Saturday, August 27, 2022

Memories of William Fay

The post about writer William Fay and his family (here) was read by his youngest son, John Hartley Fahey, who contacted me with more information about his father. I have edited his correspondence into the following reminiscence.

--Jack Seabrook

Memories of My Father, William Fay

by John Hartley Fahey

William Fay and family in 1955.
John Hartley Fahey is the little boy in the sailor suit.

My father's life was never easy. He was born William Jerome Fahey on July 27, 1909. When my father was five years old, his father, Dr. James Charles Fahey, M.D., died from complications of alcoholism. Prior to that--due to Dr. Fahey's use of drugs and alcohol and other acts of abusiveness--my grandmother, Clara Hayes Fahey, had taken her three children, Marian, Jimmy, and Billy, from Northampton, Mass., to New York City, where she had family. For a time, all three children were "farmed out" to relatives while Clara joined the Navy and was appointed head of personnel for the Customs House in New York City.

When it came time for Billy to enroll in school, at age five, Clara changed the spelling of his last name to the less ethnic sounding "Fay," something she chose to do for herself as well. Jimmy and Marian never changed the spelling of their names; they were already enrolled in school and remained Faheys. When I was a boy, I asked my father about it. He seemed unconcerned and said it really didn't matter all that much which way the name was spelled. I legally changed my last name (restored it) to Fahey when I turned 21.

Bill and Peggy Fay, probably at Point Lookout on 
Long Island, NY, just before they were married.
Billy was expelled from Fordham Preparatory High School for fighting. He took to boxing and fought several opponents in the Golden Gloves of America, New York Metro Division, during the years from 1927 to about 1932. One of my father's biggest fans was retired NYPD officer John Jay Waters, father of Margaret Celestine (Peggy) Waters, the apple of my father's eye. Grandpa attended Pop's fights and approved of him but made it clear that no prizefighter would marry his daughter until he had a real job. If Billy wanted to marry Peggy, her father made it abundantly clear that a profession would be key.

With only a high school education, he faced a challenge. On the other hand, he was always handy at spinning yarns, and writing stories came to him rather readily. I believe it was in 1933 when Billy was hired by Popular Publications as an editor and to write stories for a pulp fiction conceit named G-8 and His Battle Aces, tales of heroism in the skies above Europe during WWI. Some years later, in 1935 or 1936, he sold his first short story to Ladies' Home Journal, which then led to short stories being written for various publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Good Housekeeping, etc. His career as a writer underway, Pop and Mom were married on September 11, 1937.

He flew to Italy in 1950 to research a book that he ghost-wrote for a priest about Our Lady of Fatima. Pop was a devout Roman Catholic, and when we lived in Hollywood in the sixties, he donated his services more than once to his Jesuit priest friends at the Blessed Sacrament Church on Sunset Boulevard, occasionally editing or even rewriting their homilies for them. It was a point of contention for my mother, who did not approve of him doing work for which he received nothing besides effusive thanks, enthusiastic signs of the cross, and a quick sprinkling of holy water.

Ward Bond on Wagon Train
One of Pop's closest boyhood friends was Bill Cox. Together, they co-wrote the first episode of Wagon Train, featuring Ward Bond (with whom Pop became a close, personal friend; the two of them went golfing the morning before Ward Bond died). Billy Fay and Bill Cox had a third close friend named Billy Holder. All three were prizefighters in their youth and they were known around the Bronx as "The Three Billys." Legend has it that there were a few bars that had to close down due to commotions caused by this wily, animated trio. All three made a living as writers. Bill Cox was instrumental in getting my father to throw his hat in the Hollywood TV ring, which he did about the year I was born, 1954. Soon, Bill Fay was writing for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Kraft Mystery Theatre, and other series from the so-called Golden Age of TV. By 1957, his career in Hollywood had taken hold well enough that he sent for Peggy and the kids to join him. All eight of us climbed into our Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, leaving New Rochelle with our irrepressible mother to make the 3000-mile drive across the U.S.

In 1960, Bill Fay was hired to write the script for Kid Galahad, featuring Elvis Presley as a prizefighter fresh out of service in the U.S. Army. Naturally, I am biased, but to my mind it is the best script of any Elvis movie, precisely because Pop wrote precious little dialogue for Elvis, leaving him to gyrate & sing, while leaning on the considerable acting talent of the many brilliant co-stars: Gig Young, Joan Blackman, Charles Bronson, Lola Albright, Ned Glass, Ed Asner, David Lewis, Liam Redmond, and others. The highly suggestive scene where Charles Bronson gets mugged and brutalized by thugs still gives me chills. Besides, Elvis was privy to some of the best pre-Beatles rock & roll songwriting of the Kennedy Era.

Other noteworthy achievements of Pop's included a four-part episode of Dr. Kildare featuring Fred Astaire as the father of a nun who is dying of cancer. These episodes were written when one of my sisters was already a nun and another was about to enter the novitiate. Both sisters eventually left holy orders to become wives and mothers.

Other shows he wrote included Combat!--the first episode of season four, "Main Event," in which a fight manager played by Jack Carter threatens Saunders's squad when he tries to keep his boxer out of a demolition mission. Combat! was by far my favorite television show, so I vividly remember the day Pop told me that his agent, Bill Stanton, had asked him if he wanted to write an episode. He scrunched his nose and said something disparaging about all the "Blood 'n T'under" in war shows, whereupon--wide-eyed--I implored him to PLEASE write an episode, which of course he then did.
On August 18, 1968, he died of a heart attack at the dinner table in our house at 2831 Hollyridge Drive. He was working on his second feature film at the time, a story entitled "Brother John" that was never completed. After Pop's death, actor Steve Forrest expressed interest in purchasing the storyline to "Brother John," but Mom turned him down, much to my relief.


Peter Enfantino said...

A fabulous post! Thank you, John, for sharing your memories of your dad. And thanks to Jack, the king of Hitch.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Peter! It's great to learn more about these writers.

Jane Wolgemuth said...

Happy birthday, John. I had no idea of your pop’s background or talents, but I see his influence on your prodigious ability to communicate and teach. Hope all is well with you.