Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harry Sidney Foy (1901–1942)

by Garry C. Wotherspoon

This article was published:

Portrait of Harry Foy, no date

Portrait of Harry Foy, no date

Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 4 April 1943, p. 4

Harry Sidney Foy (1901-1942), barman and female impersonator, was born on 7 November 1901 at Waterloo, Sydney, sixth of eight children of Sydney-born parents Henry Foy (d.1936), a horse-trainer, and his wife Elizabeth Anne, née McKinnon. The family later moved to Kensington. By 1942 Harry worked as a barman at the Surrey Club Hotel, Cleveland Street, Redfern, where he also lived. By night he was an accomplished nightclub entertainer. He danced cleverly and sang well. In addition, he was Sydney's best-known female impersonator, having supplanted the recently deceased 'Lea Sonia'.

Foy had carved out his own world, one of theatricality and glamour, and over the previous fifteen years had appeared at various clubs and restaurants in Sydney, as well as in vaudeville at the Empire Theatre. He was 'popular and well-billed wherever he appeared'. His lifestyle gave him access to a variety of worlds not usually open to Waterloo boys, and he probably drank at such city hotels as the Australia, Ushers, the Carlton, or any of the working-class pubs that tolerated homosexuals, particularly the so-called 'salt-meat alley'—hotels in George Street.

The Ziegfeld Club, in King Street, a well-known venue for drag acts, was his favoured haunt. He was not paid for his performances there. The club's manager told Truth he received 'kentuckies': when guests were pleased they would throw him money. A 'man who became a real woman while he did his act', he had 'a very natural woman's charm and the voice, walk and actions were those of a female when facing the spotlight'.

On the night of 22 December 1942 he appeared at the Ziegfeld Club. Dressed in a mixture of men's and women's clothing, with his face painted with rouge, powder and lipstick, and wearing earrings, he performed and flirted with many of the men there, as was his habit. Truth reported a witness as saying that Foy 'appeared to be a fairy' and that he thought Foy was 'queer'. One of the patrons, a sailor from the United States of America, whom he tried to kiss, took offence and struck him in the mouth. Foy fell heavily on the floor on his back.

He never recovered consciousness. Foy died on 23 December in Sydney Hospital, the coroner reported, 'from the effects of a fractured skull feloniously inflicted upon him at the Ziegfeld Cafe, Number 88 King Street, Sydney . . . by one John Tyler Williams'. Williams was committed for trial on the charge of manslaughter, released on £40 bail and handed over to a United States shore patrol, after which he disappeared from Australia's legal records. Foy was buried in the Anglican section of Botany cemetery. His mother, one brother and five sisters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Wotherspoon, ‘Comrades-in-arms: World War II and Male Homosexuality in Australia’, in J. Damousi and M. Lake (eds), Gender and War (Cambridge, UK, 1995)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 Dec 1942, p 5
  • Truth (Sydney), 3 Jan 1943, p 7
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Jan 1943, p 18
  • H. S. Foy inquest, 19/3691 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Garry C. Wotherspoon, 'Foy, Harry Sidney (1901–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Portrait of Harry Foy, no date

Portrait of Harry Foy, no date

Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 4 April 1943, p. 4

Life Summary [details]


7 November, 1901
Waterloo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 December, 1942 (aged 41)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.