About PetersPioneersHow Eddie Foy Got His Name

By Peter Biggins

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Lars Dalstrom and Theresa Liewer contributed to this story.

The Seven Little Foys
1955 Poster of Bob Hope as Eddie Foy in "The Seven Little Foys"
Eddie Foy
Edwin "Eddie" Foy at age 16 in 1872, when he changed his name from Edward Fitzgerald. Source: Eddie Foy: A Biography of the Early Popular Stage Commedian by Armond Fields, 1999.
Are we related to Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys? No, but they may have gotten their name from us.

Eddie Foy (1856-1928) was born Edward Fitzgerald in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1856. His parents Richard and Ellen Hennessy Fitzgerald had emigrated from County Limerick on Ship Maria Brennan, arriving at Castle Garden on June 8, 1850, with three-year-old John and infant twins Johanna and Catherine. They had two other children besides Eddie in New York: Mary Ann in 1855 and Ellen in 1859. The father Richard, who worked as a tailor, died in 1862. The widow Ellen moved the family to Chicago in 1865 at the urging of her brother who lived there. Ellen cared for Mrs. Abraham Lincoln in Chicago from 1872 to 1875. Young Eddie eventually became famous as a comedic actor. He bought a house in Chicago for his mother in 1893. In 1896, Eddie married Madeline Morando, the mother of the Seven Little Foys. Ellen died in Chicago in 1902. In 1900, Eddie and his family moved to 64 West 98th Street in New York City, In 1902, they moved to 151st Street and Eighth Avenue in Harlem. In 1903, they bought a house out in the country in New Rochelle that Eddie named the "The Foyer." Eddie died of a heart attack at the Hotel Baltimore in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1928. The funeral was at Blessed Sacrament Church in New York City on the upper West Side, and he was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in New Rochelle.

Death Certificate

As a budding amateur genealogist in 2003, with Foy ancestors, I wondered whether we might be related to the famous Eddie Foy. It did not take long to find our that his name originally was Fitzgerald. So, I quickly forgot about that line of research.

Frances Foy Article. On a trip to Chicago in 2008, I paid a visit to the Visual and Performing Arts Department at the new Chicago Public Library. After finding nothing on my great grandfather Cris J. Smith, who was a musical director in Chicago from the 1890s to 1920s, I asked if they had anything on Frances Foy (1890-1963), a Chicago artist and great granddaughter of my ancestor Thomas Foy who had a farm in the Partry Mountains in County Mayo, Ireland. Her grandfather, Thomas Foy (1830-1903), lived on O'Brien Street in Holy Family parish on the near west side of Chicago. The library found an article about Frances Foy in the Chicago Daily News of Saturday, August 24, 1935. The article was part of a series on "Artists of Chicago" by art critic C. J. Bulliett. The article was comprehensive and well written, but one thing popped out immediately: the comedic actor Eddie Foy knew France Foy's father, James A. Foy (1861-1943), and adopted his surname because he liked it and it would fit nicely on marquees.

Her father was—and is—James A. Foy. He went to parochial school in Chicago in his own youth. A playmate was Edward Fitzgerald. One day, when they had both become young men, they met again.

"Foy, I envy you—I wish I had a short name like yours," said Edward Fitzgerald, who was developing stage ambitions.

Years rolled by and "Eddie Foy" became a nationally renowned comedian. He was the Edward Fitzgerald of Chicago parochial school days.

When I got home to Connecticut, I called Lars Dalstrom, son of the artist Frances Foy. I told him about the article but he wasn't particularly impressed. "We always knew that Eddie Foy got his name from our family," he said.

Research. Encouraged by this conversation, I did a little more genealogical research.

  • 1860 U.S. Census: Edward Fitzgerald, 3, living with his parents, Richard and Ellen, and three sisters in New York.
  • 1865 and 1866 Chicago city directories: Ellen Fitzgerald, widow of Richard, living in Holy Family parish on the near west side of Chicago, just north of Frances Foy's grandfather, Thomas Foy, who lived at 17 O'Brien Street (620 W. O'Brien Street after 1909) from 1865 to 1879.
    • In 1865, the Fitzgeralds lived at 102 Bunker Street (617 W. Bunker Street after 1909). The name of Bunker Street was changed to Grenshaw in 1936.
    • In 1866, the Fitzgeralds lived at 175 Taylor Street (621 W. Taylor Street after 1909).
  • 1869 and 1871 Chicago city directories, Ellen Fitzgerald, widow of Richard, living in the Loop on West Madison Street.
  • 1870 U.S. Census: Edward Fitzgerald, 13, living with his widowed mother Ellen, and sister Mary, 15, in the 1st Ward of Chicago (which includes 236 Madison Street).
  • 1871 Chicago city directory: Ellen Fitzgerald, widow of Richard, living at 236 Madison Street (301 W. Madison Street after 1911). One male and two females living there.
  • 1877 Chicago city directory: Edwin Foy, laborer, boarding at 17 O'Brien Street (620 W. O'Brien Street after 1909). This is in Holy Family Parish on the near west side of Chicago. From 1865 to 1879, it was the residence of Frances Foy's grandfather, Thomas Foy.

Autobiography. But the story does not end there. A few days later I got hold of an autobiography that Eddie Foy wrote with Alvin F. Harlow entitiled Clowning Through Life. It was published in 1928, but serialized earlier in Colliers from December 18, 1926, to February 19, 1927.

On page 4, Eddie Foy tells of his Irish Catholic roots.

My father, Richard Fitzgerald, ran a tailor shop. It occupied the front room of a two-story building, and we lived very comfortably in the other rooms above and back of the shop. Father and Mother had been married over in old Limerick a few years before and had crossed the ocean along with the hordes of Irish, English, and German immigrants who came to this country by the hundred thousand in those three or four decades just before the Civil War. Like Saint Patrick, we came of 'decent people.' My mother's brother was a missionary in some of the Pacific islands, and a very influential one, I'm told. I was brought up in strict piety, and though some folks may not believe it, the effects thereof never quite departed me.

In addition to his mother's brother who was a missionary, he mentions her brother who was a sailor and her brother in Chicago who sent them tickets to come there in April 1865 following the death of Richard in 1862.

On page 20, Eddie Foy talks about his education and an experience in 1868.

I almost never had any opportunity to go to school in my boyhood. Once I went a few months to a night school when I was about twelve; I didn't know then and I don't know now whether it was operated by the city or not.

* * *

My teacher at the night school was a beautiful and gracious lady who completely won my heart. It's hard for a boy to guess at adult ages; she might have been anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five.

Eddie Foy does not mention where the family lived in Chicago except at the time of the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871. He devotes two chapters to a vivid description of escaping the raging fire with his infant nephew and reuniting with his family. Where they lived is key to his description. On page 28 he gives the location of their residence, and it is consistent with the city directory.

We were living on Madison Street then, opposite Franklin, and just east of the south branch of the river.

On page 58 of his autobiography, Eddie Foy says he took his name in 1872 from two sisters named Foy working in concert halls whom he admired very much.

I was sixteen when a very momentous event took place in my life. I changed ny name! Always trying to break into the show business at some crevice or other, I teamed up with one of my chums, a youth named Jack Finnegan, a year or two older than I was, to do acrobatic song-and-dance stuff.

* * *

Our two names, Finnegan and Fitzgerald, coupled together on a program didn't suit my partner. He said it sounded too Irish. I questioned whether anything could be too Irish, but he overruled me. He had decided to take the name of Edwards. I pondered long over my stage moniker. There were two girls, the Foy sisters, working in the concert halls then (they afterwards became very famous in vaudeville) whom I admired very much, and I could think of nothing better than their name. It was short and seemed to me to have a picturesque quirk about it that made it easy to remember. So our team became Edwards and Foy, and I have been Eddie Foy ever since.

In 1877, the year an Edwin Foy was listed in the Chicago city directory as a laborer boarding at 17 O'Brien Street in Chicago, Eddie Foy said on page 91 of his autobiography,

Now I was twenty-one, and hadn't yet gotten anywhere in my profession. . . . But, I was now right on the eve of a turn in my fortunes.

Biography. In 1999, Armond Fields, an historian specializing in American popular theater, wrote Eddie Foy: A Biography of the Early Popular Stage Commedian. This is an excellent book but does not shed any new light on how Eddie Foy got his name. On page 232, Fields comments on the autobiography.

Eddie wove an entertaining story, most of which was true, though sketchy, with the usual amount of revisionist history that an autobiography concedes.

Fields makes a comment on Eddie's education on page 102.

He had little formal education, having attended elementary school for no more than a few years.

Conclusion. We have two different stories on how Eddie Foy got his name.

  • He knew one of our Foy relatives and liked the name.
  • There were two entertaining Foy sisters whom he liked.
Maybe both stories are true.

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