Edwina Barry: World’s Oldest Vaudevillian

When Edwina Barry died in 1988 she was memorialized as the world’s oldest vaudevillian — 1o2 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”.

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.

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