Foy Ernest Brown
By FEB Himself
With Todd Oliver and George Boosey



[Editors Note: The following piece was taken from letters that Foy E. Brown wrote to George Boosey back in the late 1980s. George met Foy through his friend, Todd Oliver, who has added his thoughts to the end. You will see how Foy occasionally even played vents off against each other, as he did with George and Todd. The words are Foy’s. Annotation is from George Boosey (GB) and Todd Oliver]

It was nice talking to you (GB) and your wife even a bit earlier and I don’t blame you even one bit for all the Enthusiasm. I think its contagious. It sure has been with me all these years, as My Father, many years ago, started out as an entertainer when he was barely 19 years of age, and that was back in 1881. He was born in 1862. Abe Lincoln was our 16th president at that time. He always told me that Foy cut his baby teeth on ole Mr. Punches nose. His puppets were my dolls.
(Jan. 14, 1986)



I can actually show more than 8 vent figures most of them are dressed, ready to work. I make it an effort to have a variety of figures in stock when anyone drops by. If anyone can confuse them with all these different figures, I can, but at least they can bring along their flash camera and have a far better idea of their needs.

Anyone spending a sizeable amount just wouldn’t want to get stuck with something he can be happy with, there has been far too much of that in the past as I’ve heard about. The one figure maker that I well remember, would snare his customers, then when something went wrong he had your money and he was thru with his customers. A customer of mine bought one of his vent figures and it weighed 27 pounds. This lady, she couldn’t lift it, it was too heavy. He would carve it from wood, then add on a big awkward controls post, then put plaster all over the head and neck so no one else could open it up. All they had was a bunch of junk. Terrible.
(Jan. 14, 1986)



I never did understand these people that make a figure from a mold. They are mostly in it to get some quick money. I can’t believe wood carving is done that way. They get’em all alike. Who wants that?
(Jan. 14, 1986)



Some will say I’m silly, but when I do my wood carving, I often play some vocals on my record player, always enjoyed Crosbys (Bing and Bob?), Dean Martin, Jim Reeves, (Perry) Como, even some Spirituals and it helps me spiritually with my carving. If I told that to some, they would call me “kookie.” Wow.

Only a year ago, I lost my only brother, Joy, known as Doc Brown. He was 77, had a bad heart, passed away in Sioux Falls, S.D. We were very close. It was hard to give him up. He was seven years younger. He was in show business, dramatics, vent, magic, character, hand puppets, he did about all of it.”

If it’s anything I don’t care for its for some collector to get ahold of one of my real good figures and then just show him to the boys down at the bar or put him in his attic or basement. I had sold a real good vent figure to a fellow who once in a blue moon would entertain some Sunday school kids. Well, he stored it in a suitcase in the basement, that basement flooded and he said there was a foot of water in his basement and he bought it back to me to restore. It was hard for me to do, he was ruined.
(Sept. 10, 1987)



That was sure nice of you (GB) to be able to catch Todd Oliver’s program. Young fellows like Todd sure will do a lot to bring Vaudeville back. We still do have a lot of talent if we can just make arrangements for the motels to get their prices within reason. Then the traveling acts can subscide (subsist), I do believe.

Todd is one young vent that’s not afraid to make a good investment for figures, and he has quite a few. That alone makes him quite versatile. All traveling vents should not try to be a vent with just one figure, they need several.”
(April 4, 1988)



I’ve been putting in some time in my puppet shop and I now have a dandy character about ¾ ready for a close up color snap show. How about that? And I have been thinking about you (GB) and your future in the Vent business and at this time, I would like to describe this late figure to you and you can dream on it a few days before you answer my letter.

This is strickly a ‘Character Figure’ nothing like Almer Danks (GB’s FEB figure), but a good strong character. He has the heavy black eye brows like Graucho (Groucho) Marx. He has a nose similar to Graucho’s, also has the mustache, and has a big wide smile and the upper teeth and the lower teeth, they all show. He also has the rolling eyes. It’s a close copy of Graucho Marks and he was a comical character and you will same the very same thing.

I will be working on the late type Vent body with the rockying Clavicle, plus the Shrugging shoulder effect. As far as I know, the shrugging shoulder effect is my own idea, very few others have ever thot of this effect, just me. I‘m sure. Who ever heard of the Rocking Clavicle, plus the shrugging shoulder on one figure, and I make it work, too. I’m not a genius, but I’m having fun trying to make some extra nice things. … I’m enclosing a addressed envelope for a quick reply. Now, if you wait til Todd Oliver gets here, then you’ll probably miss the boat and he will take this figure with him. He’s done it several times before.
(April 9, 1988)



You may have known or heard about Ken Spencer. I met him years ago. He used to do quite a vent act. His figures were big, ackward and they scared the kids. His act was for the adults. I have worked on a few of his scary figures, and it’s terrible to scare the kids.

Don’t ever recall seeing any of the Jacksons figures (Chuck Jackson). A lot of them tried making the figures. Jack Turner turned out many of them sold them for only a few dollars.
(May 16, 1988)



I can believe that you (GB, who had recently visited Foy in Lawrence, Kan.) have had your share of excitement and I’m betting you have held up well under it. You have had some favorable comments in doing your vent bit, stay right in there, you are on the right track, you two, and that does include ‘Kiss’em Up Almer.’ You are quite likely to do well as a team. You handle Almer real well, work him the slow type, very much like Bergen used to work ‘Mortimer’ – the slow and the dull type. Always give your audiences the time to catch the patter, give it good timing. I could see that you were pretty well on to how to work him.
(July 30, 1988)



So often, when I’m carving a special vent figure, I get to thinking about some special people that have some of my Good figures and my thoughts have recently been centered on you (GB) and I hope you won’t think that one bit strange. … I have gotten into carving a real nice vent character. I’ve even given him a rather special name, “Charlie O’Hara, now don’t you think that’s rather neat? I’m going to be excited as I put this character together, one has to dream a little as he carves Characters like your Kiss’em Up Almer (Danks), and this one that I have in the making. As far as I know, I have him earmarked for you to see and to decide upon at a later date.”

Its only fair to say that I won’t be having many more years to carve figures, actually, I’m closer to 100 than I am to 70. What I would like is to keep in close enough touch with you on this Character, and I think I could sure use a running mate for ole Kiss’em Up and this one might be him. How does that sound for a sales pitch?
(Nov. 27, 1988)



I took a lot of my wood carving tools to the sharpening service and he sure did a great job and my carving time is a good bit shorter and that excites me no end.

I’ve been carving some ears for vent figures. I could see where that was where I was the weakest, for me the ears were the most difficult and I am sure they were for most of the other wood carvers from what I’ve seen in the past. I hope to excel with an outstanding ear from here on out.

I have been postponing a trip to KC Mo to get a supply of basswood and I’m likely to wait ‘til the weather gets back, then I’ll be in for it. I might see if some of the Topeka lumber yards have basswood. They didn’t use to, but now maybe they do.
(Jan. 19, 1989)



I had an inquiry from a fellow down in Florida. I sent him close up photos of a figure he had described as he was interested and I quoted him a price. He answered and said he was mostly interested in one about half that price and he said about 450 or 500 was all he could pay. I wrote him back and told him I would buy them all day long at that price and that it took from 85 to 100 hours to complete one. I mentioned that no ventriloquists would work an hour for 5 dollars. Think a few think they can be turned out like loaves of bread. Wow.
(Jan. 19, 1989)



I feel very sure that doing all this wood carving was laid on my heart to help me with my heavy burdens and to generate peace and to calm my stress and to make it bearable. In any sense, I still love what I’m doing with many wood carving chisels. Just yesterday, I completed a real good mouth action and have one eye about fitted in and I’ve already given this Vent figure a favorite name. It’s Charlie O’Hara, but that don’t mean his name has to be Charlie O’Hara for ever, but that name seems to suit him and that’s a very good start.” (GB did not buy Charlie O’Hara – but Foy did sell the figure to another vent living in the Carolinas.)
(Feb. 1, 1989)



Thanks for encouraging me to keep on with my carving. I do have 7 vent heads that are about ready for the effects to go in. Most of them are looking extra good. I find that a mustache makes them look extra good, even though some are bald headed. Wow. They are characters.
(March 11, 1989)



From Todd Oliver

I first met Foy Brown in 1983. I was appearing at The Holiday Inn in Sioux Falls South Dakota. I went to the local magic shop ( magic shops always have vent books and vent related items.) I bought Tommy Windsors Vent Book. A great book! It had Foys address listed. I called him up and he told me his brother a vent by the name of Doc Brown lived in Sioux Falls. I went to visit Doc and so began a long friendship with the Brown Brothers.

Foy use to write me these wonderful letters. He would occasionally mention he had a figure in mind for me and would send on approval. It was like being a kid at Christmas!

He would send the figure and of course I bought it! To this day I use one of his figures all the time. “Miss Lilly” was one of the last ones he made. Lilly is cross-eyed and has a buck tooth. I had her repainted. She always gets a great response as soon as I pull her out!

Foys business card said “Figures that speak for themselves” Well Miss Lilly says a whole lot before I pull the string! That’s because Foys figures are so unique. They have a style truly all their own. The carved upper protruding teeth are a Foy Brown standout.

I always repainted my Foy figures and filled in the expression lines.
I use to go and visit Foy and Grace at least once a year. I always stayed in their spare room. They were early early risers. I remember getting the knock on the door about 6:30am and coming down to breakfast. There would be figures sitting all over the Living room. I always seemed to leave with one!
Years ago, Being on the school assembly circuit was a bit lonely. Foys letters sure cherred this vent up! He would tell me to keep a long rope and a graveling hook in my grip in case of fire! I stayed in some old hotels in those days!

I remember those snap shots of his figures he had for sale. He invented the “rocking clavicle” This was a great thing. It allowed the figure to take a bow from his chest. a neat feature. Also, Foy carved beautiful hands. I bought a spare pair.

One day Foy and I were out visiting another vent and on the way home Foy said “Now Grace is going to want us to go to Wednesday night church tonight. Lets tell her we have to go talk some business. Grace went to church and Foy and I went for Ice Cream!

My good friend George Boosey bought a great “Yokel” figure from Foy. In fact I think George and I have the last two figures he made. Foy always made a great Yokel!

I was appearing at Magic Island in Houston Texas when I got the call from Grace that Foy had passed away. There was a phone in my dressing room and the call came just minutes before I went on. I felt terrible, but I remember going out and having an extra great show! Hmm! Thanks Foy! God Bless you and Grace!

Sincerely,
Todd Oliver




 


Foy E. Brown

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