An Interview with Miss Gabrielle Ray on Beauty by Alan Dale which featured in the Cosmopolitan Magazine Jan 1912.
Figure to yourself the stage of the Gaiety Theater with the performance of “Peggy ” in swift — or tardy — progress.
For once I am not “in front,” sitting bolt upright, an abject critic. I am standing in the wings watching slim little Gabrielle Ray, who has promised to chat prettily with me as soon as her “scene” is over. So I block the entrance, and several people almost fall over me. “Teddy” Payne in all his war-paint stands beside me, waiting for his cue.
Once or twice he pushes me, and I am in deadly terror of making an unrehearsed appearance before a seething London pubic. Somehow or other I don’t fancy I should injure the libretto of “Peggy.” Also I fancy I should not damage the plot in the least. But, being a critic, I am of course timid and diffident. Little Miss Phyllis Dare, looking like Injured Innocence in blue, comes up, and I am introduced to her.
She has never been to New York, and doesn’t know my dreadful reputation, so she smiles weakly, and says affable platitudes. I don’t think she is as pretty as her pictures, but she is certainly an agreeable little blonde, and will be for many years to come — oh, a great many years, indeed! But—where is my little Gabrielle? Is she eluding me, in the barren waste of Gaiety stage?
No, I see her cavorting around with Mr. Edward Payne. Very thin and sweet she looks, but she is far away. I shall view her from a closer range anon. Pleasurable thought! Ah, she cometh! She says something skittish to Mr. “Teddy” Payne, and an instant later she is beside me.
“I have a long wait now,” she says. ” Come to my dressingroom, Mr. Dale.” We get into an “elevator,” alias lift, and I stand beside the shimmering Gabrielle, quite abashed. (The “abashed” qualifies me, please.) She looks gorgeous. Diamonds of purest ray serene are as thick as eczema on her thin neck. Little Miss Ray is lovelier off than she is “on” the stage. She is really a beautiful looking girl, and you can take my word for it. Of course she is half war-paint. Her cheeks and lips are vermilioned; her eyelashes are shaded with “pencil” in the irritating way popular on the stage. But through it all youth emerges—the youth that has no real need of cosmetics. The public has not finished yet with Gabrielle Ray. She is very much on the alert. She is very busy, and as lively as anything London can be. She is not ginger; she is maplesyrup. Sometimes I think that ginger isn’t all it is cracked up to be, and that maplesyrup is the more pleasing, because it lingers. We reach her dressing-room in safety and—she shuts the door. I am alone with this much illustrated lady, and the ebullient British public down-stairs neither knows nor cares. I sigh for one moment. Suppose— “You don’t look a bit like your pictures,” I say professionally, to put this Gaiety girl at her ease. And as I perpetrate this I smile. The mere idea of putting a Gaiety girl at her ease is so droll. Gaiety girls are born at their ease. Miss Gabrielle Ray smiles curiously. She knows how to smile. She casts her eyes up at the ceiling, curls a vermilion lip, and looks awfully provoking. I feel inclined to say, “Smile on, smile ever more,” but I am not feeling flippant. “Please don’t speak about pictures,” says Gabrielle; “it is a very sore subject with me. Do you know that I positively detest this abomination of post-cards that hits me in the eye wherever I turn? I am utterly sick of myself. My own face is painful to me. No, do not laugh; I mean it.” I do laugh, and I do not believe her. Again she smiles in that fetching way—eyes cast up at the ceiling, vermilion lip adorably curved.
“The pictures are so splendid,” I venture. “How can you object?” “That’s it,” she declares, ” that’s why I do object. The pictures are so idealized. They make me so very much handsomer than I am. It annoys me. People buy my pictures, and then when they see me they are are disappointed.”
Now, what can I say? I ask you, what can I say? I’ve been taught that it’s rude to contradict a lady, yet my instinct, my intuition, tells me that it would be horrid to agree with her. When in doubt, remain silent. I am in doubt, so I say nothing. ” My ambition at present,” says Miss Ray, breaking up an awful pause (for I cannot think of any way out of the picture difficulty), “is to go to America. We all get that fever sooner or later. I have it now. I’ve been with Mr. Edwardes in London for eight years, and now I think I’m ripe for America. Do you?” I notice the diamonds rising and falling on her girlish bosom (if I owned them, I know I could live comfortably for the rest of my life, without asking Gaiety girls impertinent questions), and I realize that it must be genuine and intelligent ambition only that prompts her to desire America. Women are strange, capricious creatures. (Original thought!) “I know many, many, many Americans, and I like them,” she pursues diplomatically.
“I’ve met them in London. I’ve played with them. The women are so chic and so pretty, while as for the men— “ “What about the men?” I urge. “The men—” she resumes with that star gazing smile—”oh, I find them most brotherly. That’s the word. Yes, I look upon American men as brothers. All the Americans I have met treated me like a sister. That’s why I like them. They are just dear brothers.”
Her smile becomes slightly enigmatic. There is more sincerity in her words than in her smile. Still, it is a lovely compliment to American men. It isn’t so dreadfully easy to “brother” a lovely woman. Many men have tried it, and have failed most lamentably. It is only easy to be platonic to a fright. But Miss Ray’s declaration that she regards all American men as brothers must be respected. She doesn’t even make them brothers-in-law or near-brothers.
“Exactly how I shall visit America I don’t know as yet, she remarked seriously, ” but I assure you that I intend to come. I have the notion in my mind, and that means a great deal. I shouldn’t care to play a part like that I have in ‘Peggy,’ for it is not a part that suits me at all. I am not a singer. I hate to hear my own voice. It is a squeaky little voice, and I have to squeak in ‘Peggy.’ I prefer to dance. Dancing is my specialty. I adore it, and any success I have had is due entirely to my dancing. I used to understudy Letty Lind — you remember Letty Lind — but my dancing is not as sedate as hers. It is more acrobatic. At least, that’s what the critics say. Oh, I beg your pardon. You are a critic, are you not?” “Don’t mention it,” I bleat apologetically. “I can’t help it, you know.” “When I think of my early experience,” says Gabrielle, “I ought to be happy now. I used to do the provinces. I used to play parts in the provinces that somebody else created in London, and that is dreadful, isn’t it? Then I understudied. I understudied Gertie Millar and others. I played in ‘The Belle of New York’ — out of town—and in ‘See-See’ and other things. Oh, the provinces! I do not love going to Birmingham, where they have hansom cabs with straw on the floor, that makes you feel as though you were a horse. And I do not love the people in the provinces! So when George Edwardes brought me to London I was glad, and I’ve stayed here eight years, and they rather like me. They are very kind to me. And Mr. Edwardes —oh, Mr. Edwardes is an artist!”
“What do you think of anybody else managing the Gaiety?” I query, the journalist looming on the professional chatter. “The very idea!” she exclaimed dramatically. “Why, what is the Gaiety but George Edwardes! And he understands us all so splendidly, and he can select—don’t you know? Have you any idea what I did before I joined those musical-comedy shows? I’ll tell you. I appeared in a drama called’ Proof.’ I think that was nearly my first appearance on the stage. Reckon it out. It makes me about one hundred and forty-six. Perhaps you had better not put that in your column.”
“But it’s so horribly interesting,” I plead, “and you really don’t look a hundred and forty-six.” Once more the smile. Is it the third or fourth? I forget. At any rate, I find myself wishing that I could say things to make her do it all the time. Nor does the first time she smiles exhaust its possibilities. The last smile is the best. It seems to possess more flavor, more bouquet.
“Be sure and say you think that I’d make an enormous success in America,” she goes on. “I should be awfully frightened to come, you know.. I’m very timid. Do I look it? Even in London, where I’m known and recognized, I am awfully nervous. That is a fact, and I don’t say it for effect. They tell me that in America everything depends on the first night’s performance.
If you fail on that occasion, nothing that you do afterward can help you.
“Is that true?” “Alas!” I sighed. “Tis true, and pity ’tis, ’tis true.” “In London it isn’t that way,” she asserts. “You may be a failure on the opening night, but you can redeem yourself, if you know how. I say, it is possible. Don’t you think it rather cruel to condemn an artist for one performance? She may be nervous, or ill, or at a great disadvantage.
It may not be her fault at all that the first performance falls flat. Surely she should have another chance. In London she has, and I think that is one thing in London’s favor. It is human, at any rate. In New York, everybody tells me, an artist lives or dies by the first performance. And yet my ambition urges me to go there.” ”Why fear your brothers?” I asked frivolously. ”What do you mean?” she queries quickly. “I have no brothers.” “You told me that you looked upon all Americans as your brothers.” The fourth—or is it the fifth? —smile. At any rate, it is the nicest.
The eyes seek the very farthest corner of the ceiling, and the lips form themselves into excruciatingly provocative curves. She has forgotten her fraternal relations with all American men, whereas I cannot forget her remark, for my memory is so inconveniently good.
“You are a dangerous man,” she says emphatically, “and they all told me you were. Oh, don’t think I didn’t know you, just because I had never met you. Mr. Edwardes gave me your pedigree, so you can be sure I have been on my best behavior. I only regret that you can’t see how nicely I really do dance. ‘”Peggy” gives me no opportunity, and I’m sorry. Some day you will see. Tell me, how did you like ‘ Count Luxembourg’? Let me interview you now.” No, I can’t have the tables turned on me. So I murmur a non-committal remark. “Are you in front to-night?” she asks. Joyously I reply in the negative. No, I am not seeing “Peggy” thanks. I have seen a bit of it while waiting for the fair Gabrielle, and it has not given me an appetite for more. Still, one never knows. (Since1 writing these lines I have seen it, and I confess I liked it.) She is a bit complimented when I tell her that I am here for her sake only. And I do tell her that. You-bet-cher-life! It is time. I must go. So must she. Really, it does seem too bad, just as I had reached “my ease”. The diamonds rise and fall on the girlish bosom, the fifth—or is it the sixth?—of those ecstatic smiles occurs. I curse the British public below— that coarse and unappreciativc mob that likes boiled potatoes, and has no real use for caviare. ”Good-by, sister,” I say audaciously.
”What do you mean, you impertinent man?” “Did you not say that we were all your brothers?” “You’ll never forget that remark,” she says, laughing. “I’m sorry I made it. You are going to guy me about it—is ‘guy’ the right expression ? — I feel certain of that. Well, I meant what I said, anyway, when I said it, and that’s a lot for a woman, isn’t it? And if you make fun of me— well, it will be very cruel of you. And when I come to America, I won’t even look at you. So there now! Please be good.”