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Gaby Deslys

Gaby Deslys

1881 - 1920

The actress, singer and dancer Gaby Deslys was a famous and notorious star at the same time. 

She was born as Marie-Else Gabrielle Caire and attended a singing education at the conservatory of Marseille. She made first experiences on stage as one of many girls in revues before she made her debut as a singer at the  Folies-Bergères in Paris. It followed appearances on different stages, finally she went to London in 1906 and continued her career successfully.

In 1911 she made her US debut in New York where she took part in the play "Les debuts de Chichine", in which she already acted successfully in London. Her salary made her the best paid foreign stage actress in the USA. There she also met her future partner Harry Pilcer. They went back to Paris together and celebrated huge triumphes as a dancing couple. 
Especially their appearances at Music Halls made them famous and they were mentioned even before Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguette.

In 1914 she made her film debut with "Rosy Rapture" (14), in which the writer George Bernard Shaw although appeared in a small role and "La remplaçante" (14) with Jean Angelo. 
Other movies were "Her Triumph" (15), "Bouclette" (18) and "Le Dieu du hasard" (19), all these movies were also with Harry Pilcer as her partner.

In December 1919 she contracted a laryngitis because of an influenza. Despite several operations she died in February 1920 at the age of 38. Unfortunately she refused the last operation because this one would have left a permanent scar on her throat - a decision which possibliy cost her the live.
She left her fortune to Marseille and the poors of this city.

To her extravagant life style also belonge a huge bed shaped as a swan. This bed was bought at an auction after Gaby Deslys death and was used as a decoration in two movies - "The Phantom of the Opera" (25) and "Sunset Boulevard" (50).

Her wardrobe - for example the costume designer Erté created several costumes with a lot of feathers for her - and her affection to jewellries was legendary. 
This was probably the reason that burglars tried to break open her mausoleum ten years after her death in order to look for jewelleries. However the burglary failed. 

Her pseudonym has been derived from the play "Gabrielle Des Lys" ab - in English "Gabrielle of the Lilies".

The status of a notorious stars came especially into being by two occurences. On the one hand because of controversies about her birth name and family background which came into being by a newspaper article of 1914. These controversies vanished into thin air after her death. Following this rumour the now famous Gaby Deslys changed her identity with Hedy Navratil who looked quite similar to Gaby Deslys in order to work as a spy for the French government. The new Gaby Deslys continued the successful career. 

About ten years after the death of Gaby Deslys the mysterious Hedy Navratil turned up and declared that she never adapted the identity of Gaby Deslys and that there was never a change in identity. Today it is assumed that Hedy Navratil deliberately impersonated as Gaby Deslys in order to get advantage of her famous body double - not more, not less. 

On the other hand her notorious fame was feeded by her liaison with King Manuel of Portugal because this affair was related with his abdiction and the turmois which arouse afterwards. Gaby Deslys was in Portugal during the time of resistance against King Manuel and had to flee to France.