Gaby Deslys: The Star Who Sparked a Revolution


Today is the birthday of Gaby Deslys (Marie Elise Gabrielle Claire, 1881-1920). Originally from Marseilles, she became the toast of the cabarets and musical halls of Paris in the early years of the 20th century, and one of the world’s first sex symbols. Her stage name was initially Gabrielle Des Lys (Gabrielle of the Lillies), later shortened to Gaby Deslys. In 1905, she conquered London as well (largely on the strength of the sensation she caused with her sleeveless gown. In 1909 her notoriety grew when she became the mistress of King Manuel II of Portugal; the scandal resulted in a revolution in his country a few months later.

In 1910, she cut a couple of records in Vienna. The following year, thanks to the enterprise of Lee Shubert, Deslys conquered America. She appeared in the 1911 Shubert Shows The Revue of Revues and Vera Violetta (with Al Jolson) before undertaking a major vaudeville tour. The balance of her career essentially had her juggling major engagements in the three great show biz capitals of Paris, London and New York. She also had roles in five French and British films between 1914 and 1920. She died in 1920 following surgery for a throat infection.

To learn more about the history of vaudeville, including stars like Gaby Deslys, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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