Sex Scandals of the French Music-Hall: Gaby Deslys & Harry Pilcer 1900-1920

It was known as the golden age of the music-hall—and introduced to the world an exciting range of artistes whose lives were so blatantly scandalous that they were incapable of crossing the Channel or the Atlantic without raising the hackles of the censors and moral groups. Some even raised eyebrows on home soil, in an age when France was believed to have been liberated in the wake of La Belle Époque. What makes these artistes of paramount importance, even the ones remembered only for a handful of songs and anecdotes, is their influence on so many of the stars of today and the recent past. Gaby Deslys (1881-1920) was the original “Tart with a Heart”, a fickle but talented young woman who achieved world fame via the casting-couch, and who maintained her legendary status by developing a unique talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, breaking hearts and dispensing with fortunes along the way, and even toppling a monarchy. Harry Pilcer was a New Yorker of Hungarian extraction who, after an apprenticeship as a rent-boy, went on to become the most famous dancer to emerge from the United States, pre-Fred Astaire. His partnership with Gaby Deslys saw them billed as the world’s greatest variety act, and enabled them to pack theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. When he later teamed up with the legendary Mistinguett, she wrote her signature tune, “Mon homme” (My Man) in his honour, having described him as the great love of her life. Alternatively touching and shocking, dirty but delightful, this is their story, publicised to coincide with the centenary of Gaby's death.