The Gaiety Theatre introduced a new style of musical comedy to London in the 1890s. The group of female dancers employed by the theatre were called Gaiety Girls but as time went on this term was used to describe the stars of the shows too. The formula was created by George Edwardes, moving away from burlesque to light comedies, with songs containing witty lyrics and repartee. The heroines wore high fashion and sang catchy songs.
|The Gaiety Theatre on the corner of Aldwych and the Strand|
Many productions had “girl” in the title from The Gaiety Girl to The Shop Girl, The Circus Girl and A Runaway Girl. The actresses and dancers were well spoken ladies of respectable background and they attracted many fans, from the stage-door Johnnies to the young women who collected picture postcards of their favourite leading lady. Many noble and wealthy men took the stars to dine at Romano’s restaurant in the Strand which added to their fame and made the restaurant a popular night spot.
Many well known Edwardian actresses owed their success to their performances as a Gaiety Girl.
Constance Collier, first appeared on stage at the age of 3 and became a Gaiety Girl when she was 15. She grew much taller than the other dancers and had an exuberant personality. She went on to become an acclaimed actress and with the advent of talking movies she turned to a career as a voice coach in Hollywood.
Olive May was one of the Gaiety girls who married into the aristocracy. In 1913 she married Lord Victor Paget but they divorced in 1921. A year later she married the Earl of Drogheda. She retired from the stage in 1912. Some found marriages between actresses and peers amusing or romantic, but many disapproved.
For a fascinating contemporary comment on this go to Stage Beauty
Marie Studholme’s stage career lasted from 1891 until 1915. Chosen by George Edwardes for a small part in The Gaiety Girl, she went on to tour in many of his productions around Britain and abroad. She was a favourite for post card collectors.