Minerva Courtney: The Lady Chaplin Impressionist

This snippet was generated for upcoming publication in a popular vintage magazine, but I’m missing two vital snippets: from whence she came, and whither she wandered. The subject in question was named Minerva Courtney, at least in show business, although as with the Courtney Sisters (to whom she is apparently unrelated), the handle could be pseudonymous. She was probably born around 1880 and lived at least as long as 1936. I’m hoping someone, perhaps a descendent or other relative will chime in with the missing pieces, as no scholar seems to have uncovered it.

Insomuch as she is remembered at all, Minverva Courtney is best known for having performed as a female Charlie Chaplin impersonator in three silent film shorts in 1915: Miss Minerva Courtney in Her Impersonation of Charlie Chaplin, Minerva Courtney as Chaplin Putting It Over, and Minerva Courtney as Chaplin in Her Job in the Laundry. Courtney is charming in her impression, though somewhat sloppy, and by no means a top tier Chaplin impersonator, interesting though it is that she is in male drag for the turn.

At the time, Courtney was presumably a known quantity to some audience members. Her earliest major credits were on Broadway. She appeared in the shows The Casino Girl (1901), The Rogers Brothers in Harvard (1902), The Rogers Brothers in London (1903-04), and the Richard Carle show The Mayor of Tokio (1905-06). Also in the cast of the latter show was Harry Irwin, May Irwin’s son, who was to be Courtney’s vaudeville and burlesque partner for the next 15 years or so, roughly 1906-1921. During those years, Irwin and Courtney appeared form coast to coast in original, co-written sketches with names like “Billy and the Girl”, “Open Window”, “Heart of the Canyon”, “It Just Happened” and “Build Your Own Home”.

In 1936, an item in Billboard magazine mentioned that Courtney had left the stage several years previously but would soon be appearing in radio, although we have yet to uncover reference to any specific performances. Following this, she vanishes from the public record as mysteriously as she arrived. But she did leave behind a record of her performances. Check them out on Youtube!

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