You're reading the credits at the end of one of your favorite films, and all of a sudden the term "Foley artist" comes scrolling up your screen. You've heard somewhere before that Foley artists are the guys who take care of the ambient noise in the film...stuff like leaves crunching underfoot while the characters walk in the woods...that sort of thing. Kind of a weird job, you suppose. With an even weirder name, come to think of it. What the heck is a "foley", anyway?
Jack Foley was working at Universal Studios while the The Jazz Singer was in production over at the Warner Brother's lot. Sound had been put to film before, but those movies were simply novelties, and no one paid much attention to them. The Jazz Singer, however, was a major release, and if it succeded it would revolutionalize the entire industry. Obviously Universal couldn't just stand by. As it happened, they had an adaptation of a Broadway musical in production at the time: Showboat. It was originally to be a silent film, but with the new sound technology available, a silent version of a musical would look awfully silly. A soundtrack was quickly added to the film. Jack sort of fell into his new job making the sound effects.
He had worked jobs as varied as stunt man, double, location scout, screen writer, and director. Now he was walking in time to the actors post production, recording the sounds of his own footsteps. He created the Foley studio, and a process for looping the sound effects while watching the actor's movements on film. He never got credited for his work, though he did win some awards, such as the Golden Reel. And of course, the term "Foley artist" is named after him. But he remains an obscure figure, mostly due to his work being behind the scenes. He never appeared in a film and, ironically, no recording of his voice exists. However, he was a pioneer in the techniques of Foley artistry and is a bit of a legend amongst those that knew of him or followed in his footsteps (no pun intended).