Peter Foy, Whose Flying By Foy Hoisted Stage Stars for Half a Century, Dies at 79

Obituaries   Peter Foy, Whose Flying By Foy Hoisted Stage Stars for Half a Century, Dies at 79
Peter Foy, whose company Flying By Foy has sent stage Peter Pans from Mary Martin to Cathy Rigby soaring toward the rafters, died Feb. 17 in Las Vegas, Nevada, of natural causes. He was 79.
Peter Foy
Peter Foy

Mr. Foy, who was born in England, first sailed to New York to stage the flying sequences of the 1950 Broadway production of the musical Peter Pan, which starred Jean Arthur as the magical boy who refuses to grow up. Little did the young technician and sometime actor know at the time that the musical would become a perennial favorite and his most famous and steady client over the next half century.

Mr. Foy would return to the U.S. in 1954 to see that when Mary Martin sang "I'm Flying," she was in earnest. The Martin version would be telecast live on NBC in 1955. He would in 1956 stage the flying sequences of the first outdoor Peter Pan in Kansas City, and return to Broadway in 1979 to see that Sandy Duncan safely left the ground, and in 1990 and 1991 to help Cathy Rigby achieve take-off. He was also drafted for the Peter Pan segment in 1990's Jerome Robbins' Broadway.

At the time of the Jean Arthur Peter Pan, there was no Flying by Foy (he formed the company in the late fifties), so Peter Foy used the equipment provided by his then-employer, the British company Kirby's Flying Ballets. According to Flying by Foy's website, little theatrical flying had been attempted on the American stage for more than two decades preceding his arrival.

Throughout the years, Mr. Foy invented new systems as he needed them in order to improve the state of stage flying. Mary Martin benefitted from the "Inter-Related Pendulum," which "made spectacular highly controlled free flight possible." The system, however, needed a 40-foot ceiling to function, so, in 1958, Mr. Foy created the "Floating Pulley" for low-height houses. The "Track on Track" system followed in 1962, which allowed two operators to independently control the lift and movement of an actor.

Later on, he invented the "Multi-Point Balance Harness" for the 1965 film "The Fantastic Voyage." In 1990, the Health and Safety Codes Commission of the United States Institute of Theatre Technology presented Mr. Foy with an International Entertainment Safety Award. Other Broadway credits include Raggety Ann, Fool Moon, The Who's Tommy, The Red Shoes, The Lion King, Blast! and the recent Dracula.

Peter Foy knew how the actors attached to his flying systems felt. Bit early by the acting bug, at age 15 he flew "on a slim steel wire" while playing a Sea Witch in a production of Where The Rainbow Ends. When the show’s stage manager was hospitalized, he also assumed those duties, supervising the Kirby’s Flying Machines he would later employ in Peter Pan.

He joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 as a Navigator and Entertainment Officer. After the war, he went to work for Joseph Kirby himself—the man who would send him to Broadway in 1950 to oversee Jean Arthur's airborne moments.

In the mid-sixties, Peter Foy traveled to Las Vegas to work on a show called The Lido. He liked what he saw. "He fell in love with the place," said colleague Jim Hansen in a 2002 interview, "primarily because it was lousy with sunlight. He came from England which he found very dreary. To this day when it is raining he gets very depressed. He likes the sun. He likes the openness."

Flying by Foy effects will be featured in two upcoming Broadway shows: Spamalot and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Peter Foy is survived by his wife, Barbara Foy; son Garry S. Foy, daughter Teresa Foy McGeough, and two grandchildren: Daniel and James McGeough. Services are scheduled for noon, Feb. 27 at Palm Mortuary, 7600 S. Eastern Avenue, Las Vegas. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: The Actors’ Fund of America, 729 Seventh Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10019. Phone: (212) 221-7300.

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