Charlotte Parry: A Protean from Paterson

Paterson native Charlotte Parry (1873-1959) attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then went into vaudeville as a mimic or impersonator, doing a repertoire of celebrity impressions that included Tony Pastor, Marie Loftus, William H. Gillette, and Sarah Bernhardt. In 1895, she headlined with a one-act monologue entitled The Heart of a Woman.

From 1896-1903 she took time off to raise a family, but with the death of her husband she returned to the stage for the income. Initially, she was an impressionist again, doing such stars as Vesta Tilley and Mrs. Leslie Carter. But she rapidly carved out a new niche for herself on the big time circuits as a “protean artist”, performing every character in one act plays, rapidly changing costumes and personalities. NB: this is distinct from a “quick-change artist”, a separate vaudeville discipline, which was strictly about changing costumes with lightning speed. A protean artist does make rapid changes, but it is chiefly about the acting. The playlets she performed in, in which she played all, or nearly all, of the characters, included W.H. Clifford’s The Comstock Mystery (beginning 1906), Frank Lyman’s Into the Light (beginning 1911), and towards the end of the teens, a self-devised entertainment she called Song & Story of the City.

In 1909 Parry married Joshua Lowe. a.k.a. “Jolo”, a vaudeville booking agent and the London rep for Variety. By the ’20s she was spending most of her time in London. In the ’30s, she appeared in 5 British films, Sleepless Nights (1932) with Stanley Lupino and Polly Walker, You Made Me Love You (1933) with Lupino and Thelma Todd, directed by Monty Banks, It’s a Bet (1935), with Helen Chandler and Gene Gerrard, The Windmill (1937), and the boxing drama Take it from Me (1937) with Max Miller and Buddy Baer. 

In 1945, Jolo was killed in a taxi accident, and Parry, now 72, to live with her daughter Aline and her husband, Col. Laurence Cramer, former Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. She spent her last years in Chapel Hill.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, For more on classic film comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.