Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Seven Little Foys (1955) Melville Shavelson

As with most biopic films, there’s probably some basic truth in this story of Eddie Foy, Sr., and his seven children but the screenwriters (Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose) changed his life story in many significant ways.

The story is a bit sentimental and somewhat predictable: an actor struggling to be successful gives his family short shrift, he becomes a celebrity, tragedy occurs, priorities are realigned. Despite this, the movie is still fun to watch because of Bob Hope. 
Although more dramatic a role than his usual fare, Hope still shows off his glib wit and sarcastic bantering. “You’ll feel right at home. There’s a lot of old goats in the lobby” (to his sister-in-law).

He also sings (“Nobody” by Bert Williams/Alex Rogers was particularly touching), dances, and continually shows off his lack of parenting skills, sometimes quite amusingly as when one son is sawing off the leg of a chair and no one takes any note of it.

The film includes the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903, which made Foy a hero for his actions in trying to calm the crowd. More than 600 people died in the fire and you can read more details of the tragic fire here.
Iroquois Theater Fire
So now it’s around 1912 or 1913 and Foy is a very successful actor, moving in between vaudeville and musical theater. He has seven children (none with his previous wife who died, and none with a companion with whom he spent 10 years and who also died) and decides to add his kids to the act.
Contrary to the movie, his children could sing and dance and his wife was also occasionally part of the act until her death in 1918. Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys lasted for five years but some of the younger Foys continued to perform as a group into the 1930s.

(Included in the Little Foys are Billy Gray, better known as Bud in TV's "Father Knows Best," and Jerry Mathers, later appearing as the Beaver in "Leave It To Beaver.") 

If none of this sounds interesting to you, watch the best 3 1/2 minutes of the movie, with Jimmy Cagney reprising his role as George M Cohan.
Cagney and Hope Dance

This was the directorial debut of Shavelson, who was a gag writer on Bob Hope’s radio show in the 1930s. He continued to collaborate with Jack Rose and Bob Hope, notably in the 1957 “Beau James”, another of Hope’s dramatic roles. 

The very talented Eddie Foy, Sr. (born 1856), died in 1928. I think he would have liked Bob Hope’s performance.

“What do you need friends for? You’ve got all the friends and enemies you need right here in this family.”