following article was given to me years ago as a copy of a
It's the story of Jack
Foley, the man accredited with inventing the art of Foley.
Despite the modernization of recording equipment and
techniques, we still use many of the same time honored
'tricks of the trade' (old wooden chairs still make great
creaky floors). And performing Foley still requires studying
the way people walk and move. Acting (or re-acting) the
role, is as true today as it was when Jack invented it many
There is no name or credit
on the article and the only source of reference is the code
"Disc.151 Book.70". So if putting this on the Web comprises
copyright infringement, I do so unknowingly and not for
profit and if anyone knows who wrote this work, please speak
So cheers to Jack and
article "Disk.151 Book.70"...
The Story of Jack
Like many other workers in
post production, I heard the terms foley studio, foley
sheets, foley footsteps, foley reels, foley walker, foley
editor, without fully realizing, for some years, that the
term foley was the name of a man. Perhaps that's because I
never worked at Universal Studio. Yes, Jack Foley was quite
a man and his many contributions to the art of sound effects
is a story in itself.
Jack Foley started in the
motion picture business in the silent picture era and lived
through the exciting times when overnight the industry
converted to sound moving pictures. I became intrigued with
the man and, through the help of his former co-workers,
friends, and his daughter, I've pieced together the career
of a most remarkable man. Jack was truly adaptable in a
period of change, a jack-of-all-trades and master of them
Jack was born in Yorkville,
N.Y. in 1891, and was raised in the Seagate section of Coney
Island. He went to Public School No. 158. His classmates
were James Cagney, Arthur Murray, and Bert Lahr. His first
job was as a general order clerk on the New York docks.
During this period, Jack met Cary Grant, who was a stilt
walker at Coney Island. Jack also played a lot of semi-pro
baseball in the New York area, which sparked his lifelong
interest in sports.
Dissatisfied with the
weather, Jack moved to California. His first job was as a
double and stunt man. One of his studio acquaintances
introduced Jack to the rugged beauty of the California's
Sierra Mountains and surrounding Owens Valley. It was to
become a lifetime love affair.
Jack moved to Bishop during
World War I, and served his country as part of The American
Defense Society, a group guarding the water supply of Los
Angeles to prevent sabotage-poison being put into the water.
Jack raised his family in Bishop and went to work in a local
hardware store. Here Jack became interested in little
theater and wrote articles for the local newspaper. A rival
newspaper in Lone Pine reported one of Jack's theatrical
endeavors, "'Stop Thief', a play, is being put on by Jack
Foley, the only non-henpecked Irish husband in America, is a
member of the cast. That fact, within itself, is worth the
price of admission."
When the farmers of the
Owens Valley sold their farms to the City of Los Angeles for
water rights, the people of Bishop faced a bleak
Jack soon convinced the
town's storekeepers that Bishop had much to gain by luring
filmmakers to that area, and he mounted a publicity campaign
to attract the studios northward. He was very successful,
and became a location scout for numerous productions. The
area, bound by snow capped mountains, beautiful valleys, and
a scarcity of people, made it ideal for westerns.
Making the most of his
studio contacts, Jack became Benny's director. Now Jack
revealed another talent. He sold a number of scripts to
Universal which were produced. When not busy directing
silent films, Jack kept himself busy directing inserts for
the studio. Inserts are the close-ups of movements, such as
a hand picking up a gun, which are not bothered with during
normal shooting. Jack prepared the sets, graphics, props,
models, whatever was necessary, either doing it himself or
arranging for it to be done.
Almost overnight, sound was
introduced. In the forefront was Warner Brothers with its
Vitaphone recording system. In the wings, Western Electric
was readying it's photographic system. Jack, writing in 1952
in the Universal International Studio Club News, had this to
say in retrospect about these exciting times: "The Warner
kids on the neighboring ranch had just come up with a sound
picture 'The Jazz Singer' while the hard riding,
cliff-hanging shoot-from-the-hip boys on the U ranch were
complacently rounding up the last few scenes of the great
American musical, 'Showboat', a SILENT picture. Faces around
here were so red someone yelled 'The Indians are going!'
Someone asked, 'are we still in business?'"
Jack continued, "Most of the
studios were in the same fix. Western Electric could only
promise equipment in the future, but there was one Fox-Case
portable unit that was being loaned here and there for a
week's study and tests so that the studios could start
breaking in men for sound procedure." Jack described the
studio's hunt through all departments for personnel even
remotely knowledgeable about radio and applied arts. Then,
"...the volunteers cautiously advanced and surrounded the
Fox-Case. After three days of watchful waiting, the strain
started to tell on a group that was used to shooting sixty
or more scenes a day, and someone said 'Let's shoot craps or
shoot a picture.' And so they spent the next three days and
nights making "Melody Of Love..."
"The industry was not so
happy about the U camp jumping the gun, and all we could say
was 'Hell, we didn't know it was loaded!' or words to that
Jack's article was not so
clear as to actual sequence of events, but evidently a
composite music and effects track was then added to the
hitherto silent "Showboat". The music and effects were added
simultaneously and the first "Foley" session was born. Jack
describes it: "Then Stage 10 swayed to the rhythm of a
40-piece orchestra under the direction of Joe Cherniavsky as
he scored "Showboat" and the rest of us watched the screen
with him putting in the sound effects of the 'Showboat',
'Dat Ole' Ribber' and the laughter and cheers as it jus'
kept rolling along. And with 'Showboat' on it's way, other
pictures on the silent stages came in for sound shots." Jack
illustrated his article with the accompanying drawing, which
also shows his talent as an artist. Jack had a regular
(usually illustrated) column in the Universal International
Studio Club News.
He was a humorist and wrote
under the synonym of Joe Hyde. To understand the
significance, you must know that Joe Hyde was a studio
cleanup man, who spent his working time pushing his cart
around the studio lot sweeping up cigarettes and other
debris. Joe enjoyed the notoriety, and Jack Foley continued
the charade until Joe's death. At that pint, Jack revealed
himself and henceforth called his column "And That's The Way
I Heard It." He continued his pointed humor lampooning
studio people, technicians, actors, stunt men, and
As sound was added to
picture after picture, Jack was called upon to add the sound
effects. "Jack's technique was to record all the effects for
a reel at one time," explained George Pal, who used Jack's
talent on some of his pictures. "Jack added the footsteps,
the movement, the sound of various props-all in one track.
He used a cane as an adjunct to his own footsteps. With that
cane, he could make the footsteps of two to three people. He
kept a large cloth in his pocket which could be used to
Fellow workers say that the
results of a Jack Foley session were as good as what young
editors get today cutting twenty tracks. Joe Sikorsky, who
worked with Jack, recalls, "Jack emphasized you have to act
the scene... you have to be the actors and get into the
spirit of the story the same as the actors did, on the set.
It makes a big difference."
When there were too many
effects to handle, Jack enlisted the aid of the prop men who
brought him props. They evidently stayed around all day, and
he put them to work. He occasionally pressed his friend
Walter Brennan into helping him. Jack told Brennan to put a
rock in his shoe. He did, and the limp that resulted became
The anecdotes surrounding
Jack's strange profession grew as Hollywood columnists
discovered his behind-the-scenes activities. The movie
"Spartacus" showed scenes of slaves walking in leg chains.
The director was all set to return to Italy and restage the
scene to capture the sound effects. Jack stepped in and did
the whole sequence with footsteps and key chains.
The movie "Pink Submarine"
needed a comical motor sound. Jack is reputed to have
reversed a burp and looped it for the effect.
The director of a melodrama
had a step rigged to make a squeak when the leading lady
descended a flight of stairs. After many unsuccessful takes,
Jack was called in. He explained how to do it, "I won't add
the creak until the film has been cut together into a rough
print. The I'll park myself in an old rocking chair in front
of a microphone-and when the lady's foot hits the fourth
step, I'll just rock, myself back slowly.
Jack, estimated that he
walked 5000 miles in the studio doing footsteps. He
characterized the footsteps of stars in this manner: "Rock
Hudson is a solid stepper; Tony Curtis has a brisk foot;
Audie Murphy is springy; James Cagney is clipped; Marlon
Brando soft; John Saxon nervous."
"Women are the toughest to
imitate," he confided, "my 250 pounds may have something to
do with it, but the important thing is their steps are
quicker and closer together. I get winded doing leading
ladies. Jean Simmons is almost, not quite, the fastest on
her screen feet in all of Hollywood. She's topped only by
June Allyson. I can't keep up with her at all."
Jack received a number of
awards, including the Golden Reel Award, voted by his fellow
sound effect practitioners, members of the Motion Picture
Sound Editors. Jack passed away in 1967. But his name lives
on in practically every studio in the world. What better
tribute to an amazing, versatile, and energetic pioneer of
our business. We will remember you, Jack Foley.