Gaby Deslys

The Eve of Music-Hall


The people of Marseille still know her name, thanks to the Villa Gaby on the Corniche, but beyond the name, few know anything about the woman. Gaby was a modern woman who dared to become emancipated. 

She freed herself from the prejudices and conventions of her time.

She sits on the very cusp of the operettas of the 19th century, the variety shows of 20th Century, ragtime and the new jazz which she brought back from her tours in America. At the age of 39, she was stricken with pneumonia and she died.  Despite the fact that at her death she was a millionaire and in full glory, she has been all but forgotten.  Her legacy is one merits celebration and remembrance — especially in her native city. 


Born Marie-Elise Gabrielle Caire in Marseilles, 4th Nov. 1881, she began her career as a performer in Paris.  Programs from the time show her first performances in 1900 at the Parisiana, Alhambra, La Cigale, Les Folies Bergeres and the Moulin-Rouge.  In 1906, she expanded her realm: first she conquered London and then New York. In 1910, after many love affairs, one with the King of Portugal Manuel de Bragance, she appeared in a Broadway show with a young American dancer, Harry Pilcer.  The two of them became and remained one of Broadway’s most revered dance teams, both in New York and London, until her untimely death.
 One of Gaby Deslys’s last revues was “Drop Them” at the Casino de Paris. It was in this show that she created her famous descent down a grand stair case and bringing the first jazz band ever heard in Paris.

1918 brought World War I.  Everyone fled Paris and its ceaseless bombings. This is when Gaby and Harry moved to Marseilles and took residence at the famous Villa Gaby on the Corniche.