Eddie Foy, Sr. (born Edwin Fitzgerald March 9, 1856 – February 16, 1928) was an American actor, comedian, dancer and vaudevillian.
Poster from The Earl and the Girl
Foy's parents, Richard and Mary Fitzgerald, emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1855 and lived first in New York's Bowery and then in Greenwich Village, where Eddie was born. Richard Fitzgerald died in an insane asylum in 1862 from syphilis-induced dementia, and his widow took her four children (Eddie was second oldest) to Chicago, where she reportedly at one time tended the mentally ill widow of Abraham Lincoln.
Six-year-old Eddie began performing in the streets and local saloons to support his family. At 15, he changed his name to Foy and with a partner began dancing in bars, traveling throughout the western United States. He worked for a time as a supernumerary in theatrical productions, sharing a stage at times with such leading men of the time as Edwin Booth and Joseph Jefferson. With another partner, Jim Thompson, Foy went west again and gained his first professional recognition in mining camps and cow towns. In one such town, Dodge City, Kansas, Foy and his partner lingered for some time and Foy became acquainted with notable citizens Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, andDoc Holliday. In later years, Foy told of an altercation over a girl with fellow actor Charles Chaplin (not the later film star), who was drunkenly taking pot-shots at Foy. The gunfire awakened Wyatt Earp, who disarmed the actor and sent both the players home to sleep it off. Foy is also rumored to have been in Tombstone, Arizona, in October 1881, appearing at the local theater when the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred on the 26th of that month.
In 1879, Foy married Rose Howland, one of the singing Howland Sisters, who were traveling the same circuit.Three years later, Foy and troupe relocated to Philadelphia and joined the Carncross Minstrels. That same year, however, Rose Foy died in childbirth, as did the child she was delivering. Foy lingered with the troupe for two seasons and then returned to the road. He joined David Henderson's troupe and traveled all around the U.S., dancing, doing comedy, and acting in farces. In San Francisco, he met Lola Sefton and was romantically involved with her for ten years until her death in 1894. Although some sources claim they were married, no record of their marriage has ever been found, nor apparently did Foy ever state clearly that a marriage had occurred. They had no children.
Return to Chicago
Foy returned to Chicago in 1888 as the star comedian in variety shows and revues, initially for his own company. He played the variety circuits for years in a series of song and dance acts, eventually rising to musical comedy stardom in such Broadway hits as The Strollers (1901) and Mr. Bluebeard (1903). Foy specialized in eccentric routines and costumes, often appearing in drag to hilarious effect. His upper lip extended well below his teeth, giving him an unusual V-shaped grin, and making him look like he had no upper teeth. As a result he spoke with a slurred lisp that audiences adored.
In 1896, Foy married his third wife, Madeline Morando, a dancer with his company. She gave him eleven children, of whom seven survived. These were: Bryan (1896–1977), who became a producer at Warner Bros; Charley (1898–1984), an actor; Mary (1901–1987); Madeline (1903–1988), an actress; Eddie Jr. (1905–1983), who carved out a successful career as an actor and entertainer on stage and screen, including a role in The Pajama Game and Bells Are Ringing; Richard (1905–1947); and Irving (1908–2003), a writer. Eddie Jr.'s son, Eddie III, was a casting director with Columbia Pictures for over 40 years.
Between 1901 and 1912, Foy Sr. played the leading comic roles in a series of musical comedies in New York City and on tour, including The Strollers (1901), The Wild Rose (1902), Mr. Bluebeard (1903), Piff! Paff! Pouf! (1904), The Earl and the Girl (1905), The Orchid (1907), Mr Hamlet of Broadway (1908/9), Up and Down Broadway (1910), and Over the River (1912). It was while on tour with Mr. Bluebeard that he became a hero of Chicago’s infamous Iroquois Theatre Fire, December 30, 1903. A malfunctioning spotlight set fire to the scenery backstage, and Foy stayed onstage until the last minute, trying to keep the audience from panicking. Unfortunately the theater’s safety features were woefully inadequate, the theater personnel untrained, and some of the exits locked from the outside, and at least 600 people perished. Foy escaped by crawling through a sewer.
Eddie Foy and The Seven Little Foys
Between 1910 and 1913, he formed a family vaudeville act, and "Eddie Foy and The Seven Little Foys", which quickly became a national sensation. While Foy was a stern disciplinarian backstage – his wife Madeline died in 1918 – he portrayed an indulgent papa onstage, and the Foys toured successfully for over a decade, appearing in one motion picture. The children began to go their separate ways after Eddie remarried to Marie Reilly Coombs in 1923, but four of the younger children (Madeline, Mary, Charley, and Irving) performed together until the mid-1930s. A dedicated trouper, the elder Foy continued to appear in vaudeville and starred in the hit Broadway comedy The Fallen Star in 1927. He died of a heart attackwhile headlining on the Orpheum circuit in Kansas City, Missouri at age 71.
The seven reunited in the 1928 Vitaphone short #2580, "Chips of (sic) the Old Block". Six of the seven appeared onscreen, doing a portion of their song-and-dance act, while Bryan directed. The film opens with the girls singing and dancing "Goodbye Blues" while brother Bryan plays ukulele. Charley, Eddie Jr., and Irving then come on and do a comedy routine. Next, Eddie Jr. does a comic dance routine, there's a short song interlude, and the film ends with soft shoe routine in which each has a solo bit.
The headstone of Eddie Foy in
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
After the "Seven Little Foys" stopped performing together, the children pursued separate careers. Eddie Foy Jr. had a successful independent career as an actor, beginning with an appearance on Broadway as a single act in 1929. In the 1940s and 1950s, son Bryan composed show music, wrote forBuster Keaton, and had a long career as a director of films in Hollywood. Eddie Sr. and son Richard operated a theater chain business in Dallas. Son Irving also worked in the movie theater business, managing theaters in Dallas and Albuquerque. Son Charley and daughter Mary operated the Charley Foy Supper Club in Sherman Oaks, California, where comedians such as Jackie Gleason, Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, and Phil Silvers appeared early in their careers.
The family’s story was filmed in 1955 as The Seven Little Foys with Bob Hope as Eddie Sr. and James Cagney as George M. Cohan; Charley Foy narrated. Eddie Foy Jr. appeared as his father in several films – Frontier Marshal (1939), Lillian Russell (1940), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), andWilson (1944) – as well as in a television version of The Seven Little Foys with Mickey Rooney (1964). The first stage musical version of The Seven Little Foys, written by Chip Deffaa, had its world premiere at the Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut in 2007. In 2008, it had its New York premiere as part of the New York International Fringe Festival; the cast included Ryan Foy, great grandson of Eddie Foy Sr. and grandson of Irving Foy.
All of Eddie Foy Sr.'s children except Bryan are buried with their father at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in New Rochelle, New York.