Parry Studio (fl. 1922-1950)
An actress, photographer, radio personality, and newspaper columnist based in Pittsburgh, Florence Fisher Parry (1886-1974) embodied much of that city’s artistic spirit between the two world wars. A native of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, she harangued her wealthy father (a lawyer) into enrolling her in a New York dramatic academy. When the school put on a performance of “Pygmalion and Galatea,” at a hired Broadway theatre, Florence was inserted at the last moment as the lead when the assigned actress fell ill; a producer saw her, and offered her first professional opportunity with Henry Miller in St. Louis in 1905. Her charm, quick intelligence, and elocutionary skill attracted the attention of Alla Nazimova who secured her as leading woman in “The Comet.” From Nazimova’s troupe she migrated to the Les Drichstein Players playing lead opposite Walker Whiteside in “The Melting Pot”(1910) and “The Typhoon” (1912). In 1914 she accepted Otis Skinner’s invitation to serve as his lead in “The Silent Voice.”
In 1915 she married Pittsburgh banker David Parry, retiring from the stage. Her husband’s death by cancer in 1922 left her he sole support of two young children. Alla Nazimova, hearing of her misfortune, hired her to play Mrs. Linden in her film version of “A Doll’s House” (1922). The experience revealed to Parry that a return to acting would not be the best outlet for the genius of a single mother.
She opened Parry Photographic Studio in late 1922, and used her connections with the theatrical world to make it the Pittsburgh way station for visual publicity. She also commenced her long career as a columnist and drama critic for The Pittsburgh Press, penning the daily “I Dare Say.” As a native of Punxsutawney she became instrumental in the early 1930s creating the mystique about groundhog shadow sightings on national radio feeds. In 1932 a regular radio show on KDKA concerning current theatrical productions “Chats between the Acts” reinforced her status as oracle of all things theatrical in Pittsburgh.
The Parry Studio on the Club Floor of the William Penn Hotel served as her photographic gallery. Though Florence Fisher Parry had become an adept camera woman as a teenager while in boarding school in Washington State, her sittings in Pittsburgh were superintended from 1925 to 1933 by Enrique V. Reyes a devotee of glossy photographic papers and the style of 1920s Hollywood portrait photography being practiced by Harold Dean Carsey and Max Munn Autrey. A native of Peru, Reyes had come to the United States in 1914. In Pittsburgh he was largely responsible to establishing the reputation of the Parry Studio for aesthetic quality. In late 1932 Parry hired ex-Hollywood portrait photographer William Eggington leading to tensions between the two camera artists. Parry built an ultra modern studio in design and décor next to the Loew’s Penn Theatre, launching it in April 1933 with Enrique Reyes in charge. It advertised having the latest screen make up for sitters who wished movie style glamour. Eggington superintended the William Penn Studio. (Parry’s child and society portraiture was handled by Joseph Horne at the Horne-Perry office.) But Reyes wanted more than the run of a new studio—he wanted name credit, particularly since his images for various touring Broadway shows were receiving national exposure. Florence Fisher Parry, a believer in not confusing an established brand indicated ”it is against the policy of The Parry Studio to feature the names of its artists.” Reyes argued six months before quitting and entering in a partnership with child portraitist Richard Little to found the Reyes-Little studio on the 4th floor of the McCreary’s Department Store. Parry moved Eggington to the new premises on Smithfield where he lasted three years before quitting himself over the name credit issue. In response Parry advertised that “ I have just acquired the talents of a photographer of national reputation whose pictures are bound to create a genuine stir in Pittsburgh” (Pittsburgh Press Oct. 4, 1936, 18). This reputable artist went unnamed. During the big band era the various Parry studios operated employing a crew of anonymous cameramen and retouchers until the National Labor Relations Board in 1949 took Parry to court for failure to pay overtime. Thinking the lawsuit a vendetta for her vocal support of Wendell Wilkie, Parry turned over the business to her son David and devoted her remaining years to journalism and commentary.
Sources: Pittsburgh Welsh American July 1, 1915, 10; Oregonian, July 28, 1932, 8.
Enriques Reyes prefered a soft-focus, high gloss glamour photography, often have the head or head and shoulders of a woman vignetted on a plain light background. A sound body of work, focussed on dancers, had dark backgrounds, high contrast lighting and high speed capture of motion. Performers in the road companies of musicals and revues formed the bulk of Parry Studio's clientele until the big band era, when musicians supplanted showgirls as the major population of sitters.