrs Bradman, playing the part for nearly five years.
In Coward's Tonight at 8.30 she played several roles, both in London and on Broadway. Her last roles were in Coward's Pacific 1860, as Miss Scobie, then as Miss Denington in Calypso (1948) and Mary in Dear Miss Phoebe (1950).

Cicely Courtneidge
Singer and actress. Courtneidge's first starring role was in The Mousmé (1911) as Miyo ko San, singing 'Little Japanese Mama'. Many roles followed, most often with her husband, Jack Hulbert. They came to the Gaiety Theatre in 1926 in Rodgers and Hart's Lido Lady, in which she introduced 'A Tiny Flat Near Soho Square'. After 1930 she divided her time between stage and screen, her films including Soldiers of the King and Under Your Hat. Wartime successes Full Swing, (1942) and Something In the Air (1943) led to Under the Counter which she took to Broadway. In Ivor Novello's final show, Gay's the Word (1951) she found her signature tune, 'Vitality!'. She was created a Dame in 1972.

Mamie Watson
by Bassano Ltd
23 January 1920
NPG x101303

Mamie Watson
Mamie Watson had a career in musical comedy, pantomime and music-hall. She is shown here at around the time she appeared at the Gaiety Theatre as Miss Robinson (A fitter at Parker's Stores) in the 1920 revival of The Shop Girl. Ivan Caryll's 'musical farce' had been one of the great successes of the 1890s, running for 546 performances and its 1920 staging with many new songs was almost as big a hit. One of the highlights was the duet sung by Mamie Watson and Roy Royston ; 'Oh, oh, jolly Japan/ Oh-ho, her little man/Tokio-Tokio/ We are in love on the Japanese plan.' Her recording of it is included in the new CD Gaiety Girls (2004).

Jessie Matthews
Matthews began as a dancer. There is a plaque in Berwick Street market commemorating her childhood, when she danced in the street to a barrel-organ. In the 1930s she became Britain's top musical film star. This photograph was taken at the time she was starring in Noël Coward's This Year Of Grace, in which she introduced 'A Room With a View' and 'Teach Me To Dance Like Grandma'. She came to the Gaiety Theatre in 1931 in Hold My Hand, with music by Noel Gay. Her films, especially Evergreen, It's Love Again and First A Girl retain all their charm. In the 1960s she found new fame on BBC Radio as Mrs Dale.

Gladys Cooper
Actress. One of the great figures of 20th Century theatre, Cooper started as a chorus girl at the Gaiety Theatre in The Girls of Gottenberg (1907), and returned the following year as a 'travelling newspaper beauty' in Havana. Of all the picture-postcard beauties of the First World War, she was the most popular. She was created a Dame in 1967.
In 1971 she wrote, 'Who cares how old I am? Who cares how long ago it was since I first played Peter Pan? ... this is the performance that matters. This is the challenge...just before the curtain rises is still a good time. The air is promise crammed'.

Gertie Millar
Actress and singer. From 1901 to 1910, Gertie Millar was the reigning star of the Gaiety Theatre appearing in a series of musicals, composed for her by her husband, Lionel Monckton. Among the songs she made famous were 'Keep Off the Grass', from The Toreador (1901), 'Berlin Is On The Spree', from The Girls of Gottenberg (1907) and 'Moonstruck' from Our Miss Gibbs (1909). After she left the Gaiety Theatre, she starred in the Quaker Girl (1910), and then as Lady Babby in Franz Lehár's Gypsy Love (1912), in which role she is depicted here. After Monckton's death in 1924, she re-married, and became the Countess of Dudley.

Phyllis Dare
Actress and singer. With her sister Zena (1887-1975) Phyllis Dare was one of the most popular picture-postcard beauties of the Edwardian era. Beginning as a child on stage, she achieved stardom in The Belle of Mayfair (1906), and was a fixture on the London musical-comedy stage for the next twenty years. At the Gaiety Theatre she was Peggy (1911) and The Sunshine Girl (1912). The composer Paul Rubens was in love with her and dedicated his most famous song, 'I Love the Moon' to her. As fashions changed, she moved with the times, starring in Kissing Time (1919), The Street Singer (1924) and Rodgers and Hart's Lido Lady (1926) in which she introduced 'Atlantic Blues'. Her last musical was Ivor Novello's King's Rhapsody (1949).

Evelyn Laye
Evelyn Laye first appeared in a minor role at The Gaiety Theatre in The Beauty Spot (1917), but the following year she achieved stardom in Going Up!, one of the first aviation musicals. In 1920 she was Bessie Brent in a revival of the first Gaiety musical-comedy, The Shop Girl. A favourite on both sides of the Atlantic, when she made her Broadway debut in the first American production of Noël Coward's Bitter Sweet in 1929, a New York critic described her as 'the loveliest prima donna this side of heaven'. One of her last appearances was in Sondheim's A Little Night Music in 1979.

Alice Delysia
Singer and actress. Delysia began as a chorus girl at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, but it was in London that she gained her greatest success in a series of revues produced by C.B. Cochran, including As You Were (1918) in which she sang 'If You Could Care For Me' and On With The Dance (1924) in which she introduced Noël Coward's 'Poor Little Rich Girl'. At the Gaiety Theatre she was the worldly-wise actress in Mother Of Pearl (1933). Here in As You Were she is dressed as Marianne, the French national heroine. Delysia used a variant of this photograph as her Christmas card that year.

Olive May (Countess of Drogheda)
Olive May had the distinction of being a Gaiety Girl who married into the peerage twice. Firstly, she became Lady Victor Paget (marrying in 1913 and divorcing in 1921) and then the Countess of Drogheda (marrying the 10th Earl in 1922). She retired from the stage in 1912. As Doris Bartle in Leslie Stuart's Peggy in March 1911 she sang 'The Lass With a Lasso'. A sextet of chorus boys in military uniform, were roped-in one by one by Miss May, whose character announced herself as being from 'Out West', 'where a horse's hooves, the beating of a heart and the swish of a lasso are the only sounds heard on the prairie'.

Billie Carleton
Dancer and singer. Sadly, Billie Carleton's fame, such as it was, concerned her demise, rather than her stage career. André Charlot and Charles B. Cochran, the leading impresarios of musical plays and revues during the First world War, both gave her leading roles, Cochran in Watch Your Step (1915) and Charlot in Some (1916). Billie Carleton, born Florence Lenora Stewart, was part of a fast-living, drug-taking set. After an all-night party following a Victory Ball at the Albert Hall in November 1918, she was found dead in bed, the victim of a drugs overdose. Her cocaine supplier was sent to jail. The Tatler had reviewed one of her appearances: 'She has cleverness, temperament and charm. Not enough of the first, and perhaps too much of the latter.' Her death inspired several plays and films most notably Nöel Coward's The Vortex (1924).

Gaby Deslys
Dancer and singer. Gaby Deslys first appeared at the Gaiety Theatre in 1906, as 'The Charm of Paris' in The New Aladdin, performing the 'Ju-Jitsu waltz', but the dance that made her famous on both sides of the Atlantic was 'The Gaby Glide'. Famous for her extravagant clothes and jewels, Gaby Deslys lived up to her notoriety. J.M. Barrie was so smitten by her that he wrote a one-act play for her, Rosy Rapture (1915). Gordon Selfridge gave her a rope of pearls as long as her height. Her last stage appearance was at the Casino de Paris, in Laissez-les Tomber! (1918).

Camille Clifford
Actress. Although born in Denmark, Camille Clifford made her stage debut in the chorus of The Defender in New York, 1902. She came to London, where her beauty and hour-glass figure caused a sensation; she was hailed as the epitome of the 'Gibson Girl', the ideal created by the American artist Charles Dana Gibson. In 1905 Leslie Stiles wrote a song for her, 'Why Do They Call Me A Gibson Girl?' which she sang at the Lyceum. More parts followed in The
Catch of the Season (1905), and The Belle of Mayfair (1906). She retired to marry the Hon. Lyndhurst Henry Bruce, but made a brief return to the stage in The Girl of the Future in 1916. Thereafter she abandoned the theatre, and to all enquiries, her secretary would reply with a polite but firm, 'Mrs Bruce has no wish to discuss the past'.

Dorothy Minto
Actress. Minto began in F.R. Benson's company, playing the Second
Gravedigger in Hamlet, and continued in many and varied parts, among them Kiki in The Glad Eye (1914), Trixie in Nightie Night, (1921), Alice in The Piccadilly Puritan (1923), Dou Dou Delville in His Wild Oat (1926) and Lottie in Good Morning, Bill. She also took part in several musicals and revues, including Hullo Ragtime! (1912), A Chinese Honeymoon (1915), Watch Your Step (1915), and Pell-Mell (1916). Her films included A Little Bit Of Fluff (1919) and Raise the Roof (1930).

Gabrielle Ray
Gabrielle Ray appeared at the Gaiety Theatre in the cast of The Orchid, on the inaugural night of the new theatre in 1903. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were in the Royal Box, and witnessed Miss Ray's apparition as Thisbe. W. Macqueen-Pope wrote, 'The house gave a gasp of admiration...a new Gaiety star was born...and when she appeared in pink pyjamas and danced in them, every young man's head was awhirl'. Interviewed a few months later, 'Gabs' Ray said, 'I am always dancing; I love it! When I don't dance, I sing. What else is there to do?'





  Gaiety Girls exhibition

Mamie Watson
by Bassano Ltd
23 January 1920
NPG x101303


Jessie Matthews
by Bassano Ltd
3 September 1928
NPG x16522


Dame Gladys Cooper
by Bassano Ltd
12 July 1912
NPG x102101


Phyllis Dare
by Bassano Ltd
October 1912
NPG x33803


(Elsie) Evelyn Laye
by Bassano Ltd
12 July 1917
NPG x26887


Alice Delysia
by Bassano Ltd
3 December 1918
NPG x81100


Gaby Deslys
by Bassano Ltd
NPG x101371