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.
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.
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
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.
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.