In March, 1957 a story
about the Iroquois Theater fire appeared in a half dozen major
daily newspapers. It was written by a celebrated
International News Service journalist, James Kilgallen
(1888–1982),* based upon his interview with a retired
choreographer, Jack Haskell (1885-1963). In an account of
his experiences at the Iroquois Theater fire Haskell made
various claims that conflict with other reports from
1903/4 corroborated by multiple witnesses. Those
discrepancies are discussed below. Chief amongst them is
that he was performing as a member of the
Pale Moonlight double octet on stage when
the fire broke out and e rescued
Eddie Foy's son, Bryan.
In 1957, at age seventy-two, Haskell's
choreography days were behind him and he was "doing some
writing" (which I found no evidence of so he may have used an
alias). Was he paid for the interview with Kilgallen?
Did he hope the story would somehow lead to writing assignments?
Eddie Foy and many of the octet members were deceased by 1957 but not all.
Haskell must have suspected there were people alive who would
recognize his lies so his decision to fib is
curious. His possession of a
summons to testify at the coroner's inquest indicates Haskell
may have been a Mr. Bluebeard cast member but nothing was
reported linking his name to the disaster until the 1957
interview. It appears that either Kilgallen was guilty of
putting words in Haskell's mouth or Kilgallen was taken for a
ride. Perhaps he trusted the old gent with his clippings.
Haskell was not a member of the octet and was not
performing when the fire broke out.
have been a chorus performer in other skits, or a
stage hand, but he was
not a member of the Pale Moonlight octet as claimed.
The octet member partnered with fainting
Jack Strouse. I spent some time
trying to determine if Strouse and Haskell could
have been the same man, using Strouse as a stage
name when acting and Haskell as his name when
working in choreography. I cannot say it is
impossible but it is unlikely. Strouse was one
of the few octet members who had a long and very
active career after the fire, all of it documented
by forty years of newspaper advertisements and
reviews. For Haskell and Strouse to have been
one man would have required Hermione Granger's
Haskell was not Eddie Foy's valet.
According to an interview with Eddie Foy the day
after the fire, his valet was Harry Meehan.
Could Harry Meehan have been the stage name for Jack
Haskell? I failed to find anything suggesting
they were the same man and, in any case, Harry
Meehan in the same interview described tiding up
Foy's gear in the dressing room when the fire broke
out, no mention of performing on stage at the time.
If Meehan and Haskell were the same man, that man
was not in the octet.
newspaper ran a list of the dead that went on for
The day after the fire, December
31, 1903, on its front page The Chicago Tribune
listed the hundreds of known dead and missing.
Run without accompanying pictures or story details
it was stunning in its starkness, instantly
establishing the most important aspect of the fire:
lost lives. With justification, Trib
management took pride in the its portrayal of the
Iroquois disaster, including that front page.
Entire Bryan portion of
story is hooey.
In newspaper interviews with
Eddie Foy minutes after the fire he could not/did
not name the man he asked
to take his son Bryan from the theater but described
him as a stagehand. He would most certainly
have identified the man as a performer had he been
wearing a white Hussar costume as were the men in
the octet...who were, by the way, on stage
performing when Foy was seeing to getting his son
out of the theater, and they were still performing
when Eddie entered the stage to tell the audience to
calm down. In interviews in later years Eddie
identified the man who took his son from the stage
as Harry / Henry Schroeder, a member of the Mr.
Foy was specific about finding the
boy on Dearborn street, not in a pile of bodies
around the corner in Thompson's Restaurant as
described by Haskell. In multiple accounts
in subsequent years Eddie referenced fleeing the
Iroquois through the
Dearborn street exit (door
#5 ) out onto Dearborn Street, which was around
the corner from Thompson's Restaurant. In
Clowning Through Life Eddie Foy in 1925
described finding Bryon as follows:
As I rushed out of
the theatre, I could think of nothing but my boy. I became more and
more frightened; as I neared the street I was certain he hadn’t
gotten out. But when I reached the sidewalk, God be praised, there
he was with his faithful friend
just outside the door. I seized him
in my arms and turned toward the hotel.