Fay Harcourt and Harry Cahill in Monte Carlo, February 1925

The Dancer Fay Harcourt

Fay Harcourt was a British dancer who made it big dancing in Paris in the Jazz Age of the 1920s  as part of three dancing teams – the first with the American Harry Cahill, the second with a Russian called Nicholas and the third wit hthe Argentinian  Peppy de Albreu. But, after a glittering career from 1922-1928 she simply vanished.

Fay Harcourt in Monte Carlo, December 1923
Fay Harcourt in Monte Carlo, December 1923 (From Menton & Monte Carlo News 8/12/23)

Fay Harcourt was born Fay Herring in Kings Norton, Birmingham on 6th June 1894, her mother was Florence and father Charles George Herring (a commercial traveller). She had an older brother called Charles George (born 1876) and an older sister called Dorothy (born in 1885). By 1901 the family, minus the father, were living at 14 Oaklands Grove, Hammersmith, London and Dorothy had become an actress. Fay’s father died in 1909.

Nothing is known of her early life or schooling, but perhaps encouraged by her sister, Fay Harcourt  took to the stage and became a dancer in Lottie Stone’s troupe of girls and was seen in Mr Savile’s 10th pantomime Robinson Crusoe at the Perth Theatre during the season 1909/1910.

No doubt there were other appearances at this time but sadly no confirmed credits. In June 1916 Fay did make a trip to New York but there are no clues as to the purpose of the trip, although she may have gone to dance on the stage.  It was here that she most likely met her future husband.

Portrait of Fay Harcourt in 1924, Paris
Portrait of Fay Harcourt in 1924, Paris (image from Les Modes January 1924)

On her return to London, Fay Harcourt married the American Charles A. Sriber Jr in January 1917.  Sriber was born in New Orleans on 10thSeptember 1889 and was a merchant traveller for Ingersoll Watch Company, had an annual income of $1,500 and had travelled to France, South American Spain, Mexico, Cuba and West Indies from 1900.  According to his passport application he had left America on 13thNovember 1916 for London and most likely Fay accompanied him since they were married a few months later.

Shortly afterward in Brighton Fay gave birth to a son named Charles Ellis on 10thMarch 1917, which means he had been conceived in July 1916 in New York.  Since he was born in Brighton and given his second name Ellis may indicate that he was brought up by Fay’s sister Dorothy who had married a John Ellis and lived in Brighton.

Interestingly, Charles A. Sriber Jr had not been naturalized and only applied for American citizenship in July 1918. Living in 220 West 98th street, he was also drafted for the war effort and listed a wife and child.  Presumably the marriage fizzled out since Charles A Jr continued to travel for business and after the war worked for a Jewelers and Silversmith’s Export Company based in London.

Despite her marriage and the birth of her son, Fay Harcourt resumed her stage career and, according to the Tatler, appeared in Who’s Hooper (presumably in the chorus) that ran at the Adelphi Theatre from September 1919 to July 1920.  What happened to her until mid 1922 is not known but one must presume that she continued dancing in some capacity before she emerged once more in France.

In the summer of 1922 Fay Harcourt made her ‘debut’ in Deauville. The Deauville season was in full swing after the 4thJuly celebrations and at a dancing contest held on the 9thJuly, she claimed fourth prize in the professional class with a partner names as M. Vontetianos. She was spotted one afternoon in late July at the famous society rendezvous La Potiniere and was described as a dancer. At the same time she teamed with the American dancer Harry Cahill and became an attraction at the Deauville Casino, where they ‘created a furore’.  

Harry Cahill was a dancer, singer and composer who had been born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1896. (Here is a  post about the life and career of Harry Cahill) He had been performing in America before signing up to the war effort but had landed the plum job as the female lead in the Argonne Players, one of the major American forces stage shows. He became rather well known in France and even performed at the Champs Elysees Theatre for President Wilson in January 1919.  He clearly met Fay and formed a dancing team in 1922 but one wonders when and how they met. Had they met in Paris prior to the Deauville season or did they simply meet at Deauville in early July 1922 and decide to form a dance partnership and by sheer luck and tenacity gained the booking at the Casino?

Following their success at the Deauville Casino they moved to Paris for the autumn season and made their debut at the Clover Club, formerly the Theatre Caumartin at 25 Rue Caumartin in mid-September 1922. The White Lyres Jazz band played tango numbers as well as the syncopated music for which they were better known. For the first night Harcourt was wearing an exotic creation of rose petals de soie, especially designed by the British designer Dolly Tree who flew from London for the occasion. Harcourt and Cahill did several novelty turns and responded to encores with solo dances.

Such was their success that in October 1922 they moved next door to another cabaret called So Different that had been The Grand Teddy at 24 Rue Caumartin. Thereafter, until the end of the year, they performed at the famous Le Perroquet cabaret above the entrance to the Casino de Paris along with the dancer Marion Forde.

By May 1923, and through the summer, Harcourt and Cahill were part of the cabaret programme  called the Midnight Blue Cabaret in the Blue Room on the first floor of L’Abbaye de Theleme along with Rene Fagan,  the Goode Sisters,  Barry Barnard and the singer Dora Stroeva.  

Then in the summer Harry Cahill became the dancing partner of the French music hall star Spinelly in a revue at the Theatre du Vaudeville that ran perhaps until October 1923. What happened to Fay Harcourt is not known, but by October she was one of the stars of the Ba-Ta-Can revue entitled ‘Festival des Vedettes’ along with Raquel Meller and the Fratellini trio and was doubling in cabaret back at the Perroquet cabaret.

In the winter of 1923 Cahill and Harcourt made their way to the Riviera and became the main feature as exhibition dancers at the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo. Their dances were regarded as ‘charming’ and they were greatly admired as being ‘two of the best dancers seen here for sometime.’  Fay was seen as ‘sweet and attractive’ with the prettiest legs and Harry was thought to be ‘subtle to a superfine degree’ and reminiscent of Vernon Castle, but the caveat was if he was a little better looking and taller his success would be more prodigious.

Fay Harcourt and Harry Cahill in Monte Carlo, February 1925
Fay Harcourt and Harry Cahill in Monte Carlo, February 1925

At some point Fay had to leave suddenly for London and her place was taken by Gaby St Quentin. Back in Paris they formed part of the attraction at Harry Pilcer’s Rector’s club (the Acacias nightclub) that was recognized as the smart rendezvous for the Anglo-American colony.

In October 1924, Harry joined Tommy Townsend playing the piano (Tommy was described as having been part of the jazz band called the White Lyres) and he sang his own songs nightly for two weeks at Harry’s New York Bar at 5 Rue Daunou. Afterward was another winter soujourn on the Riviera.

Once again Cahill and Harcourt appeared at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo along with a variety of other dancing stars including Joan Pickering and Dany Fer and Nancy Jackson.  They also performed in Nice at the Majestic Hotel and Cannes through the early part of 1925 and were seen in social contexts along with other notable dancers such as Hilda Kempton, Joan Pickering, Cynthia Perot, Josephine Head, Dany Fer, Albert Zapp and Elliott Taylor.

At this time it was also revealed that Fay Harcourt, described as ‘an actress of no small fame in Paris’ spent her off-seasons in Madagascar where she owned an ostrich farm. We were told that she was totally familiar with the work of running the farm and knew all about the temperament of the birds. The enterprise gave her more appreciable profits than her stage work and at the same time provided her with all the ostrich plumes she needed for hats, bags and gown trimmings.

Harry Cahill and Fay Harcourt in mid-1925 dancing in Paris
Harry Cahill and Fay Harcourt in mid-1925 dancing in Paris at L’Ermitage Champs Elysees

Back in Paris after their time on the Riviera, Harcourt and Cahill performed at the Montmartre nightspot of the Abbaye de Theleme with Jane Aubert in March 1925 and also appeared at the Coliseum and the L’Ermitage Champs Elysees.

Harry Cahill and Fay Harcourt in mid-1925 dancing in Paris
Harry Cahill and Fay Harcourt in mid-1925 dancing in Paris at L’Ermitage Champs Elysees

By May the pair were dancing at London at Chez Victor,  (see the post about Chez Victor) one of the most exclusive members-only night-club in London and ‘a popular haunt with the gilded youth and flapperdom’ that had opened in August 1924. Fay Harcourt wore three frocks – one was of dull charmeuse in a shade of beige that looked like old gold, another was all pale green uncrushed petals and yet another was of coffee coloured lace and georgette pleated together.

Harry Cahill and Fay Harcourt in mid-1925 dancing at Chez Victor in London
Harry Cahill and Fay Harcourt in mid-1925 dancing at Chez Victor in London (image courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library from The Sphere 23/5/25)

However, this was the last appearance of the pair together and Harry Cahill went off to do other things while Fay acquired a new dancing partner called Nicolas. Born about 1900 and therefore about 25 when he teamed up with Fay, Nicolas was of Russian extraction with a surname various listed as Ivanovsky, Ivanowski, Ivanowitch or Ivanofsky.

Allegedly Nicholas had been a pupil of the great ballroom dancer Maurice Mouvet. He had previously performed at Le Theatre a L’Etranger in Wiesbaden in May 1924 and had then been teamed with a British dancer called Iris Henderson. They had danced at the Carlton Club in Monte Carlo and the Ambassadeurs in Paris but it had been observed that she had her style completely cramped by her partner. This was clearly not the case with Fay as they immediately made a splash at the Casino in Deauville in June 1925 and gained considerable praise thereafter.

In July 1925 they were in Paris. Showing her prominence and integration in the Paris theatrical community, Fay was one of the guests at the wedding reception for Oscar Mouvet and Peggy Vere at the elegant cabaret of the Jardin de Ma Souer along with a plethora of Anglo-French personalities such as Max Dearly, Earl Leslie, Joe Zelli, Max Forsy, Jeanne Aubert, Basil Woon, Florence Walton, Maurice Mouvet, Barbara Bennett and Mistinguett.

In the late July 1925 Fay and Nicholas were the attraction at the Casino Municipal in Biarritz and then were dancing at the Reserve de Ciboure, the Casino de la Pergola in Saint Jean de Luz followed by the Chaumiere back in Biarritz.  They were back in Paris for the autumn and must have performed in cabaret or in a hotel somewhere before leaving for the Riviera in December for several months dancing in Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo (at Ciro’s and the Carlton).

In early February 1926 they were also due to perform with a variety of other star artists at a reception for 200 held by Comtesse de Burbel at the Amiraute Restaurant in Menton, however, due to illness Fay was indisposed but Nicholas gave a remarkable acrobatic dance. A little later in March the pair were dancing at the Casino in Juan-les-Pins, by early June they were appearing at the Casino in Deauville and then later in June at the Casino in Aix-Le-Bains. Here, at the latter venue, Nicholas was admired for his ‘neat foot-work, his peculiarly attractive personality which recalls the class Greek faun’ and Fay for her  ‘grace and vitality.’  Combined it was thought that their dancing had ‘a freshness and gay youthfulness which one sees rarely in Casino’s and nightclubs.’

In July and August the pair were back in the Biarritz area and once again danced at the Casino de la Pergola St Jean de Luz and the Chaumiere in Biarritz. Back in Paris they appeared at Volterra’s Restaurant des Ambassadeurs in the Champs Elysees (that had opened 1925) and then returned to the Riviera by December dancing first at the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs within the Cannes Municipal Casino and then in early 1927 at the Majestic Hotel in Nice.

Fay Harcourt and Nicholas dancing in Biarritz, 1926
Fay Harcourt and Nicholas dancing in Biarritz, 1926 (Image from Biarritz Illustre 10/8/26)

In May 1927 Fay and Nicolas were dancing in glamorous cabarets in the Bois de Boulogne first at the Chateau de Madrid (see the post about Chateau de Madrid) and then Ermitage de Longchamp. It was reported that in the summer they would be appearing at various resorts in France and then they would be going to America to appear in a revue in New York. They were reported dancing at the Casino in Brides-les-Bains in June and the Chalet Bernascon in Aix-Le-Bains in July followed by the L’Auberge de St Jean de Luz.

However, instead of a trip to America, Fay and Nicolas went to Rio de Janeiro for three months from August 1927 and danced at the Copacabana Casino-Theatro, one of the most salubrious venues in Rio with a theatre, bar, restaurant and three banqueting rooms. Here, they danced during dinner and supper in the Grill Room along with the Vreeden Sisters. They arrived back in London on 19thOctober 1927 and during November appeared in a variety show at the Holborn Empire where they created ‘a distinctive impression with some gracefully performed ballroom dances’ and then in cabaret at the Piccadilly Hotel.  At the time Fay listed her address as 1 Hippodrome House, Brighton.

Fay Harcourt and Nicholas dancing in London, 1927
Fay Harcourt and Nicholas dancing in London, 1927 (Image courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library from The Sketch 23/11/27)

This was the last time Nicolas danced with Fay. But, he continued to dance in Europe, and in August 1929 for example, he was dancing with Margaret Wale at the Miramar in Biarritz and then in the summer of 1932 he was dancing with Mlle Paris (Christiane de Vermont) at the Chateau de Madrid, in Biarritz, at the Casino de St Malo and then at Sainte-Maxime-Plage in the Place Pigalle.

On her return to Paris, Fay Harcourt teamed up for a few months with the handsome Argentinian dancer Peppy de Albreu (or Albrew) in the summer of 1928. Peppy had been dancing at the Embassy Club in London and may well have met Fay there.  The dancing team made their debut at the Perroquet night-club, along with other acts and also danced at the Chateau de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne. After a break in Deauville in August, Fay was seen once more with ‘Peppy’ at the Perroquet in October 1928.

Fay Harcourt on the beach at Deauville, 1928 (image courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library from The Sphere 11/8/28)
Fay Harcourt on the beach at Deauville, 1928 (image courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library from The Sphere 11/8/28)

But that was it.  Fay Harcourt’s moments in the limelight were over. Her arrangement with Peppy ended and seemingly Fay did not dance professionally again.  Mysteriously, Fay crossed the Atlantic to visit New York twice in May 1933 and September 1934 listing her home as Paris with the purpose of her visit as ‘business’. Later, in 1939, she was living with her sister Dorothy and her husband John Ellis at 3 Adelaide Crescent, Brighton. What happened to her thereafter is not known.

Sources

Ancestry
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