Who were the Gaiety Girls?



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.
Gertie Millar
                                                                                                            
 Gertie Millar made her name as a singer and dancer in Yorkshire music halls but in 1901 she was chosen by George Edwardes as leading lady in The Toreador at The Gaiety Theatre.  In Our Miss Gibbs she became the most famous musical comedy actress in Britain.  She later married the writer of this play, Lionel Monkton, but their marriage was unhappy and he left her in 1905.  He refused to divorce Gertie and so it was only when he died in 1924 that she was finally able to marry her lover William Humble Ward, the second Earl of Dudley.

   

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. 

Comments

  1. It was clearly a 'respectable' outlet for talented young women to perform ...as opposed to the Music Hall which had a sleazy reputation....

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    1. But "society" still weren't sure. "The ladies of this particular calling are, of all classes, as a rule, the most unsuitable to be the wives of men of high position and great responsibilities which are to be automatically transmitted to their heirs....."

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  2. I didn't know any of this information - it's so interesting! I wonder if my grandfather who was born in the 1890s would have spoken of the G. Girls as we speak of film stars today?

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  3. I am sure he did. My grandmother, who was born in 1884 collected many postcards of the Gaiety Girls and swapped them with her friends.

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  4. Great article. I was told my great grandmother was a gaeity girl. Unfortunately she became estranged from my grandfather so never got to hear many stories. But she must have had an interesting time!

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    1. How exciting. Perhaps you could research her name to find out which productions she participated in.

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  5. That's the plan. Don't have much to go on, just her name, Mabel Sylvester. Not sure if that's her real name or stage name. It is the name on my grandfathers birth certificate so hoping is her real name. Have found her living in Bloomsbury in 1911, looks like she was a kept women or one of those gaeity girls that got paid off perhaps. Like the idea of researching any productions she was in. Any idea how I would do that? Google not shedding much light.

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  6. Has anyone come across a Louisa Eleanor Braine or possibly surname Pitt she married Richard Cecil Leigh in 1885 - he was an aristocrat who dumped her 10 years later

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    1. So many married aristocrats but usually they dumped him!

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    2. Have you seen this account of Richard Cecil Leigh's elopement with Lady Meredith in 1893? http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-lost-1892-hotel-savoy-5th-avenue.html

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  7. Any information about Lillian Stanley?

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