Ray was considered one of the most beautiful actresses on the London stage and became one of the most photographed women in the world. In the first decade of the 20th century, she had a good career in musical theatre. After an unsuccessful marriage, however, she never recovered the fame that she had enjoyed. She spent many of her later years in mental hospitals.
Ray was born Gabrielle Elizabeth Clifford Cook in Cheadle, Stockport, England. She was the fourth child of William Austin Cook, a prosperous iron merchant and a Justice of the Peace for Cheshire, and his wife Anne Maria Elizabeth née Holden.
Ray first appeared in London's West End at the age of ten in the role of Eveleen in John Hollingshead's production of a musical play called Miami at the Royal Princess's Theatre. This was followed by juvenile roles in a series of plays in London and on tour. The next year, she played a role in A Celebrated Case. She was also a dancer in the Blackpool ballet. At the Richmond Theatre from 1893, she played Cupid in Little Red Riding Hood, Adrienne in Proof, and Cissie in The Silver King, among other plays and pantomimes. In 1899, she appeared in Sinbad the Sailor at the Hammersmith Lyric Opera House. Manager Ben Greet noticed her dancing skills and engaged her to tour with his company. With Greet, she toured for three years in the roles of Mamie Clancy in The Belle of New York and Dolly Twinkle in The Casino Girl (1901). Ray was back at the Lyric in 1902 to play the title character in the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Ray's career had progressed to the point where she was performing at leading West End venues and gaining attention as a beautiful young dancer and actress. Her photograph was much sought after by the various trade publications and leading photographers such of the day. Known across Europe for her looks, she was admired by such gentlemen as Alfred Vanderbilt and the King Manuel of Portugal.
George Edwardes hired Ray to understudy Gertie Millar in The Toreador at the Gaiety Theatre, London in 1902, where she had the chance to play the role on many occasions. She then took over for Letty Lind in The Girl from Kays at the Apollo Theatre, earning good notices for her graceful, acrobatic dancing in particular. Next, she earned considerable fame playing Thisbe in the hit musical The Orchid (1903), where she danced in pink pyjamas while singing "The Pink Pyjama Girl". She continued to appear in Edwardes' productions in 1905 and 1906, including three successes at the Prince of Wales Theatre: Lady Madcap (1905, in which she performed a popular Parisian dance, "La Maxixe"), Lady Dorothy Congress in The Little Cherub (1906) and So-Hie in See See (1906). The same year she also played Eglé in Les merveilleuses.
In 1907, Ray played Frou Frou in Edwardes' adaptation of The Merry Widow, which ran for 778 performances at Daly's Theatre. Ray's dance number, complete with handstands and high kicks, all performed on a table at Maxim's held head high by four men, was a show stopper. Next she was Daisy in The Dollar Princess (1909) at Daly's and Polly Polino in Peggy (1911) at the Gaiety.
Marriage and later years
Ray announced her retirement to marry the wealthy Eric Loder (1888–1966) in early 1912 and left the production of Peggy. She did not appear at the well-attended scheduled ceremony at St Edwards Roman Catholic Church in Windsor because of Loder's failure to sign the prenuptial contract, but the marriage took place soon afterwards. Loder strayed, however, and the couple divorced in 1914.
The broken marriage was difficult for Ray, but in 1915, she returned to the stage to play the role of Estelle in the musical Betty at the Gaiety Theatre and, in the following year, in the revue Flying Colours at the London Hippodrome. These were her last appearances on the West End, but for nearly a decade afterwards, she appeared occasionally in provincial variety tours and pantomimes, finally leaving the stage about 1924. For instance, she played Maid Marian in The Babes in the Wood at Prince's Theatre in Bradford at Christmas 1919 and was Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, at Christmas 1920.
- Edwardes, Robin. "A Short Biography of Gabrielle Ray", (1997)
- Walsh, Josie. "About Gabrielle Ray", A Picture Postcards Tribute (2006)
- Gänzl, Kurt. "Ray, Gabrielle (1883–1973)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 18 September 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53572
- Vaughan, Roger. "Ray, Gabrielle: Actress and dancer" Archived 2008-09-15 at the Wayback Machine., Roger Vaughan Picture Library (2004)
- Gillan, Don. "Gabrielle Ray biography", at the Stage Beauty website
- Henry Jaremko, Gabrielle Ray website
- Gillan, Don. "London's Four Greatest Beauties Broken Hearted", The San Antonio Light, 22 June 1913, reprinted at www.stagebeauty.net
- Culme, John. "Gabrielle Ray, Lily Elsie, Zena Dare and Grace Pindar play football in The Little Cherub", Footlight Notes, 12 July 2008
- Text of Ray's blue plaque on openplaques.org, accessed 22 September 2010
- Beaton, Cecil. The Glass of Fashion, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1954.
- Gänzl, Kurt. The encyclopedia of the musical theatre, 2 vols. (1994)
- Gänzl, Kurt. The British musical theatre, 2 vols. (1986)
- Parker, J. (ed.) Who's who in the theatre, 6th ed. (1930)
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