Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Houdini's Tour of Australia and the First Merry Widow






 I am pleased to announce that my two books which were published through 

  •  Ginninderra Press; are now available via Amazon kindle. Which is kind of cool.

Just look for 
and 
on Amazon...



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ma'mselle Rhodesia- The only lady juggler ever seen in these parts


Described by various writers in Australia as ‘beautiful’ ‘pretty’ ‘ladylike’ and the ‘lady Cinquevalli’, Ma’mselle Florence Rhodesia was one of the first female jugglers to perform in Australia.

Florrie was born around 1885 in England according to a US census. This means that she was a bare 15 years old when she came to Australia. It is, however, entirely possible that Florrie may have ‘fudged’ her age a bit.

 She made her debut in the antipodes in 1900, when she toured Australia and New Zealand with Fitzgerald Brothers Circus. The brothers, Tom, and Dan Fitzgerald, called her Rhoda.
According to an interview she gave in New Zealand, she began her circus career at 8 years of age as a slack wire walker. When her apprenticeship ended she toured South Africa with Fillis Brothers and began juggling. Whilst there she met Cecil Rhodes and acquired the name ‘Rhodesia’.  She then returned to England and began juggling on the variety stages where the brothers Fitzgerald found her and asked her to tour Australia.

Rhoda toured for several years. Her act incorporated several skills that Cinquevalli had introduced to the Australian stage. Florrie turned herself into a billiard table and rolled balls around her body until they slipped into the pockets of a specially designed coat, she also did ‘everything Cinquevalli did’. However, most contemporaneous accounts focused on her looks and ladylike demeanour, with one Australian newspaper saying, ‘the lady is personally very attractive which is a feature unto itself.’ For a publicity shot in 1902, Rhoda wore male attire, including pants, a suit coat, and a shirt, she also had a top hat by her side. This costume placed her firmly in the tradition of gentleman juggler and contributed to her appeal, particularly to male audiences.




Rhoda was well liked by her peers and when she left Australia in 1903 she was farewelled with a cart full of bouquets, the music of the circus orchestra and a gold medal from her employers. They also penned her a note,  

Dear Rhoda, as you are now leaving Australia, we must express our sincere regret at your departure. You have behaved yourself always in a ladylike and graceful manner and you leave behind you many true friends and well-wishers. We consider you a true artist, and a credit to your profession- T and D.

According to a contemporary newspaper, Rhodesia was the only lady juggler ever seen in ‘these parts’, probably referring to Australia and New Zealand.

In 1905 Florrie wrote a letter to friends in Sydney announcing that she had married Mr William Seeley in Capetown South Africa. Seeley had performed in Australia on the Tivoli circuit as one of a team called Seeley and West, it is possible that the pair met during Rhoda’s Australasian tour.
Florrie returned to Australia, as Madame Rhodesia, with her husband in 1907 and performed at the Tivoli. However, this time her act was not as widely applauded. One newspaper dismissed her show saying the only unique part of it was that she was female. Time and imitators had apparently eaten away at her novelty.

Florence continued to perform with her husband, primarily in the United States. In 1910, Florence and William settled there.By the late 1920s Florence was the proprietor of an Inn in Suffolk New York. Genealogical information suggests that she passed away around 1938 in the same area.

For information about present day juggling try Sydney Juggling

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Early club juggling on the Australian Stage

Some information about early club juggling on the Australian Stage. References available upon request. 

 Indian club swinging was well established in Australia by the turn of the 20th Century. However, although club juggling was common in England and the US in the 1880s and 1890s, it had not reached the antipodes. It was not until 1902, according to Charles Waller, that the first club jugglers performed on the Australian stage.

Although it is probable that clubs were juggled in the country before 1902, the first theatrical performance occurred that year at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney. The performers were two Americans, Derenda and Breen, who were comedic jugglers and carried Van Wyck clubs.

 The two men had met at a club swinging tournament in New York and from this meeting they developed a music hall act. They were the first club jugglers to incorporate comedy and patter into their performance despite their peers saying that club juggling was ‘too pretty’ for comedy.  

In Australia they began the act by one of them leaping out of a life size poster. Every night it was a different juggler who leapt from the backdrop, keeping the audience guessing as to which one was alive and which a representation.

They incorporated a great deal of humour into the act and showed an amazing dexterity on stage. Their show involved juggling three Wyck clubs back to back, and the climax of their performance was the pair mounting pedestals and throwing eight clubs at each other.





Derenda and Breen, Australian Town, and Country Journal 18 January 1902 p.22



. Derenda was well known for his temper tantrums when the clubs misbehaved.

‘When Derenda made a miss, his rage became a thing awful to behold. Sometimes he would snap a mighty chain to pieces; sometimes with his teeth, tear lumps from the top of a wooden pedestal.


The arrival of the juggling club on the Australian stage led to a contest between club users in the country. Indian club swingers scoffed at the club jugglers, and the cultural space occupied by the club was contested between the athletes and the entertainers.

Whilst Derenda and Breen were entertaining the crowds with their version of club juggling, well known axe and Indian club swinger, Jack Harrison, challenged them to a match. Jack called the pair ‘fancy club swingers’. A term that implied a derogatory attitude towards the art of juggling.

The antagonism between the Indian club swinging community and club juggling continued during the early 1900s. One article published in a Queensland paper compared the health effects of club swinging and juggling as follows.

‘I am aware that the artistes ‘on the boards’ execute some marvellous and intricate evolutions but their work savours more of jugglery than legitimate club swinging. As a rule, they use extremely light clubs, in fact were you to offer them ones weighing 3 or 4lbs they would be unable to do their wonderful finger swings catches and changes. This stage trick- club work looks very pretty and is indeed clever, but it does not bring any appreciable development, as the clubs being mostly held with the finger tips confine the muscular work to the fingers, wrist and forearm.

This description of club jugglers as ‘artistes’ who performed ‘jugglery’ dismissed the skill involved in juggling. The author clearly considered juggling inferior to swinging. By 1910, this disdain of club juggling had spread, and Indian Club Swinging competitions were posting rules stating, ‘no juggling allowed’. This indicated that club juggling had spread in the general community and was infecting the athletic halls of Australia.  Another indication of the spread of club juggling occurred in 1906, when an Australian club juggling act was incorporated into the annual  pantomime.

Australian born trio, Lennon Hyman, and Lennon, were experienced acrobats before encountering the juggling club.  They began their career with touring companies presenting a comedy contortionist act called ‘The Three Waiters.’ After a tour of New Zealand, they took the act to England, and returned to Australia with some Van Wyck juggling clubs. Their encounter with juggling clubs changed their status in the theatrical community and ensured a successful career.


 
Lennon Hyman and Lennon (Authors Collection)

They were comedians,  and their costumes were similar in style to those of Derenda and Breen. Modestly dressed on stage, the three men passed clubs between them at a dizzying rate.

'The first turn was a display of juggling with Indian clubs which they handled with remarkable proficiency, exchanging flying clubs with one another, and sometimes surrendering three clubs in mid-air with an air of perfect nonchalance…. the varied manipulations were really astounding, the concluding turn in which the nine clubs were kept twirling in the air created the greatest enthusiasm.'

In 1906 they performed in the annual William Anderson pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor, suggesting that club juggling had become a popular feature of the Australian stage.

If you are interested in current day juggling in Sydney, try Sydney Juggling for information.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fregoli, DeWitt Young and Sister Jugglers, miscellaneous postcards

While in Florence earlier this year I did a little postcard hunting at the local flea market. It was an interesting place. Not many postcards, but some fascinating objects. So here are some postcards from Italy and some others that turned up during my Easter cleanup.




Paulino and Zeze- I know nothing about this card. If anybody has any information please post it.


Fregoli- This is a reproduction of an original. Fregoli was a quick change artist, very famous during the vaudeville era


A 1993 Festival in Italy.


DeWitt, Young and Sister- The College Boy Juggler. I suspect that there is a very interesting story behind this card. Young was a very famous juggler, DeWitt is a very famous name in Juggling, and 'College Boy Juggler' was a very early juggling skit. This card is an American card dated 1908 and sent to Ohio- a hotbed of early American juggling. Somebody, somewhere will have a story about this one, I'm sure.


I found this one while cleaning my house. Judith Anderson, a very famous Australian actor, in a Criterion Theatre Sydney production.


Another Italian festival.


On the back of this picture postcard it says, ' Doris and Dessy' Danceurs......acrobatique" Obviously French. It looks like it's been taken from somebody's photo album and I picked it up in Florence.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Maggie Dickenson and Harry Clay

Easter cleaning has led me to some interesting rediscoveries, including these lovely prints of Maggie Dickenson and Harry Clay.

Maggie was a very famous Australian Dancer who featured in many pantomimes. I wrote an article about her many years ago and in response received a letter from Dr Tony Gough, whose mother performed with Maggie.

Dr Gough also sent some prints which I rediscovered in a drawer this weekend.





Dr Gough's mother, Nancy Chapman aka Nancy Leigh, performed with Maggie as one of the Whirl of Girls pictured above.

I also found some prints of Australian entrepreneur Harry Clay, which were given to me many years ago by one of his descendants. 



Harry Clay managed many small vaudeville theatres in the Sydney suburbs during the early 20th Century, including one which sat where the old Newtown Hub theatre was. 

These are beautiful pictures and I am very grateful that people shared them with me.

I really should clean up more often. 



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

John Pamplin, Minstrel and Juggler

Just a brief and rough account of John Pamplin in Australia.. References upon request..


In  1899 juggler extraordinaire Cinquevalli opened in Sydney. He caused a sensation. However, another, equally talented ,juggler was also appearing in the city. He caused barely a ripple.
American John Pamplin was performing with Orpheus McAdoo's Georgia Minstrels at the same time as Cinquevalli. He was an African American artist who was an accomplished juggler, sleight of hand expert , gun manipulator and club swinger.

Before coming to Australia, Pamplin worked with the Georgia Graduates Company, which was a variety group active between 1895 and 1897. In the former year they toured the north of the United States and followed this tour with a transcontinental run in 1897. One of the lead performers on that tour was Ernest Hogan.

In 1899 Hogan, one of the earliest proponents of rag time, decided to take a minstrel group to Australia. Unfortunately, he had been beaten to the country by Orpheus McAdoo and the Georgia Minstrels.  Hogan quickly saw that there was not enough business for two minstrel tours, so some of his group joined  Mc Adoo . This could be how John Pamplin ended up touring Australia with The Georgia Minstrels .

Pamplin was, by all accounts, very talented . Unfortunately, contemporary reviewers did not describe his turn in any detail  He was part of a much larger ensemble including Ferry the Frog, a contortionist, and a group of singers led by Flora Batson.  Pamplin's feats were overwhelmed, not only by his fellow minstrels, but by the focus of the media on Cinquevalli. In 1899, there was only room for one juggler, and that juggler was the Polish, and white, Cinquevalli.

Of course, Australia at that time was considering federation. And one of the planks of the Commonwealth was the White Australia Policy. Racism was a major part of the Australian psyche. The desire to keep 'undesirable elements' off the precious island was paramount. Pamplin was not only fighting a fellow juggler for attention, he was fighting a whole culture imbued with racist ideology.

The popularity of the minstrel troupes in Australia was somewhat surprising. Historian Richard Waterhouse has described the early popularity of minstrelsy in Australia in terms of 'romantic racialism'. Waterhouse argues that in the early 19th Century, the image of African Americans as portrayed in minstrel shows was either of a childlike servant of a kind master or an exploited Christian slave to an evil landholder. This image of submission and infantilism was embodied in sentimental ballads of plantation life. Many early minstrel troupes played to this image successfully.
Waterhouse further suggests that by the turn of the century, when McAdoo and Pamplin toured, that this image had changed to one where the infantile slave had  become a threat to white supremacy. In Australia, this was embodied by sinister images of African Americans and Indigenous Peoples, and legislated with The White Australia Policy.

The McAdoo tour of 1899/1900 neatly combined both images of African Americans. Firstly, the songs concentrated on sentimental ballads. However, these were combined with new innovations such as the cake walk and rag time, to produce novelty. The troupe was very popular, but their tours concentrated on the smaller areas of the country. They visited provincial towns such as Goulburn, Bathurst and the smaller cities such as Fremantle and Adelaide. In each area, Pamplin's juggling was applauded.

So how did John Pamplin create a juggling act that appealed to predominantly white racist colonial audiences in Australia? The details are sparse, but there are some descriptions which give a clue to his  success.

Firstly, it's clear that he was a very skilful and talented performer . He juggled, he balanced, and he also did some sleight of hand.

His act played upon projecting a foreign appearance, and combining it with a dangerous edge. Pamplin  was in many ways, embodying the fears of the insular colonials.

He dressed exotically, sometimes in a Zouave uniform, a garb that included a colourful jacket and  unusual headgear.  At other times his persona was that of an Egyptian or Nubian Prince. A royal from Africa. This was a trope which had been successfully employed by Indian jugglers in the mid 19th Century, and it obviously had continuous appeal to Australian audiences.

The main part of Pamplin's act was gun manipulation. He also caught a cannon ball, a trick that Cinquevalli was performing in the larger theatres. There was balancing and further juggling, but it was his expertise with rifles which brought the most comment.

A very clever item was some gun juggling by John Pamplin who, clad in Zouave uniform, makes first one and then two guns fly around and all over him in most bewildering style.

Pamplin toured with the Georgia Minstrels in Australia for some time and then returned to the United States. There he continued to perform with minstrel troupes. In 1912, with Allen's Minstrels his persona was 'his satanic majesty, the  devil.'

There are records of him performing with a Wild West Show in 1929 where his finale was balancing a revolving table on a pole attached to his chin.

Pamplin died on February 27 1935 in Danville Illinois. His death was recorded by the Chicago Tribune as follows;

John M Pamplin,Noted Magician, Juggler, Is Dead

Danville Ill,. Feb 27- John M Pamplin, 60, colored, who had an international reputation as a magician, juggler and knife thrower, died of a heart attack in the Danville business district yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Theodore the Novelty Juggler



I found this tantalizing reference to Theodore, the novelty juggler in one of my old programmes.

The programme is from Newcastle's Victoria Theatre and dated 1911



I was thrilled to discover that Sydney's great magic historian, Kent Blackmore, had done some research about the mysterious Theodore.

Here's a link.

It's an interesting insight into early juggling in Australia