Eddie Foy, Sr., was an actor, comedian, dancer and vaudevillian.
Foy’s parents, Richard and Mary Fitzgerald immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1855 and lived first in New York’s Bowery, 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 to Chicago, where she reportedly at one time tended the mentally ill widow of Abraham Lincoln. Six-year-old Eddie began performing in 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, and Doc Holliday. Foy in later years told of 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 rumored to have been in Tombstone, Arizona in October 1881 appearing at the local theatre when the Gunfight at the OK 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, 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.
He 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, and Mr. Bluebeard. 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.