Friday, July 13, 2018

I went to Berlin and all I got were these (phenomeonal) postcards

Of course on my latest trip to Europe I went postcard hunting. Here are some of the many I picked up.

Most of these are vaudeville performers, and I found these cards at the Tiergarten markets in Berlin.

Below are some postcards of the Kremo family, they were Risley performers (they juggled things and people with their feet) and they visited Australia in 1910.

So from the bottom. Firstly, we have Ferry Mader, who was identified by juggling historian David Cain. You can read David's article about Ferry here.

Above Ferry is a postcard of a man who I think was called Fred Lesando,a musical clown.

Above Fred is Gerdy- Gerda, - I have no idea who this is.

Next we have from the top, Bobby Lang, and below him a lady who balanced plates. There is no name on this one.

Next, a repetition of the Kremos and a postcard of Tommy whose last name is unknown, but it looks like he is using a teapot as a diablo.

Below is the elegante Adoni, he's balancing glasses.

Finally, a page from a 1980 programme from the Hansa theatre in Germany. Yes, we have some club jugglers....

I have many more acquisitions from my latest trip which I will be posting soon.

If you can help with identifying or contributing information about the above photos, please drop a line.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Australia's early circus jugglers.

Circus and Juggling seems to be a natural association, and so it proved in early 19th Century Australia. Whilst the main attraction of early circus was equestrian feats, juggling was included as another, less important, feature. The Australian circus began in Tasmania in 1847, and by the 1850s several different circuses had evolved. The gold rush which started in 1851 led to further demands for entertainment and a consequent increase in circus activity.

One of the early exponents of circus in Australia was James Ashton and juggling played an important role in his show from the very beginning. In fact, as early as 1849, in Melbourne, he had a benefit which featured Monsieur Risley, a juggler. By 1852, Ashton was in New South Wales and promising juggling, balancing and acrobatic feats for the entertainment of people in Singleton, a country town.

Ashton seems to have also performed Risley juggling, that is juggling people with the feet. This type of juggling was named after Richard Risley Carlisle who introduced it in the USA in the early 1840s. However, this was not the same Risley who performed with Ashton in Melbourne in 1849. Ashton also seems to have juggled other items with his feet, this is known as ‘foot juggling’. There is some evidence that Ashton popularised foot juggling in Australia, as one of his apprentices, Robert Taylor, was well known for this skill.

Taylor, born in Windsor New South Wales, was foot juggling in Sydney by 1855, firstly with Ashton and later with Burton’s Circus. An early picture of juggling published in the newspapers, showed Mr R Taylor upside down laying on his back, with a large ball balanced on his foot. Taylor is dressed in a one-piece frilled body suit which resembled the costume of a clown. His lower legs are encased in decorated stockings and his feet covered by flat pointed shoes with bows. In 1857, Taylor performed at the goldfields at Bendigo with Burton’s circus. In this performance he put a large ball ‘through a variety of evolutions moving it with the same facility with his feet as if they were his hands.’ He also stilt walked and balanced on a large ball whilst juggling.

Ashton was not the only circus proprietor at this time, in Sydney his circus had a rival, Malcolm’s Royal Australian Amphitheatre. At Malcolm’s they had a house juggler called Signor Cardoza, called the juggling king, who performed a ‘grand juggling act on a courser’, a horse.

Another competitor who arrived around 1852 was Henry Burton.  On Boxing Day that year he introduced his Grand Fete at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel at Botany Bay Sydney. It featured his great equestrian artistes, including Major John Downey, who juggled whilst his horse galloped at full speed, and an equilibrist who, on the back of a white horse, spun plates and manipulated other items.
It seems therefore that object manipulation was a major part of the circus tradition, although only a tangential part of the show. Juggling complemented feats of equestrian acrobatics, probably played a role with the clowns and tumblers and was in the skill set of most circus performers.

The discovery of gold in Australia changed everything for entertainers in the country. It brought wealth, thousands of people, and a multicultural mix to the small insular society. This resulted in a higher demand for shows, and many circuses responded by becoming itinerant and visiting the gold fields, chasing the money of those who were chasing their dream.

With this desire for more entertainment came a requirement for more performers. One way the circus met the demand was by adopting or acquiring unwanted Aboriginal children.   One of these was a young indigenous boy, nicknamed ‘little nugget’. In 1852 the young boy was juggling with Burton’s circus near the gold fields at the Commercial Hotel Bathurst. He performed as one of the jugglers of Antwerp, ‘spinning plates and throwing balls’.

The young man was ‘adopted’ or kidnapped, as many young Aboriginal children were, and trained in circus as an added, exotic attraction Later he was renamed ‘Billy Jones’ after John Jones, a former Burton employee who left to form his own circus and took Billy with him. Billy Jones was the first  documented Aboriginal person to perform in a circus, he was an acrobat, juggler, equestrian and superb performer.

By the 1860s circus had become a featured entertainment in Australia and juggling was part of the show. These early jugglers were some of the first to introduce juggling to large Australian audiences and from them comes a large part of the Australian juggling tradition.

- A lot of the background information for this article, particularly about 'Billy Jones',  comes from Dr Mark St Leon's superb book, Circus The Australian Story

If you are interested in present day juggling try Sydney Juggling

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 
on Amazon...

Even cooler! Both are now available in paperback through 

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.