- Eddie Foy, Sr.
When his Irish immigrant father died in 1862, six-year-old Foy began performing in local saloons first in New York and later in
Chicagoto support his family. He gained his first professional recognition in the mining camps and cow towns of the West, beginning around 1878. Some sources have him marrying Rose Howland or Holland in 1879 possibly producing two children, but their divorce, or her death, or the fate of any children has not been traced.
During this travelling period he apparently became friendly with
Doc Hollidayin Dodge City, and remembered Doc trying in 1879 to get him to join the "Royal Gorge War", a railroad right-of-way dispute. One tale has him in Dodge in an altercation over a girl with fellow actor Charles Chapin, 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 reported to have been in Tombstone, Arizonain October 1881 appearing at the local theatre when the Gunfight at the OK Corraloccurred on the 26th of that month. In 1886 he married Lola Selfton, who died ten years later without issue.
Return to Chicago
He returned to Chicago in 1888 as the star comedian in variety shows and revues. 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.
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 Theater 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 theatre’s safety features were woefully inadequate, the theatre personnel untrained, and some of the exits had been locked from the outside; at least 600 people perished.
Eddie Foy and The Seven Little Foys
at age 71.
All his children except Bryan are buried with their father at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, New Rochelle, New York. The family’s story was filmed in 1955 as "
The Seven Little Foys", with Bob Hopeas Eddie Sr. and James Cagneyas George M. Cohan; Charley Foynarrated. Eddie Foy Jr.appeared as his father in several films: "Frontier Marshal" (1939), "Lillian Russell" (1940), " Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942) "Wilson" (1944), as well as a television version of "The Seven Little Foys" with Mickey Rooney(1964).
James Cagneyplayed George M. Cohan for a ten-minute dance sequence with Bob Hope in " The Seven Little Foys" (reprising his Oscar-winning portrayal from " Yankee Doodle Dandy"), Cagney took no money for the role: he considered this repayment for a favor which Eddie Foy had done for him during Cagney's early days as an actor.
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