30 October 2007

A Ghost that Walked

In February of 1928, theater audiences in Kansas City, Missouri were visited by old friends whom they once knew as a family of entertainers --- but folly, fate and whim had long since broken this family apart.

While Eddie Foy could be seen upon the stage, his eldest son Bryan was in Hollywood --- working feverishly to refine and adapt the new Vitaphone talking picture process in his role of notable film director --- and Foy's remaining six children could be seen and heard as mechanical shadows on the talking picture screen in early Vitaphone output --- this at a time when the process was finding its way and beginning to emerge from its infancy and fast gaining confidence.

Two years earlier, in 1926, the sad and not entirely unfamiliar plight of the Foy Family was thought interesting enough to warrant exposure in print via a syndicated news story:

"Eddie Foy, for fifty years the most celebrated clown on the American stage, and the proudest father in the profession, is watching with tear-dimmed old eyes the fall of the curtain on his greatest production."

"For more than twenty years his success in the theatre has shared the laurels with his fame as the devoted daddy of the Seven Little Foys. But now, harmony no longer reigns in the famous Foy family. The seven little Foys, old enough to fly from the nest, have flown... and the flight of the Foy children is tinged with bitterness and the once concordant clan is a house divided against itself."

The events of 1928 --- both on the Kansas City stage and on the Vitaphone screen --- will be visited in this entry but, to be best understood, other places and earlier days must first be visited.

Born Edwin Fitzgerald Foy to Irish immigrants Richard and Eileen Hennessy Fitzgerald Foy in the New York City of 1856, Eddie Foy is believed to have first professionally performed before an audience a mere four years after the end of the Civil War --- at a benefit performance for the Chicago Newsboy's Home in 1869 at the age of fifteen. His performance was striking enough to result in numerous offers for similar engagements, and the next seven years were spent learning his art and honing his talent. In 1876, Foy was engaged by Chicago's "Cosmopolitan Vanities" and by 1878 the performer had teamed with a partner named Thompson to tour the then still wild central West of America with Emerson's Minstrels in which Foy participated in blackface sketches, songs and acrobatic dances.

It was during this touring period of the West that Foy is thought to have formed friendship with the legendary Doc Holiday, to have encountered Wyatt Earp and to have been present --- or at least nearby, when the altercation at the OK Corral took place!

Perhaps seeking the comparatively normal confines of big city theaters, Foy departed Emerson's Minstrels and returned to the variety stage after having played in nearly every major United States city. Foy's popularity led to his engagement with the Kelly & Mason Co. and a role in "The Tigers," a vehicle with which he toured the country.

In the years that would follow, Foy would be included in the casts of some of the most successful and elaborate musical comedies that toured the States and abroad, including "An Arabian Girl & 40 Thieves," "Jack in the Box," "Over the Garden Wall," "Ali Baba," "Off the Earth," "The Earl and the Girl," "Cinderella," "Sinbad the Sailor," "The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown," and "Hotel Topsy Turvy," which had a run of over 150 nights at New York City's Herald Square Theater.

During this period of rising fame, Foy would be twice wed to actresses --- Rose Howland in 1879 and Lola Sefton in 1886, and twice widowed. In 1896, he'd wed yet again --- to Madeline Morando, "a famous danseuse from Italy" and it would be with Madeline that his famous offspring would arrive:

Bryan in 1896, Charley in 1898, Mary in 1901, Madeline in 1903, Eddie Jr. and Richard in 1905, and Irving in 1908.

On December 30th of 1903, events of that day would forever link the senior Foy name with a catastrophe that would receive global attention. The setting was Chicago's Iroquois Theater, "the newest, the largest and as far as human power could make it, the safest theater in Chicago," where Foy was appearing in "Mr. Bluebeard," the theater's premiere dramatic production.

The second-act of "Mr. Bluebeard" had just gotten underway at 3:15PM, with a matinee audience of 1,900 comfortably caught up in the musical comedy. We'll allow contemporary newspaper accounts to take up the narrative here...

"The accounts of the origin of the fire are conflicting, but the best reason given is that an electric wire near the lower part of a piece of drop scenery suddenly broke and was grounded. The fire spread rapidly toward the front of the stage, causing the members of the chorus, who were then engaged in the performance, to flee to the wings with screams of terror. The fire in itself up to this time was not serious and possibly could have been checked had not the asbestos curtain failed to work."

The gauzy scenery quickly nourished the small flame into full blown fire which spread upwards and outward instantaneously. As the audience nearly rose as one from all parts of the theater to hasten for exits, Foy rushed to the front of the stage with the flames roaring above his head. As burning embers fell about him, he yelled out to the audience --- pleading with them above the din not to give way to panic. The comedian, in his tights, smock and wig, stood a grotesque figure amid the blazing scenery and his appearance apparently arrested for a moment the mad scramble for doors. He urged the orchestra to play and eight girls on the stage, at his direction, went into a dance. Foy cried out for the asbestos curtain to be lowered. It descended about halfway and then stuck --- creating a workable flue through which a strong draft was moving, aided by the doors thrown open in the front of the theater and behind the stage.

"With a roar and in a bound, the flames shot through the opening over the heads of the people on the first floor, and reaching clear up to those in the first balcony, caught them and burned them to death where they sat. Immediately following this rush of flames there came an explosion which lifted the entire roof of the theater from its walls, shattering the great skylight into fragments."

"It is believed that the explosion was caused by the flames coming in contact with the gas reservoirs of the theater, causing them to burst. Will J. Davis, manager of the theater, said after the catastrophe that if the people had remained in their seats and had not been excited by the cries of 'fire!' not a single life would have been lost. This is, however, contradicted by the statements of firemen who found numbers of dead people sitting in their seats, their faces directed toward the stage as if the performance was still going on."

The death toll would reach 602, marking the event as the most fatal single building fire in U.S. history --- a distinction as yet mercifully unmatched.

When the fire started, Foy entrusted his son Bryan, then aged six, to the care of a stage hand, and when he at last was forced to leave the stage he rushed out into the frigid Chicago streets via the stage door --- frantic and uncertain whether or not the boy had been carried out to safety. He found the future film director safe with the stagehand he had deposited him with.

As the 20th Century slowly gathered momentum, Foy enjoyed a near continual string of Broadway successes and road tours as he raised his growing family in nearby New Rochelle, New York. "Piff! Paff! Pouf!" in 1904/05, "The Earl and the Girl" in 1905/06, "The Orchid" in1908, "Mr. Hamlet of Broadway" in 1909, "Up and Down Broadway" in 1910 and "Over the River" in 1911.

Here, Billy Murray performs the melancholy and decidedly odd melody Foy introduced in 1904's "Piff! Paff! Pouf!," a composition which bemoans every performer's greatest fear --- the show that closes:

"The Ghost That Never Walked" (1904)

Serviceable though Murray's vocal is, it lacks the characteristics that made Foy so unique and memorable. Slight of frame and build and incredibly agile, it was --- however, Foy's expressive face and voice that so delighted audiences. Naturally prone to talking from one side of his mouth, Foy possessed an unusual speech impediment of sorts that resulted in a softly sibilant "sh" sound to be attached to his words. "Let's go to the store" would emerge as "Letsh go to the shtore," and this oddity fast became his trademark --- one unique among performers of his day, but one which would later turn up with some regularity almost exclusively (curiously!) among sportscasters and country-western singers, where it's presumably a cultivated affectation.

By 1910 Foy had hit upon the idea of forming an equally unique trademark --- one that would result in the formation of what would become a wildly successful performing gimmick --- Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys, and by 1913 the act had not only caught on but flourished, with a near unending stream of bookings ahead that would last nearly a decade.

So popular were the troupe of father and children that they'd be featured in a 1915 two reel Sennett/Keystone short subject that would play in theaters around the country for the next three years.

Titled "A Favorite Fool," (the survival status of the film is unknown at this writing) it was described thus in a 1915 press release:

"Foy is a 'Son-of-Rest' on a farm when the Widow Wallop's Circus strikes town. He knows naught of the seven little Wallops when he proposes marriage to the widow and is accepted. Romance is assailed by the knowledge of the family he has acquired and he runs away. Later, he learns that a browbeating ringmaster who has ousted the widow from the show is a villain and that the show really belongs to her. Then he returns with the papers proving ownership, casts the ringmaster into a lion's cage and takes possession. A tornado releases the villain and he cuts the ropes that hold up the tent, which falls on Eddie Foy, the Seven Little Foys, and Polly Moran. They poke their heads through the rain-soaked canvas and the curtain falls on one of Mack Sennett's most laughable farcer, 'A Favorite Fool.'"

Foy is also thought to have appeared in the 1918 Sennett/Paramount two-reeler "His Wife's Friend," but all period mentions of the film detail the performers only as including Charlie Murray, Wayland Trask and Myrtle Lind suggesting Foy's contribution would have been limited to an unbilled cameo if indeed he appeared in the film at all. Certainly, the unexpected early death of his wife Madeline in June of 1918 (pneumonia) casts serious doubt.

The Fort Wayne News and Sentinel editorial page thought enough of her passing to allow this unusual and passionate entry:

"We note in the press dispatches an account of the death of Mrs. Eddie Foy. Prior to her marriage to the accomplished Foy, this estimable woman was an Italian dancer. It is not recalled that this paper ever heard of Mrs. Foy before the announcement of her death, yet in the short account of her life carried by news services announcing her demise, there is that which awakens a genuine feeling of respect. Yet, no tribute is paid her beyond the simple statement that she married Eddie Foy in 1895, was still married to him at the time of her death, and was the mother of his eleven children."

"There is something about that statement that is so completely at variance with the usual record of stage marriages that it rather gets us. An Italian dancer marries a comic opera star and stays married to him until her death twenty-three years later! Amazing! And she bears him eleven children! Marvelous! So cynical have we become concerning stage marriages that we are prone to look upon them as no more genuine than stage money, and in reality a sort of concealment cloak for liaisons. Yet, here we have this whole theory upset by a couple from whom we would least expect it. No doubt those who were familiar with the rough clownishness of the Eddie Foy of the stage smiled and shrugged their shoulders when they heard years ago that he had married an Italian dancer, coolly calculating that such a union would endure anywhere from three to six months."

"Yet, it endured until death did them part, and that they lived happily and lovingly together we have eleven testimonials that cannot lightly be set aside. For those who do not love do not hold such evidence of love."

"There are many of us, perhaps, who have never particularly cared for the rough horseplay of Eddie Foy, but if in future it is again our fortune to see him on the stage, it is possible that we shall view him differently, and in his capers and antics detect a merit we had not seen before and never would have seen but for this story of his married life."

"After all, it is the Human and the Real that make their appeal to our sympathies, and if upon the program of each theatrical performance we attended the life of each actor appeared, we may be sure that many a stage "villain" would be greeted with salvos of applause and many a "hero" hissed and hooted."

A 1919 press announcement carried details of additional film involvement that appears to have evaporated, stating that the Foys would trek to Denver, Colorado to begin making a series of two-reel comedies to be known as "Foy Fun Films" in collaboration with newspaper cartoonist George McManus, and that Foy had signed a contract with the National Film Corporation for the pictures, which would be directed by Albert W. Hale.

As the 1920's dawned, vaudeville theaters, the railway lines and hotels would be primary lodging for the successful family as they toured the country in a number of routines that would tie song, dance and comedy to a topical theme. Titles of such routines included "Making Movies," "The High Cost of Living," and "Slum Where in New York."

In April of 1922, news services announced that "Bryan Foy, son of Eddie Foy, is no longer one of the 'Seven Little Foys.' Bryan has a bent for writing and is now at the Fox studio in Hollywood turning out a laugh now and then."

In time, Bryan would continue to turn out more than laughs, and more than now and then --- and, ultimately, the laughs would be heard coming from the screen as well as the audience.

News of Eddie Foy's marriage to one Marie Reilly in January of 1923 reached newspaper readers via a series of light-hearted items in lieu of formal announcements ("Foy Family Under New Management") or upbeat human interest feature stories, but beneath the surface there would be growing resentment towards the new bride on the part of his children that would have a devastating effect upon the family both privately and professionally.

The Foy Family, as celebrities of their day, were both courted by and exploited by the press in ways that haven't changed at all with the passage of time, save for methods employed.

As reported in a feature story about the family's difficulties: "When Eddie Foy announced to his children that he had married pretty, young Marie Reilly, of Dallas, Texas, this information was greeted with a lack of enthusiasm which amounted to mutiny."

Mutiny indeed. By 1924, the Foy children departed the family act and struck out on their own, neatly deserting their father professionally and forming their own vaudeville act which was frequently billed as "The Foy Family: Chips Off the Old Block," leaving no doubt as to precisely which block they emanated.

To be fair, Foy's advancing age (68 at the time of this marriage) and frail health suggested the time had come for retirement, but such notions were wholly repugnant to the performer and he gamely attempted to find work as a "single" (often to no avail) when not plugging self-penned scripts at producer offices. Worse fortune quickly followed, when (through a convoluted series of legal events) the elder Foy's funds and home were legally granted to his children and (if the bulk of reports are to be believed) both he and his wife were ousted from the family home altogether and left near penniless --- living in a small modest old house across town from the home he had built and raised his family in.

As with all matters of this sort, there is the truth as it is known, and the truth as it really was. We'll never know the precise details -- and nor should we, I suppose. What can't be denied however was that Foy and his wife were left in considerably reduced circumstances while his children lived comfortably and securely.

A 1926 feature story is especially revealing and, for all the melodramatic tone, does appear to largely ring true.

"'It's to the grave together,' sang Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys in one of America's most famous vaudeville acts. 'It's to the grave together and we don't give a damn how we get there.'"

"But the little Foys got tired. Papa Foy will be 82 years old in March. There are only a few more years to go with him at best. But, youth is impatient and the little Foys could not wait those years. They bolted from his company, left him to shift for himself and sought their fortunes in various lines of show work, taking with them only the name which he had glorified."

"'The Foy Family,' the four younger children call themselves on the vaudeville circuit. But the title is a misnomer. There is no longer a Foy Family. There are only fragments, torn apart, scattered in self interest, of the group that for fifteen years amused all America on the vaudeville boards. Charles, the second of the little Foys, is in vaudeville by himself, and two others, Bryan and Richard, are in the movie business in Hollywood."

"Eddie Jr., Mary, Madeline and Irving, the younger four, are home. Their big house on Weyman Avenue (in New Rochelle, NY) is valued at more than $50,000.00 . Its great drawing rooms and red tiled fireplace and its commodious kitchen were built for a large family at Christmas time. The place welcomes all comers --- except for Eddie Foy, with whose money it was built."

"The earnings of Eddie Foy's 57 years on the stage have all gone into the hands of the Seven Little Foys, and Eddie must get along as best as he could. The mother of the little Foys traveled with the company while her children were growing up. Eddie Foy deeded all the property to her because he believed that she would take better care of it than he could. When she died, no will was found, and New York law gave the estate to the children with only a life interest for the father. The children moved into the big house leaving only a little old frame house for Eddie and his new wife, which they refused to accept."

"A year ago, in 1925, Eddie made one last venture for the favor of Broadway. He opened in a play called "The Casey Girl," in which he had provided roles for all his children. After a tryout in the provinces, the play closed and Eddie had lost $18,000. The children scattered to various new vaudeville engagements and Eddie went back to the little old frame house he initially shunned."

"After 57 years, the American public had turned him down. Everybody knew it but Eddie. The walls of his little house are plastered with reminders of his past glories. Eddie finds that he must keep his faith in his past triumphs if he is to live out the years that remain to him. He receives visitors with pitiful eagerness. They provide an audience for the famous Foy humor, the old time Foy grin, whose laugh-provoking power ha drawn thousands to the theaters in America and abroad. 'I'll get back on Broadway,' he says, 'I've still got my fare.' And the absurd corner of his mouth twists upward in the old grin though his eyes peer wistfully out from their network of wrinkles."

"Eddie Foy is afraid that something will be said to hurt his children. 'There's been no trouble. They have a right to the money under the law, and I want them to have it. I'll get along somehow."

"Every morning he goes into New York City. The taxi drivers at the New Rochelle station and the ticket seller are used to the sight of the shabby old brown overcoat on the hunched little man who climbs aboard the city train and alights again in the late afternoon. At the Lamb's Club, where he has been a member for 31 years, kindly men from the legitimate and the variety theater stop a moment to chat with him. He makes appointments with producers and stars, and proffers the script of the play in which he hopes to return to the footlights."

"But ever night he turns toward home again, his head drooping, his shoulders slumped. If he meets an acquaintance, the old Foy grin flashes across his face and he is once more the harlequin, giving life the laugh, refusing to let the song die on his lips."

"His young children in the big house are very busy these days, with the multitudinous engagements of successful variety artists home from tour. 'No,' says Madeline, 'there hasn't been any trouble with Papa. It's that woman. He's all right. Yes, he has plenty to live on, and they have that cute house, really nicer than this, easy to keep warm.' She glances about the octagonal drawing room with its grand piano and its luxurious trifles. 'Sometimes we send him some money, but we won't let that woman get a cent if we can help it.'"

"The present Mrs. Foy has nothing to say, except that she loves Eddie, and means to stick to him. 'Of course,' echoes her husband, the grin flickering about his lips. "Marie will stick. But she'll be repaid. I'm not a has-been yet. I'll be back on Broadway yet, and how the people will laugh. Oh, how they will laugh."

Fate would allow Foy to hear that laughter once again. Remarkably, he embarked on a stage comeback in early 1928 in a comedic feature sketch entitled "The Fallen Star," which was warmly received by audiences despite their attention being swiftly diverted by talking pictures in other theaters --- talking pictures that included two Vitaphone shorts featuring his six children titled "Foys for Joys" (which parodied talking pictures) and "Chips Off the Old Block," which may be seen on the newly released three-disc DVD release of "The Jazz Singer."

Future entertainment and radio figure Goodman Ace (then dramatic critic of the Kansas City Journal-Post) obtained what would be the comedian's last interview --- Foy succumbing to a fatal heart attack the following morning in his hotel room. This beautifully written piece is offered here largely intact:

"'Quit the shtage? Who? Me? Shay, I'll fall over into the orchestra pit firsht!'"

"Eddie Foy drew himself to some height as he made that boast in that famous "shishing" way he had of talking. I had just asked him if this were his farewell tour. Something within him seemed to glow all over. He threw his head back, cocked it to one side, winked his eye determinedly and hurled a challenge at death."

"That was at 8:30 o'clock. At 10 o'clock I saw him again, although he didn't see me --- ambling slowly over to the hotel clerk. A long overcoat which came almost to his neck and seemed to weigh down his shoulders, and a derby which sat straight up on his scraggy head, lent pathos to the figure."

"The clerk called out some friendly greeting. Eddie Foy's hand pointed shakily to something in his box behind the clerk's desk. 'I'm a shick man tonight,' he quavered. 'What's the trouble Mr. Foy?' the clerk asked. 'Gashtritish,' was the reply, and he moved away slowly. I followed him with my eyes until the elevator carried him away to his last night's sleep. Away from the theater he seemed a broken old man, a pitiful contrast to the star of Broadway who had only an hour or so before had shaken his head and decried the present day stage."

"'No sir, young man, the stage today is going backward. There are no plays. There are no players. I could walk on into any musical comedy today, unrehearsed, without any preparation, and make any of the so-called stars take a back seat.' He recalled name after name - stars of his day - play after play - hits of his day - and they seemed to come out and surround him as he spoke of them. And Eddie Foy, huddled in his corner of the dressing room before the make-up table, surrounded by these ghosts of another day, seemed like a king; king of his memories."

"He slipped quietly and slowly into an old faded pair of trousers, a clumsy pair of shoes, an old, soiled blue shirt, and as a finishing touch placed a battered straw hat on a corner of his head and looked at himself reflectively in the mirror. He was made up for the old stage doorman part he was playing at the Orpheum - a sketch called 'The Fallen Star,' in which an old doorman who once knew the applause of Broadway gives friendly advice to a young quarrelsome dancing team. 'I like it better than anything I have ever done,' Eddie Said after a moment. 'I could go on doing it for the rest of my life.'"

"And so, it has come to pass that Eddie got his wish - he played the sketch the rest of his life. We both agreed the little vaudeville act, while not as pretentious as the glittering musical plays in which Eddie made Broadway laugh for 50 years, was till a most suitable vehicle for this famous stage character - we both agreed it was the sort of thing that would carry on - even as Eddie carried on for so many years."

"'Why isn't there a legitimate theater opening tonight in this town?' he almost shouted in his cry against the stage and its present condition. 'Here you have a town of more than 500,000 people and not a single big stage show they can go to see. Where are they all --- all your people tonight --- in the movies! Ten cent theater goers, that's what we have today.'"

"'He had risen. His battered old straw hat had slipped down over his eyes. His hands were raised in a trembling gesture. He voice shook and his eyes were wet. He towered over me as if daring me to defend my generation. He waited a moment and I turned my head away."

"'But I bow out gracefully,' he said in restrained calm, after a minute or two. 'I bow out - I bow out - I bow out,' he mumbled it to himself as he reseated himself in his make-up chair and forced that famous grin of his into action, as if apologizing for his sudden outburst. It was then that I asked him if this really was a farewell tour."

"He sat up, pushed the old hat back on a corner of his head and looked over at me in defiance. 'Quit the shtage? Who? Me? Shay, I'll fall over dead into the orchestra pit firsht.'"

"And now Eddie Foy is dead. His challenge made in that little dressing room was heard and accepted. But Eddie had his way. He did not quit the stage. He was there and bowed out - bowed out gracefully - the Fallen Star."

Foy's death received global notice and countless heartfelt press eulogies by columnists who recalled the comedian as he was in another - happier - day, and of the sheer delight afforded by seeing the elder Foy accompanied by his seven small charges engage in a whirlwind performance of skilled comedy, song and dance --- all set to a gentle tempo that had long since been replaced by jazz. The actor's funeral and burial was a suitably elaborate and widely attended affair, but among those present were the seven who mattered most, his children --- all of whom would eventually share the same burial plot, along with their mother, in New Rochelle, New York as death gradually claimed the children.

In viewing the Foy children's one intact Vitaphone short (the other one is still awaiting discovery of its sound disc element) "Chips Off the Old Block," it's beautifully simple to sense that beyond the pedestrian comedy and music of this much abbreviated rendition of their stage performance is an incredible amount of history and talent --- although perhaps not much of the enthusiasm that there once was in an earlier day --- but these are performers who, quite literally, had spent a lifetime upon the stage, and it shows.

Despite what can most charitably be described as plain looks, Madeline and Mary may first strike the viewer as a hoot ripe for derision when they break into their introductory melody "I Just Roll Along," joined by brother Richard (who bore the most striking resemblance to his father) behind them providing musical accompaniment on the ukulele, but when they begin their dance, and the full orchestra joins in, the invisible spark that differentiates professionals from amateurs suddenly ignites and within those now antiquated vocal harmonies, steps and mannerisms a decade of work upon the vaudeville stage can be not just seen, but palpably felt.

Joined by siblings Charles, Eddie Jr. and Irving for a fast bit of nonsense ranging from wheezy old jokes, acrobatics, specialty dancing, melody ("Bye Bye, Pretty Baby" and a bit of "Miss Annabelle Lee") and two unexpected bizarre and surreal elements provided by the use of grotesque false teeth sported by Eddie and a gruesome recital by Madeline, it's all over before it seems to have barely begun and you're left not quite knowing what you've seen except that you'd like to have seen more or that it lasted longer --- and, generally speaking, that's not typical of the great bulk of Vitaphone shorts of this period.

Following a flurry of activity as the 20's closed and the 30's dawned, Charles would go it alone in vaudeville before entering theater management as would Richard, Eddie Jr. would make his mark upon the stage (Ziegfeld's "Show Girl" in 1929,) while Madeline, Mary and Irving would continue on the vaudeville stage until the early 1930's, using the old reliable "Chips Off the Old Block" billing. However, the fact that something seemed missing with only half the siblings present didn't escape audiences or reviewers.

As described in a Madison, Wisconsin review from early June of 1931 of the vaudeville bill at the RKO Orpheum:

"BERT NAGLE: Ideal act for kids and grown-ups. Something different. Human animals cavorting about the stage and in the aisles. Good dancing. Good act. Big hand from audience. ROXY LA ROCCA: Harpist. Old Timer. Good. Uses all the old classical standbys, but relieves act by considerable clowning and audience-appeal stuff. Good hand from audience. MADELINE, IRVING AND MARY FOY: Three of the seven grownup children of the famous Eddie Foy. Outside of sentimental appeal to old vaude goers, act offers very little. They make you feel comfortable and at ease, because they are so at home on the stage. Fair hand from audience."

When you've spent a lifetime upon the stage, and you're losing applause to animal impersonations and harpists, the time has come to -- as the Senior Foy once said -- to bow out, bow out, bow out. And, professionals that they were, they did.

All of these long ago events, names, places, resentments, squabbles and displays of the human condition matter little today, and even less in the grand scheme of things --- but, they ought not be forgotten either, especially when this family managed to individually and collectively entertain countless numbers of our ancestors. To visit the Foy Family is to visit our past and to re-live past pleasures and resurrect the ghosts that surround us all --- unseen, unfelt but with us nonetheless.

A 1928 78rpm disc recording by vocalist Harry Richman contained two songs which, in an odd way, touch upon two aspects of this family saga. Upon one side is "I Just Roll Along" the melody featured in the Foy children's 1928 Vitaphone short subject, and on the other, in high contrast, the theme song for the MGM Lon Chaney feature "Laugh Clown Laugh" the lyrics of which seem to neatly encapsulate the elder Foy's fall from fame and sad demise. This is one instance where Richman's always over the top performance seems not only fitting, but utterly and precisely right. A bravura performance.

"I Just Roll Along" (1928) Harry Richman

"Laugh Clown Laugh" (1928) Harry Richman

There's something tragic yet heartening in learning that the big, finely appointed New Rochelle home with grand piano, octagonal drawing room and "luxurious trifles" that caused so much unnecessary heartache is no more --- and that marking its former site is the Eddie Foy Park, upon which can be found this plaque --- dedicated to the entertainer by his children.

Until Next Time!

Random Pages from a Family History

18 February 1928

February 1924


San Antonio, Texas - March 1918

Alberta Lea, Minnesota
January 1929

San Antonio, Texas
March 1927

February 1923

Iroquois Theater Fire in Progress
December 30th, 1903

Stage of the Iroquois Theater - Aftermath
December 1903

January 1916

LaCrosse, Wisconsin
April 1922

The Family Foy
Right to Left:
Irving, Richard, Madeline, Mary, Richard, Eddie Jr., Charles, Bryan and E.F. Sr.

Eddie Foy's Dancing Shoes

Sheet Music - Theme Song for "Laugh Clown Laugh" (1928)

Rest after Toil, Peace after Pain
The Foy Family - Together Forever
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery - New Rochelle, N.Y.



Anonymous said...

Jeez, what a story. I bet the bio with Bob Hope barely touched upon the material you provided here.

The Vitaphone short with the Foys is fascinating; it seems both old-fashioned and oddly-contemporary. They were a talented bunch, no doubt about it, but they could've been a little less heartless regarding Dad.

Jeff Cohen said...

Like most (if not all) Hollywood biopics of the 40's-60's, the Hope film is either probably best avoided or viewed as a work of complete fiction.

The Foy Family Vitaphone short points up that there's surely a story behind each and every one. Entire lifetimes of work and struggle that would otherwise be lost to time captured on the screen for a few fleeting moments. When viewed in that context, they're utterly fascinating.

Thanks for writing!


alexa757 said...

What a fascinating story! I had always wondered about the famous 7 Little Foys - I remember older people mentioning them as if everyone would know who they were. Lots of jokes as there are some Foys in my own family (and they had big families too!)

Touching to see that gravestone - and yes I said a Hail Mary.

Anonymous said...

What a delightful and moving entry! Thanks very much for writing -- you've added greatly to my knowledge of Eddie Foy. I'd grouse about your not having posted a song of his, but it appears that he never recorded.

William Ferry said...

And there's some irony in that Eddie Foy Jr could never forget his father, as he portrayed him repeatedly in movies (YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, LILLIAN RUSSELL) and TV (CHRYSLER THEATER).

Joe Thompson said...

Jeff: What a great post. It was nice to learn so much about Eddie Foy and the family. And after seeing the Majestic ad, I wonder what that "Submarine F-7" act was like on a vaudeville stage.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Jeff Cohen said...

Joe: You can be the "Submarine F-7" ad caught my eye too, but sadly I couldn't find any details except for the description: "A stupendous dramatic playlet with 10 people! A Carload of Scenery!" The act, which naturally thrived during WW1, can be found being booked until mid-1920, at which time the public presumably had enough. Wonder what their next project was!

Thanks for writing, Joe...


Anonymous said...

I never get tired of hearing anything about the Foys. Thish ish wonderful.
Allow me to thank you for letting me time travel back to a time way before I was born and enjoy the music of that time.

Teresa B.

Unknown said...

I recently saw the Vitaphone short "Chips Off The Old Block" on TCM. I have it saved to my dvr and have watched it again and again. It's mesmerizing.
Thanks for this fantastic entry on your site!