By Marianne Wolf-Astrauskas
Mary Moncure Parker was a born entertainer. With a gift for writing humorist monologues she knew how to impersonate characters and read her stories with dramatic flair. In the multitude of show reviews written about Mary, the Chicago Tribune said, “She would make a great actress.”
In reality, she was a southerner from the Moncure lineage dating back more than 200 years from the family seat in Glencairn, near Fredericks, Virginia. Born with revolutionary ties on her father’s side of the family, her father was Reverend Henry Martyn Paynter, a Presbyterian clergyman; she had an author cousin on her mother’s side who wrote about the lives of Emerson & Carlyle, and the Hon. R.C.L Moncure of the Supreme Court of Virginia for a grandfather. Mary was highly influenced by these family ties and found she was able to produce original plays and monologues featuring various dialects in prose and verse that delighted her audiences.
Mary became a prominent club woman who identified with Chicago and New York theatrical circles. She was a member of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her popularity as a 20th century society entertainer, known as much for her smart and becoming costumes as for her humorous original skits, grew as her work began to appear in print for the general public and was adapted to musical readings. Many of Mrs. Parker’s monologues and stories were published by the Frederick Drake Company and the T.S. Denison Company of Chicago. Original copies such as her legendary Merry Monologues published in 1916 remain available today through the internet.
Under the management of Broadway producer, Gustave Frohman, this playwright and author would go on to become a national celebrity after making the decision to tour the country in vaudeville. Another review from the Chicago Tribune referred to her as “a clever curtain raiser.” The Chicago Press Club noted Mrs. Parker’s stories were not only funny but that every one of them had a “wholesome point, food for thought, they are sugar-coated and good for everyone.”