Bryan Foy. Keeper of the B’s

Producer/director BRYAN FOY (1896-1977) was the oldest of the famous vaudeville act called “The Seven Little Foys”. He toured with the family for ten years – one of his brothers was Eddie Foy Jr. As the oldest, I assume, Bryan is first on the right of the picture.
Their story was told in the Bob Hope starrer of the same name.

Bryan left the family act in 1918 and served in World War One.
In the course of his career, he had an astonishing number of films which he either produced or directed – IMDB lists 200 plus titles as a producer, and over 90 as director.

He worked at Fox Studios in the early 1920s.

Slim Summerville

One of his shorts In 1924 was  WILLIAM TELL , with Slim Summerville in the lead!

By 1927 he was with Warner Brothers and for three years, from 1927 to 1930, he produced and directed Vitaphone Shorts which allowed the ambitious Warners studio to experiment with sound. ( filming  at the Vitagraph studio in Flatbush, New York).

The one reel shorts were between 4 and 10 minutes.

Warner Brothers leased the ‘ sound on disc’ technology from Western Electric in 1926 with a view to providing music and sound effects for their movies – not for speech.  The studio owned cinemas wouldn’t need to hire musicians to accompany  the films.

Many of the shorts can be seen at ( thanks,Alistair)  and on You Tube.

Based in New York, Foy could employ performers appearing there – orchestras, vaudevillians, comedians. ( a young George Burns and Gracie Allen do a sketch in one short.)

Bryan Foy, Georgie Price

Bryan Foy is seen on screen in his short,”Don’t Get Nervous” in which he is reassuring vaudeville performer Georgie Price who says he is missing an audience. Subsequently, Price ( who sings well in the style of Eddie Cantor) simply sings ‘Hello Sunshine Hello’ as he would in a theatre. The camera never moves.

Another short “Baby Rose Marie, The Child Wonder”(1929) featured 5 year old Rose Marie ( later in “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) singing three songs  and showing  what a trouper she was. She was called ‘The Sophie Tucker of Tomorrow!’

Baby Rose Marie

Foy featured his own family in  1928’s “The  Foys for Joys “.

Just watching some  of these shorts makes it easy to realise what a winner Warner Brothers were onto. They weren’t expensive to make and Warners would screen them before their latest releases. The audiences were excited to hear the performers talk and sing.

The sensation that was The Jazz Singer in 1927 certainly made the other studios realise the public demanded sound. (Though, when The Jazz Singer opened, only around 100 cinemas were wired up for sound.)

The sound discs provided by Warners had to be linked up to the projector for synchronisation. Providing  the film didn’t break or the disc didn’t skip a groove, audiences could  start to enjoy the new sensation of sound effects and hearing the actors.

The transition to sound was dramatically fast. The entire industry  was re-tooled by 1929 costing millions of dollars. Warner Brothers ended up following the other studios with ‘sound on  film’ replacing the disc system.

Billed as “The first 100% talkie”, Bryan Foy’s very first full length feature ,LIGHTS OF NEW YORK (1928) is part of Hollywood history. Only 57 minutes and displaying all the problems of early talkies, yet it made a big profit for Warner Brothers.

“THE JAZZ SINGER” is often described as the first talking  picture, but that honour really belongs to “Lights of New York”. The Jazz Singer only had a few moments of dialogue.

Variety said, “…..this talker will have pulling power and the Warners should get credit for nerve, even if they did it do it with a polish.”

The New York Times review was prophetic: “..It is novel and may,in its halting manner, be pointing the way to the future.”

At a cost of only $23,000 , the film eventually made a million dollars.
Cinema owners scrambled for sound equipment.

The film didn’t produce any stars except for Eugene Pallette whose distinctive voice would be heard in many films to come. As parodied in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, there were many static scenes in  “Lights of New York” as actors had to be near the microphones and the camera, in a sound proof booth, didn’t move.

The famous quote from Lights of New York:

”I want you guys to make him disappear.”

“You mean?…..”

“Take – him – for – a – ride.”

The story of bootleggers on Broadway, it starred Helene Costello, sister of Dolores Costello.

Another full length feature directed by Bryan Foy was QUEEN OF THE NIGHT CLUBS (1929), which was the film debut of George Raft.
Eddie Foy jr. was 
 also in it. Texas Guinan had a style similar to Mae West but she only made a few films and died in 1933.

I like the film’s ad:

See this marvellous picture!….

Wine, Women and Wrong!

Another film presumed lost.

Father of Joan and Constance Bennet, Richard Bennett starred in THE HOME TOWNERS in 1928 which Bryan directed. It is a lost film.

By 1932, Bryan had stopped directing and concentrated on producing duties. It would be interesting to know why he took this path in his career.
He became  head of Warner Brothers’ ‘B’ picture unit. Hence the nickname, ‘Keeper of the B’s”.

Considering the shorter running times and small budgets, I’m sure the Foy films were good earners  for Warners.And I’m sure Foy must have enjoyed the autonomy he would have had.

Foy produced several films I’d like to see. Could only find trailers for some on You Tube.

Starring Lee Patrick , THE NURSE’S SECRET looks fun.

Glenda  Farrell and Margaret Lindsay as partners in their own law firm.

Humphrey Bogart,Margaret  Lindsay, Donald Woods. ISLE OF FURY.

An early Bogart . Comment: Lose the moustache.

Anything with Ann Dvorak!


Margaret Lindsay, Warren Hall, Anita Louise.

(The maid in question is Ruth Donnelly who apparently steals the film.)


( ok, she’s not the Texan, but it’s a nice photo!)

Of the series of prison movies he made (Crime  School, Murder in the Big House, Alcatraz Island), Foy said: 

“The main difference with prison pictures is getting some love interest into them. About all you can do is show women in the visitor’s room!”

Bryan produced the popular NANCY DREW series with Bonita Granville. And TORCHY  BLANE with Glenda Farrell.

In the 1940s, he produced at various studios and got back to directing at Fox with two Laurel and Hardy films, THE DANCING MASTERS and THE BULLFIGHTERS.

Some of his productions in the 40s and 50s.

Steve Cochran.HIGHWAY 301.

Phyllis Kirk, Gene Nelson. CRIME WAVE.


And Repeat Performance , recently out on blu-Ray and which went rapidly out of stock on Amazon.

The last film he produced was “P.T.- 109”  in 1963.

Bryan Foy

Bryan Foy surely deserves a biography.

I wonder if any Foy family members have ever been interviewed about him.

I’ll be writing next about THE VITAPHONE PROJECT.

7 responses »

  1. As usual you find fascinating details and I’m sharing this with a writer friend in UK who I’m sure will agree and may be unfamiliar with your site!

  2. Vienna, I just viewed THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS(filmed 1954, released 1955) before reading your wonderful write-up on Bryan Foy. I guess we had a mind-meld.

      • Vienna, yes, that was Jerry Mathers(Beaver in LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, 1957-63) as Bryan Lincoln Foy and Billy Gray(Bud in FATHER KNOWS BEST, 1954-60) as the older Bryan Lincoln Foy. Also, Lydia Reed(Hassie in THE REAL McCOYS, 1957-62) as Mary Foy.

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