“Actor Profile: Eddie Foy, Sr.” by S.M. O’Connor

Actor, dancer, and clown Eddie Foy, Sr. is remembered now for having befriended Wyatt Earp, “Doc” Holiday, and “Bat” Masterson; for having encouraged the audience to evacuate the Iroquois Theater in a calm and orderly manner during the disastrous Iroquois Theater Fire; and later having performed on stage with the Seven Little Foys.  Edwin Fitzgerald (1856-1928) was a famous stage actor, comedian, singer, and dancer who performed under the stage name Eddie Foy.  The long show business career of Eddie Foy was comprised of two parts.  Firstly, in roughly the fourth quarter of the 19th Century, he played a stock character Irishman in Chicago beerhalls, had a variety show act with a partner in western saloons, took part in minstrel shows, did odd jobs in one small circus, and performed on stage in legitimate theater.  Secondly, in roughly the first quarter of the 20th Century, he alternated between work in legitimate theater and comedic acts he performed on the vaudeville circuit and also appeared in three silent films. He had eleven children with his third wife, Italian dancer Madeline Morando (1869-1918), seven of whom survived childhood.  They performed with him as the Seven Little Foys.  In the late Victorian era and the entirety of the Edwardian era, he would have simply been called Eddie Foy, but for most of the 20th Century he was known as Eddie Foy, Sr. as one of the Seven Little Foys, Eddie Foy, Jr.  (1905-1983), had a successful career as a stage and screen actor after the family act broke up.

Edwin Fitzgerald was born on March 9, 1856 in Greenwich Village to Irish immigrant parents, Richard & Mary Fitzgerald.[1]  Though Greenwich Village was then a slum, his family was better off there then they had been in the Bowery, where his family first lived in New York City when his parents and elder siblings arrived from Ireland.[2]  In 1862, Richard Fitzgerald went mad and had to be confined in an insane asylum, where he died of paresis later that year.[3]  Mary Fitzgerald and four children three-to-eleven-years-old were left destitute.[4]  As a small child, Edwin Fitzgerald witnessed the New York City race riot over the Civil War draft in 1863. [5]   [This may bring to mind, for some readers, the climax of Gangs of New York (2002).]  A relative in Chicago lent them the money to take a train there.

In Chicago, Mary and her daughters got jobs in sweatshops.[6]  Edwin made money by shining shoes and selling newspapers at a time when newsboys learnt to dance.[7]  As a newsboy in Chicago, Eddie Fitzgerald was able to eat meals in a newsboy foundation, which was important for him because his mothers and sisters could not dependably feed him when all of them had to work in factories.[8]   Talent nights at the foundation led him to realize he would rather be a stage performer than a bootblack or newspaper salesman (called a newsagent in the British Isles).[9]   The Fitzgeralds moved to Chicago, where they lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but things improved when Mrs. Fitzgerald got a job caring for President Abraham Lincoln’s widow.[10]    The mental state of Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), who had been present when John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) assassinated her husband and lost three of her four sons due to various illnesses, did not allow her to care for herself physically.[11]

At the age of sixteen, Eddie formed a double act with his friend Jack Finnegan in 1872.[12]  They called themselves Edwards & Foy and performed in Chicago’s beerhalls.[13]  They played into Irish stereotypes on stage.[14]   Edwards & Foy wore plug hats and knee britches, sang Irish songs, and danced Irish jigs.[15]  The act broke up after Finnegan had a fight with a manager, Eddie learnt how hard it was for a solo act to entertain a beerhall audience, and he teamed up with another friend, Ben Collins.[16]

Their team, Collins & Foy, joined a small circus, but were left stranded when the owner absconded with all of the venture’s money.[17]  An older man suggested to Ben and Eddie that they throw their lot in with him, buy a horse and wagon and work their way through the back country of Illinois to Chicago as a three-man blackface minstrel show. [18]  The boys had little choice but to agree, but it took a very long time to make it back to the big city.[19]   This marked a low point in his fortunes as an entertainer, but Eddie Foy would experience much worse things in life, as he would go on to outlive three of his four wives and several of his children would die in the womb or in childbirth.

In 1876, Collins & Foy finally returned to Chicago, where they became supernumeraries at the McVickers Theatre.[20]  [Supernumeraries, also known as spear-carriers, are the stage equivalent in theater and opera of film and television extras, but with the critical difference that occasionally they get to deliver a single line, whereas extras never get to speak on screen.]  The job did not pay well, but it gave them a chance to see Edwin Booth (1833-1893), the greatest American dramatic actor of his age (and brother of John Wilkes Booth), and Joe Jefferson (1829-1905), the greatest American comedic actor of his age, perform up close.[21]  Over the course of one season, they performed with Booth in Shakespeare repertory and with Jefferson in Rip Van Winkle.[22]

Subsequently, they went their separate ways because Ben wanted to return to minstrelsy and Eddie formed a variety act with a new partner, but neither of them were happy with the result.[23]  Eddie appealed to Ben to reform Collins & Foy and they performed in small venues in small towns.[24]  Ben went back to minstrelsy and Eddie became a solo act before he teamed up with Jim Thompson, a singer and dancer with whom he performed from 1878 to 1883.[25]

In Chicago, Foy & Thompson received a lucrative offer to perform in two Missouri cities: St. Louis and Kansas City.[26]   They received another such offer to perform in Dodge City, Kansas, where the stage was in a saloon and they met Wyatt Earp (1848-1929), John Henry (“Doc”) Holiday (1851-1887), and Bartholomew William Barclay (“Bat”) Masterson.[27]  From there, they went farther west to Leadville, Colorado and Denver, Colorado.[28]  A circuit of the three frontier towns proved remunerative between 1878 and 1881.[29]

Foy & Thompson sometimes appeared on the same bill as the singing Howland Sisters. [30]    In 1879, Eddie Foy wed Rose Howland. [31]    Thereafter, she traveled with Foy & Thompson and performed as a solo act.  Thompson wed an actress, Millie Thomas. [32]    The four of them joined a stock company in San Francisco, where they alternatively staged dramas, comedies, and variety shows at the Adelphi Theater. [33]   In the off season, they performed with Emerson’s California Minstrels, which was perfect for Eddie Foy because Billy Emerson was his hero. [34]

In 1882, the Thompson and Foy families headed east to Philadelphia, by way of Virginia City, Nevada; Butte, Montana; and Chicago. [35]    In Philadelphia, they joined Carncross Minstrels when they discovered the fact Foy & Thompson were a big deal out west meant nothing on the East Coast. [36]    Eddie & Rose, who was pregnant, settled in Chicago, while Thompson decided to try his luck farther west. [37]    Eddie stayed with Carncross Minstrels for the 1882-83 season and returned to Chicago in the summer of 1883 only to find something had gone wrong with the pregnancy. [38]    After both Rose and their baby perished in childbirth, Eddie tried to return to the stage with Carncross Minstrels, belatedly, but found his heart was not in it, and took a few months off to continue mourning. [39]

Eventually, he did return to the company and performed with them for a couple more seasons. [40]    Then, from 1885 to 1888, he performed in farces with various touring acting troupes. [41]    In 1887, he found himself again in San Francisco, where he met Lola Sefton. [42]    They were a couple until her death in 1894, but researchers have been unable to find a marriage certificate. [43]    They had a daughter named Catherine, whom they may have named after his eldest sister, Catherine, but whom his other sister, Mary Fitzgerald Doyle, raised.[44]    In 1888, he joined David Henderson’s touring company. [45]    From 1888 to 1894, Foy appeared in shows that would be staged in Chicago for a season and then tour: The Crystal Palace (1888-1889); Bluebeard, Jr. (1889-1890); Sinbad (1891-1892); and Ali Baba (1892-1894). [46]

In 1894, Eddie Foy founded his own company. [47]    Off the Earth (1894-1897) toured off and on and made money only towards the end. [48]    Little Robinson Crusoe (1895) and The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown (1896) never turned a profit for him and he gave up. [49]    In 1896, two years after Lola died, he wed Madeline Morando, the lead dancer in his company.[50]    In addition to Eddie Foy, Jr., Eddie Foy, Sr. and Madeline Morando’s other six children to survive childhood were Bryan Foy (1896-1977), Charlie Foy (1898-1984), Mary Foy (1901-1987), Madeline Foy (1903-1988), Richard (“Dick”) Foy (1905-1947), and Irving Foy (1908-2003).  With a large family to support, Eddie Foy, Sr. had to work constantly.  He felt obliged to move his family to New York City. [51]

Charlie was born in Chicago while Foy was in a production of In Gay New York (1898-1900), which was produced by Klaw & Erlanger – Marc Klaw (1858-1936) and A.L. Erlanger (1859-1930) – the founders of the Theatrical Syndicate.[52]  Foy subsequently appeared in Hotel Topsy-Turvy (1899), An Arabian Girl and Forty Thieves (1899), A Night in Town (1900), The Strollers (1901-1902), and The Wild Rose (1902-1903).[53]  An Arabian Girl and Forty Thieves was a flop.[54]

In 1903, he returned to Chicago for a tour of Mr. Bluebeard (1903).[55]  This was the inaugural theatrical company for the Iroquois Theater.[56]  On December 30, 1903, at a matinee performance, the backstage caught fire.[57]  After his cast mates and the musicians fled, he stepped forward and pleaded with the audience to calmly evacuate.[58]  He escaped through the sewer.[59]  Over 600 people died in the calamity, which was more than had died in the Great Chicago Fire.

Eddie Foy became a vaudeville performer in February of 1904 and from 1904 to 1911 he spent part of every year on the vaudeville circuit, while continuing to perform in Broadway musicals.[60]  He would put together a show in a city, perfect it, bring it to Broadway for a run of a few months, and then tour with it outside New York City for up to two years.[61]   For the Shubert brothers, who led the fight against the Theatrical Syndicate, he performed in the musical farces Piff! Paff! Pouff! (1904-1905), The Earl and the Girl (1905-1907), and The Orchid (1907-1908).[62]   His vaudeville performance as the gravedigger from Shakespeare’s Hamlet preceded his next Shubert production, Mr. Hamlet on Broadway (1908-1910).[63]   Up and Down Broadway (1910-1911) was a revue.[64]   The Pet and the Petticoats (1911), a musical, was a flop.[65]

He would appear on the vaudeville circuit for eight-to-ten-weeks at a time during gaps in his schedule.  As a vaudeville performer, he usually did a mixture of clowning and impersonations.[66]   As a clown, he often appeared on stage with the appearance of a mid-19th Century clown, in white face, dressed with a small hat cocked to one side and leggings or pantaloons.[67]   The makeup would accentuate his U-shaped mouth.[68]   He would speak, in a raspy voice, out of the side of his mouth.[69]   Sometimes, he would appear in drag.[70]   He used a wide variety of props.[71]

Eddie Foy, Sr. had made a lot of money over the years but for most of his life had not been good at saving or investing.[72]  Finally, though, he had enough set aside to purchase a twenty-room house, which is to say a mansion, in New Rochelle, New York. [73]  This mansion was home to Eddie, Madeline, their seven children, and his elder daughter, Catherine, whom his sister Mary had raised. [74]  They frequently hosted other relatives, and he frequently joked on stage and interviews that the population of New Rochelle doubled when the Foys showed up. [75]

The musical Over the River (1910-1911), a musical, was the first show where Eddie Foy, Sr. performed with his seven children by Madeline.[76]  Catherine did not perform with them. [77]  She moved out, at the age of eighteen, to New York City, by herself, in 1912.[78]  That same year, in 1912, Eddie Foy, Sr. appeared on vaudeville with the Seven Little Foys.[79]  Bryan was the eldest at sixteen and Irving was the youngest at four. [80]  The act consisted of two parts. [81]  In the first part, he performed by himself as a singer and clown.  In the second part, the children join him.  They came on stage in a line. [82]  Eddie, Jr. would arrive last with a carpet bag in hand, out of which Irving would spring. [83]  Eddie, Sr. appeared in two short silent films produced by Mack Sennett (1880-1960): Actors’ Fund Field Day (1910) and A Favorite Fool (1915).[84]  The Seven Little Foys appeared with him in A Favorite Fool. [85]  He also appeared in a post-World War I propaganda film Sennett made, a six-reeler farce called Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919).[86]

The Seven Little Foys had developed their individual talents by the time Madeline died of pneumonia in 1918.[87]  Shortly thereafter, Bryan Foy left to join the U.S. Navy.[88]  When he returned home, he began to work in the business end of the movie industry.[89]  The family act became known as Eddie Foy and the Younger Foys.[90]   In retirement, Eddie Foy, Sr. wed his fourth and last wife, Marie Reilly Coombs, to whom he was married until his death in 1928.[91]  He developed an act as an elderly doorman at a theater, nostalgic for the old days, he took on the vaudeville circuit in 1927 and suffered his final heart attack after a performance in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 16, 1928.[92]

Bryan Foy; Charles Foy; Richard Foy; Eddie Foy, Jr.; Madeline Foy; Mary Foy; and Irving Foy donated the property on which the home they had shared with their parents to the City of New Rochelle for use as Eddie Foy Park.  A movie producer, Bryan Foy died in Los Angeles on April 20, 1977.  Charlie Foy was a nightclub manager and character actor who died in Los Angeles on August 22, 1984.  Richard Foy went into the movie business, too, but ended up in Dallas, Texas, where he died on April 4, 1947.  Mary Foy Latell left show business and died in Los Angeles on December 13, 1987.  Madeline Foy O’Donnell made a few movies but retired from show business, as well.  She died in Los Angeles on July 5, 1988.  Irving Foy, the baby of the family, died on Sunday, April 20, 2003.[93]  In 1944, he had moved to New Mexico to overcome tuberculosis. [94]  In Albuquerque, he ran three cinemas until 1952, when he moved his family to Taos, New Mexico, where he ran a drive-in movie theater and, subsequently, an ice cream parlor until 1958, when he moved back to Albuquerque.[95]  This time, he worked his family as a headwater at a supper club and as a bartender.[96]  Eddie Foy, Jr.  played the same part in The Pajama Game when it was a 1954 musical on Broadway and a 1957 film.[97]  He had a supporting role in Show Girl (1929) on Broadway and starred in The Cat and the Fiddle (1931) the revival of The Red Mill (1945), and Rumple (1957).[98]  Eddie Foy, Jr. made sixty motion pictures and also appeared on television.[99]  Remarkably, he played Eddie Foy, Sr. in Frontier Marshal (1939), Lillian Russell (1940), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and Wilson (1944).  Notably, James Cagney (1899-1986), who had starred as George M. Cohan (1878-1942) in Yankee Doodle Dandy, reprised the role for The Seven Little Foys (1955), which starred Bob Hope (1903-2003) as Eddie Foy, Sr.  Eddie Foy, Jr. also played his father in the telefilm The Seven Little Foys (1964), which featured Mickey Rooney as George M. Cohan.  He died in Los Angeles on July 15, 1983.[100]  Eddie Foy, Sr.; Madeline Morando; Clara Morando (1858-1939); Dick Foy; Charley Foy; Eddie Foy, Jr.; Mary Foy Latell; Irving L. Foy; and Madeline Foy O’Donnell are buried together in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in New Rochelle, New York.

 

[1] Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Volume I.  Edited by Frank Cullen, Florence Heckman, and Donald McNeilly.  New York, New York: Routledge (2007), p. 406

See also in “Foy, (Edward Fitzgerald) Eddie.” The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. Edited by John S. Bowman. New York: Cambridge University Press (1995), p. 250

[2] Cullen, p. 406

[3] Cullen, p. 406

[4] Cullen, p. 406

[5] Cullen, p. 407

[6] Cullen, p. 406

[7] Cullen, p. 406

[8] Cullen, p. 407

[9] Cullen, p. 407

[10] Cullen, p. 407

[11] Cullen, p. 407

[12] Cullen, p. 407

[13] Cullen, p. 407

[14] Cullen, p. 407

[15] Cullen, p. 407

[16] Cullen, p. 407

[17] Cullen, p. 407

See also Bowman, p. 250

[18] Cullen, p. 407

See also Bowman, p. 250

[19] Cullen, p. 407

[20] Cullen, p. 407

[21] Cullen, p. 407

[22] Cullen, p. 407

[23] Cullen, pages 407 and 408

[24] Cullen, p. 408

[25] Cullen, p. 408

[26] Cullen, p. 408

[27] Cullen, p. 408

[28] Cullen, p. 408

[29] Cullen, p. 408

[30] Cullen, p. 408

[31] Cullen, p. 408

[32] Cullen, p. 408

[33] Cullen, p. 408

[34] Cullen, p. 408

William Emerson Richmond, who performed under the name Billy Emerson, was the highest-paid minstrel in America but died in poverty in Boston in 1902.  See “Death Brings Down Curtain for Lovable Billy Emerson,” The San Francisco Call, Volume 87, 24 February, 1902, p. 1

[35] Cullen, p. 408

[36] Cullen, p. 408

[37] Cullen, p. 408

[38] Cullen, p. 408

[39] Cullen, p. 408

[40] Cullen, p. 408

[41] Cullen, p. 408

[42] Cullen, p. 408

[43] Cullen, p. 408

[44] Cullen, pages 408 and 410

[45] Cullen, p. 408

[46] Cullen, p.  408

[47] Cullen, p. 408

[48] Cullen, p. 408

[49] Cullen, p. 408

[50] Cullen, p. 408

[51] Cullen, p. 408

[52] Cullen, p. 408

[53] Cullen, pages 408 and 409

[54] Cullen, p. 409

[55] Cullen, p. 409

[56] Cullen, p. 409

[57] Cullen, p. 409

[58] Cullen, p. 409

See also Bowman, p. 250

[59] Cullen, p. 409

[60] Cullen, p. 409

[61] Cullen, p. 409

[62] Cullen, p. 409

[63] Cullen, p. 409

[64] Cullen, p. 409

[65] Cullen, p. 409

[66] Cullen, p. 409

[67] Cullen, p. 409

[68] Cullen, p. 409

See also Bowman, p. 250

[69] Cullen, p. 409

[70] Cullen, p. 409

[71] Cullen, p. 409

[72] Cullen, p. 409

[73] Cullen, p. 409

[74] Cullen, p. 409

[75] Cullen, p. 409

[76] Cullen, p. 409

[77] Cullen, p. 409

[78] Cullen, p. 410

[79] Cullen, p. 409

[80] Cullen, p. 409

[81] Cullen, p. 409

[82] Cullen, p. 409

[83] Cullen, p. 409

[84] Cullen, p. 410

[85] Cullen, p. 410

[86] Cullen, p. 410

[87] Cullen, p. 410

[88] Cullen, p. 410

[89] Cullen, p. 410

[90] Cullen, p. 410

[91] Cullen, p. 410

[92] Cullen, pages 406 and 410

[93] Associated Press, “Irving Foy, 94, Last of the Seven Little Foys,” The New York Times, 26 April, 2003 (https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/26/arts/irving-foy-94-last-of-the-seven-little-foys.html) Accessed 04/08/18

Cullen, p. 411

[94] Associated Press, “Irving Foy, 94, Last of the Seven Little Foys,” The New York Times, 26 April, 2003 (https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/26/arts/irving-foy-94-last-of-the-seven-little-foys.html) Accessed 04/08/18

Cullen, p. 411

[95] Associated Press, “Irving Foy, 94, Last of the Seven Little Foys,” The New York Times, 26 April, 2003 (https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/26/arts/irving-foy-94-last-of-the-seven-little-foys.html) Accessed 04/08/18

[96] Associated Press, “Irving Foy, 94, Last of the Seven Little Foys,” The New York Times, 26 April, 2003 (https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/26/arts/irving-foy-94-last-of-the-seven-little-foys.html) Accessed 04/08/18

[97] Cullen, p. 411

[98] Cullen, p. 410

[99] Cullen, p. 411

[100] Cullen, p. 411

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