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In Memoriam: Peter Foy


Peter Foy, who founded Flying By Foy and revolutionized stage flying with the development of the Inter-Related Pendulum System for the original Broadway production of the musical Peter Pan in 1954, has died of natural causes.

During the Conference Kickoff for the 2005 Annual Conference in Toronto, USITT Vice-President for Conferences Joe Aldridge spoke about Mr. Foy. "On February 17 of this year, USITT and the entertainment community lost a very special and distinguished friend. At the age of 79, Peter Foy died in Las Vegas. His impact on our industry was extensive. His involvement in theatre spanned some 64 years. He was active to the very end. While Peter didn't invent the flying of performers, he did refine it to an art form. His innovations have become the standard for the industry. He set the bar for others.

"Peter Foy was proud of his association with USITT and its members. If you visit the Flying by Foy website and click on the links bar, the first link that you come to takes you to the USITT website. He believed in the institute and what it stands for. His presence at the conferences; his kind and encouraging words; his friendship and support will be missed. Peter Foy will be missed, but never forgotten."

Mr. Foy was born on June 11, 1925 in London, England. As a child, he was fascinated by James M. Barrie's tale of Peter Pan, a story and character that would profoundly alter the course of his life.

At 15, Mr. Foy first flew on a slim steel wire in a production of Where The Rainbow Ends, in which he performed the character of the Sea Witch. When the show's stage manager was hospitalized, Mr. Foy assumed those duties, which included supervising Kirby's Flying Machines and the flying actors. He continued to act on stage and in film, joining the Royal Air Force in 1942 as a navigator and entertainment officer.

After the war and completion of his military service, he went to work for Joseph Kirby, a move that eventually brought Mr. Foy to New York as the flying supervisor for a 1950 Broadway production of Peter Pan starring Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff. He experimented with and refined the Kirby equipment, redesignimg the Compound Drum and eventually linking two of the systems together at a single suspension point, which he called the Inter-related Pendulum. This innovation made possible the soaring aerial choreography that helped define Mary Martin's signature performance as Peter Pan for the 1954 Broadway musical and for the live NBC telecast of the show in 1956.

Mr. Foy left Kirby to form his own company, Flying By Foy, in 1957.

The creation of the Inter-Related Pendulum ushered in an era of spectacular, highly controlled, free flight. It required operators with a high degree of skill and a minimum 40 feet of ceiling height to create a natural-looking, effective pendulum swing. Mr. Foy solved the problem of flying actors in low height situations by inventing the Floating Pulley in 1958. While highly effective, the device was often visible to the audience.

His determination to preserve the magic of theatrical flight by concealing its apparatus from the audience's view led to his introduction of the patented Track on Track® system in 1962, which allows two operators to independently control lift and travel. Since that time, Mr. Foy has improved upon the basic concept of Track on Track®, most notably with the patented Inter-Reacting Compensator® system, developed for touring productions of the Ice Capades.

Throughout his lifetime, Mr. Foy applied his artistic vision and mechanical ingenuity to the challenge of safely flying performers in a variety of different and often difficult circumstances. His creation of the Multi-Point Balance Harness for the 1965 movie Fantastic Voyage set a standard still used today for flying actors on film. He pioneered the use of self-contained truss systems for touring shows, and introduced the first self-contained, radio-controlled flying system at the Flower Expo in Osaka, Japan in 1990.

Over the past half-century, he single-handedly revolutionized methods and techniques used in stage flying that had remained virtually unchanged for 2,000 years. Perhaps this is one reason the Health and Safety Codes Commission of the United States Institute of Theatre Technology presented Mr. Foy the 1990 International Entertainment Safety Award "for his singular, personal, and creative contributions to safeguarding human life during a period of 50 years in the entertainment industry and elevating the task of flying people with rigging to an art form."

Flying By Foy has provided theatrical flying effects for thousands of stage productions, musicals, operas, ballets, rock concerts, film, and television shows worldwide. The company has flown three Broadway productions of Peter Pan (with Mary Martin in 1954, Sandy Duncan in 1979, and Cathy Rigby in 1990) and originated the flying for Superman, Angels in America, Tommy, Aida, and The Lion King.

Foy flew Nadia Comaneci from the NASDAQ Building 170 feet over Times Square for the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay Event in New York and created flying effects for the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games in Athens. Recent Broadway projects include Man of LaMancha and Dracula the Musical. Foy flying effects are also featured in two upcoming Broadway shows: Spamalot, the stage musical adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; son Garry S. Foy; daughter Teresa Foy McGeough, and two grandchildren, Daniel and James McGeough.

Services were February 27 in 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; website

USITT's Health & Safety Commissioner Emeritus Dr. Randall Davidson spoke at Mr. Foy's services. He remembered Mr. Foy vividly, noting "Peter Foy, my very dear friend of many years who has permanently changed venues from earth to Heaven where he will add his considerable love for flying to angelic hosts.

"He was indeed the icon of flying people in the entertainment industry. His inimitable love and incredible energy and skill in developing the "Art of Flying" shall go on forever. He has literally changed the entire global entertainment industry.

"He always had time for everyone who desired to speak with him. He shared his expertise and love of flying, especially the safe method of flying, with every child, adult, teacher, and professional who came to him for advice and learning. He exemplified for me a great human being, generous to a fault, and who was willing to sacrifice and give to all who needed knowledge and skill in the art of flying.

"He is a friend I shall never forget, and with hundreds and hundreds of productions throughout the world, each and every year, the world shall remember him as one of the great inventors of our industry and friend of the world of children and entertainment technicians. Millions upon millions will receive his love for flying, and all of us at USITT shall hold him in reverence. I shall miss him terribly."

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Peter Foy was a well-loved and much respected participant at Stage Expo for many years.
Photo/Stage Expo 2004 courtesy Bill Sapsis