Eddie Foy and the Seven Younger Foys were a successful Vaudeville act that had toured extensively when they got to Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre in October of 1917. The patriarch of the clan, Eddie Foy Sr., had been a multi-decade headliner, having worked his way up from mining towns to the biggest stages of North America, and was reportedly playing in Tombstone the night of the gunfight at the OK Corral, having been friends with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
In 1903, Foy found himself on stage at Chicago’s illustrious Iriquois Theatre, advertised as ‘fireproof’, as burning pieces of curtain fell down around his ears. Foy Sr. is said to have done everything he could to calm the crowd, right to the last second, before the heat grew too intense and he took off in search of an exit.
That wasn’t an easy thing – theatre management had cut corners in the design of the place, and bolted the exits to stop people sneaking into that night’s full house of 2000+ who’d turned out to see Foy in Mr Bluebeard.
Some doors were purely ornate and didn’t open at all. Others had accordion fences pulled across them to stop people from sneaking into more expensive sections. Others opened inside, which made them useless in a crush. The top floor fire exit stairwell hadn’t yet been installed, so that door literally opened to thin air.
Over 600 people, many of them children, burned or choked or were trampled to death. Foy Sr? He managed to sneak out through a sewer pipe.
And so it was that fourteen years later he found himself in Vancouver performing with his children.
On the bill with the Foys was a varied selection of performers that the Sun described thus:
Lillian Fitzgerald is a show in herself. She is one of the best imitators that has been seen here. She made a great hit with characterization of a French soubrette. Charles Senna, who assists at the piano, is very accomplished. Leonati the Xylophonist [actually, he was known as Jesse Libonati] gets real music out of that instrument and provides a very entertaining feature of the bill.
Fitzgerald has been a stage performer for over a decade by the time the Sun writer reviewed her work, and continued performing into the 1940’s, as did Libonati, who found some renown as the head of what would become the Libonati Trio, which kept up the Vaudeville circuit until the 40’s, when that circuit began to die off.
Kitner, Hawkes and McClay are a tuneful trio, and Kitner, in blackface, is very funny. ‘Sassy Lillian’ Gonne and Bert Albert are a pair who created much amusement with their schooldays sketch. Fern, Bigelow and Mehan are acrobats and tumblers who provide some sensations in the way of aerial flights and almost impossible falls. The pictures are of high educational value.
Sassy Lillian Gonne and Bert Albert were onto a good thing with this school days schtick, so much so that they continued to play it for a decade, with some variations.
But, of course, no Vaudeville show is complete with an animal act. Cue ‘Saunders’ Birds’.
Saunders’ trained birds are finished performers and one of them loops the loop on a bicycle.
Bird acts weren’t uncommon in Vaudeville. Though I have no idea who Saunders was and what happened to his birds, down in Seattle, Rosa Naynon was making hay with her eight trained cockatoos.
I’ve a feeling this show would still draw today..
As for the Orpheum Theatre, it was a jewel way back then, as it is today.
What does it look like today? Pretty much the same, benefiting as it has from one of the city’s few substantial restoration jobs.