Edwina Barry: World’s Oldest Vaudevillian

Photo courtesy Jim Bullock

When Edwina Barry died in 1988 she was memorialized as the world’s oldest vaudevillian — 102 years old.

Born July 3, 1886, Anna Edwina Barry was the younger sister of Jimmy Barry, of the famous husband and wife vaudeville team Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Barry. Orphaned at 14, she was married at age 20 to William Richards, who happened to be the brother of Mrs. Jimmy Barry, thus Edwina’s brother-in-law. He was a divorcee 14 years her senior. Edwina followed her brother into big time vaudeville. He seems to have given her a leg up in all sorts of ways. After touring with a production of Faust, around 1908 Edwina started her own vaudeville act “Edwina Barry and Company”, one of whose members was her husband (the Barry name was clearly more important than his when it came to branding the act). Their most popular sketch, penned by Jimmy Barry, seems to have been “The Homebreaker”, in which Edwina played a novice serving girl named “Dotty Plumdaffy”.

Photo courtesy Jim Bullock

In 1916 she separated from Richards and toured as a solo, playing the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Africa and India. In 1920, while performing in the Philippines she married mentalist Fred Rochon, often billed as “Peerless Pendleton”. This shiftless personage seems to have led her a merry chase for the next three decades. He stole her money and deserted her repeatedly over their 28 year marriage. He abandoned her in Australia on one occasion. He burned down a hotel. And he may have had another wife (at the same time). But he must have woven a spell on Edwina. She abandoned her own act and became Rochon’s assistant in the mentalism act for a period of ten years. And every time he would take off she would pursue him and catch up with him. In 1948, after he had been gone some time, she finally obtained a divorce with desertion as grounds. Then she heard he may have gone to China and followed him there — just in time for the Communist takeover, which she narrowly escaped. From here she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a Navy librarian before retiring.

To learn more about vaudeville history including performers like Edwina Barry, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

3 comments

  1. My wife was related to William Richards, Edwina Barry’s first husband. I delved into Edwina’s life for several years, a goodly portion of that devoted to the life of that classic, amoral cad, Fred Rochon. His escapades were those of a minor fictional villain. Edwina was fixated on Fred from the moment they met and throughout their lives together it seems he couldn’t have cared less. Nevertheless, her Florida divorce was no sooner granted than she was off to Shanghai chasing after him. They apparently did not reconnect, however. Edwina spent her final years as a resident in an Actors’ Fund home in Los Angeles. Fred worked some years as a seaman and retired on a WW I veteran’s pension, living in rooming houses and small hotels in the Caribbean. His extensive VA records are mostly correspondence related to his incredibly frequent changes of address and pension checks that hadn’t caught up with him. He died in Vieques, Puerto Rico and is buried there. That he was already married when he married Edwina is true. His first wife later divorced him but he apparently had no knowledge or proof of that so, in the process of seeking a WW I disability pension from the VA, he and Edwina married a second time. Somehow, I think it was probably news to Edwina that she might have been in a bigamous marriage.

    My compliments to the author of this biography of Edwina. I’m quite familiar with her life and find nothing to criticize. I might add that on the occasion of her 100th birthday, President Reagan sent her a telegram of congratulations.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, and the additional information! Have you any family photos or clips to share? As I recall, it was a job of work finding an image of her.

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      • I do have some photos of her, a couple from passport applications and one or more others as well. It’s ages since I’ve looked at what I have on her but chasing details of her life consumed mine for 3 or 4 years. I’d be happy to send you photos but would rather communicate by e-mail as I’m not into facebook, twitter and the like. My e-mail address is lexriver26@gmail.com. If you send me yours I’ll look up photos and send them on.

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