The Seven Little Foys (1955)
Famed vaudevillian Eddie Foy only made one film, A Favorite Fool, which was an early silent short for Mack Sennett. It was not a happy experience. Objecting to the inclusion of such standard Keystone fare as pies in faces and limburger cheese, Foy’s displeasure resulted in the director being replaced and the film’s budget becoming the highest ever for a Keystone two-reeler. Sennett eventually sent the star packing and Foy never made another movie again.
It’s the same sort of temperament on display when we first encounter Foy backstage in 1898. “I’m not interested in dogs, women or children in that order of importance” he snarls at nobody in particular before upstaging an Italian ballerina and then denying her a dressing room. Fortunately, she finds such behaviour refreshingly vulgar and before long the two are engaged in a duet proceeded by one of the worst segues in cinema history... “You ever hear that song that Bert Williams sang?” In quick succession they marry and are expecting the first of what would become the Seven Little Foys.
This was Bob Hope’s first attempt at a dramatic role and from the outset writer/director Melville Shavelson is keen for you to notice by making Foy as mean-spirited as possible. Hope obliges by talking low and leaving the funnier wisecracks to the children and Charley Foy’s narration. He adopts the same tone when he sings on stage, making one wonder if it is Hope or Foy that couldn’t carry a tune. For the record Hope had a pleasant singing voice, and he could do a fine soft-shoe shuffle too, as evidenced by his dance with James Cagney in easily the film’s best sequence.
So how does a biopic about a vaudevillian with one screen credit wind up on site dedicated to movies about movies? Well it so happens that three of the Seven Little Foys went on to enjoy their own careers in films, with varying degrees of success. The eldest, Bryan Foy, returned to Sennett Studios as a writer before becoming a prolific producer and director. Charley Foy ended his acting career with the narration of this film while Eddie Foy Jr’s career spanned almost fifty years, during which he time he portrayed his father on at least five occasions - Frontier Marshall, Lillian Russell, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Wilson and a television production of The Seven Little Foys.
Though the film gives the impression that Eddie Foy was a confirmed bachelor before he met ballerina Madeline Morando in 1898, he had in fact been married before. His first wife, Rose Howland, died in 1883. He was then in a ten year relationship with Lola Sefton until her death in 1894. His marriage to Madeline occurred two years later in 1896.
The Seven Little Foys troupe was not created after Madeleine’s death. The act had their first full year on the vaudeville circuit in 1913. Madeline travelled with them, along with a nurse and a governess, until her death in 1918.
Biopic does not cover Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys’ appearance in the Keystone comedy short A Favorite Fool.