“SONG & DANCE MAN”
Today’s show is a tribute to Jack’s father, who was a song-and-dance man in vaudeville in the 1920s, and to vaudevillians in general. Jack will read two pieces, one written as part of my autobiography, the other written for a dance web site. You’ll also hear Gene Kelly performing a classic song and dance routine—a soft shoe originally performed by the master dancer, George Primrose (1852-1919), the Fred Astaire of his day. Jack’s father performed this routine as well—and taught it to Jack. Jack’s description of his father begins,
My father, John Harold Aloysius (“Jack”) Foley: 1895-1967. Irish, slightly taller than I, thin, jet-black hair (my hair is brown), with a touch of the dandy. People would say, “He reminds me of Fred Astaire.” When I was born in 1940, my father, forty-five years old, was working at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey as a telegrapher. I was christened “John Wayne Foley.” Later, the confirmation name “Harold” was added. (My father claimed not to be able to spell his own confirmation name, “Aloysius.”) The naming had nothing to do with the popular movie actor, John Wayne. My father wanted to name me after his brother, but the parish priest convinced him that Wayne was no proper saint’s name, so I was named John after my father with Wayne as my middle name.
The name was a rare gesture on my father’s part towards his family. There were several Foley children. “We were fairmers”—farmers—my father told me. They were living in Elmira, NY. He was the youngest, “the baby of the family,” his sister said. His brother, Wayne, somehow learned to tap dance. He taught the art to my father and helped him to enter the dazzling world of show business. My father performed in vaudeville as well as in one of the last minstrel companies, presided over by George “Honeyboy” Evans. My father’s sister Goldie was part of that world too. She was a Ziegfeld Follies girl, a spectacular beauty, and perhaps in some sense the love of my father’s life. “We’d go everywhere together,” he told me, reminiscing. “Everybody thought we were sweethearts. But we weren’t.” He was hardly a sophisticate. He used to tell the story of being in the subway as a young man and seeing a sign saying “Smoking Prohibited.” He was with a friend who wanted to smoke. My father told his friend the sign meant “you could go ahead and smoke.” He also told me of being with the songwriter Jimmy McHugh. They were passing the poetry section of a library when McHugh turned to my father and, pointing to the section, said, “Jack, it’s all in there.” My father didn’t tell stories about our family. He told stories about his friends in show business. Later I realized that the friends were almost always Irish. The people he knew in show business became his real family. He married one of them—Laura, one of the dancing Wood Sisters. Evidently, that marriage (about which I knew nothing as a child) was short and disastrous. The lyrics to one of the songs my father wrote go:
They all love my wife
They all love my wife
She makes all of them fall
When I go to bed she’s at a dance
When I wake up she’s in a trance
Oh, what a home sweet home I’ve got it!
Every Tom, Dick and Harry
Forgets that we are married….
Or, more poignantly:
Passing my window faces I see
Most of them smiling none smile for me
None know I’m lonely or that I’m alone
Since you have left me home isn’t home
Why weren’t you satisfied