Saturday, December 19, 2015

WC Fields again!

A rather fetching picture of W C Fields from an Australian theatre magazine of 1903.

Here he is without makeup, looking young, dapper and very much the gentleman.

Sydney Town Hall 1892

I was going to vacuum the lounge room, but I got distracted and found this...

It seemed appropriate for the season...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gintaro- A Juggler not a Spy.

In 1908, the famous Maskelyne and Devant company of England sent a touring troupe to Australia and New Zealand. One member of the group was the famous Japanese juggler, Gintaro.

Variously referred to as  Gintaro Nizuhara,( by New Zealand newspapers in 1909)  or Gintaro Mizuhara , he was a Japanese man who had lived in England for 21 years. He was married to an English woman called Isabella and originally worked as a merchant.

Around 1900 Gintaro began working for Maskelyne and Devant, giving drawing room entertainments. He was a keen jiu jitsu practitioner and a very skillful juggler and balancer.

In Australia in 1908, Gintaro opened the Maskelyne and Devant Mysteries show. He spun a silver ring around an umbrella,  spun and balanced tops and balanced a tub on top of a pole . However, the highlight of his act was balancing a glass of water on top of 28 bricks and catching the glass as the bricks tumbled to the floor.

There is a 1930s video of Gintaro performing this feat on youtube, and you can see some of Gintaro's juggling props here

After a successful tour of Australia, the company, with Gintaro, travelled to New Zealand in early 1909. Whilst they were there a scandal erupted in Australia regarding some Japanese showmen.

The Australian Defence minister was travelling in Queensland when he was accosted by some stock men and told a tale about a group of suspicious Japanese itinerant performers who had been asking very detailed questions whilst they entertained at stations in the top end.

Apparently the men had toured with a cinematograph and not only took pictures, but asked several questions about the location of stations, waterholes, tracks and other landmarks. The showman were accused by squatters, the minister, the stock men and the newspapers of being spies in the pay of the Japanese government.

At this time, insular Australia had experienced little contact with Asian cultures and anybody who was even a little different in looks, language or attitude was suspect.  There was a completely unjustified fear of an 'Asian invasion' of Australia and  a type of hysteria over everyday acts was common throughout the land.

The undoubtedly racist attitude was also common in New Zealand, and this particular incident sparked a complaint about Gintaro's activity in that country.

Gintaro kept a diary, and he supplemented it with pictures of all the places he played. Thus it was when the Maskelyne and Devant company arrived in Gisborne, a port in New Zealand, he, accompanied by company manager Mr McDonald, had taken photos of the port and some of the ships in it.

To his surprise, his innocent photography expedition  led to a letter being sent to a local paper.
The author, anonymous of course, accused Gintaro of being a spy. The newspaper breathlessly reported that half an hour after the arrival of the SS Tuatea, Gintaro was spotted, 'perched on the small crane on the breakwater, taking photographs, up and down and across the river.'

Gintaro, a man who had lived most of his life in England, was forced to give an interview to defend his actions.

'I think it is a most childish thing to say' he told a newspaper. He added  that pictures of the port and town were readily available at local shops. Gintaro asserted that his business was that of a juggler and if he was spy he wouldn't be using a camera where everybody could see it.

The newspaper asked him about an 'Asiatic invasion' and Gintaro replied that Japan was England's 'great friend' and would most certainly aid New Zealand if such a thing occurred.

Gintaro concluded the interview with a broad smile and stated that

20 pound a week for entertaining was far ahead of what the Japanese Government would give any person for travelling round taking photographs...and that they (English speaking people) could rest assured that he would do or say nothing that would offer them the slightest insult.

Gintaro completed his tour of New Zealand without any further accusations of spying. But the incident was an example of attitudes which he must have encountered throughout his long and successful juggling career. 

Picture Reference

 Japanese juggler, M Gintaro, and his wife Isabella. Cox, Irene:Portraits of theatrical personalities. Ref: PA1-q-235-120A. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

They toured Australia....Jugglers of the 1940s and Anthony Gatto from the 1980s.

 I don't study much theatre history beyond the 1920s, but today I was looking through some theatre programmes for a friend, and discovered some here they are.

Feel free to comment ...

Firstly from the early 1940s- Anita Martell

Anita Martell with her attractive personality, in addition to doing amazing juggling tricks with top hats and balls, delights with some lilting numbers- 
  Sydney Tivoli Theatre Programme 1942.

Next also from the 1940s but I think around 1947- Also from a Tivoli Theatre Programme

The Myrons are from the same era.

The tradition of importing 'exotic' Asian acts continued into the 1940s. This is a Chinese circus troupe.

There is some specific information about their juggler included in the publicity.
Shung Shu Win, another young member of the company , assures us that in learning his specialty act he ran no little risk of personal hurt. This novel act consists of juggling a number of Chinese devil forks. On seeing him spinning and twirling these dangerous implements, one is easily persuaded that he still requires considerable care. Tivoli Theatre Programme Melbourne

And of course there were balancers....

This is Rih Aruso, 'King of Balance'
Acrobatic cyclist, Rih Aruso can lay more claims to fame than his distinctly unusual name. Before the war- and before he began the stage career that brings him to Australia, he was six times cycling champion of Austria.Rih Aruso, born in Trieste, won his first championship at the age of 14. He developed his stage act after the war and has toured Europe and England, appearing at the London Palladium and on television.

Finally a young Anthony Gatto in Australia in 1983.

The accompanying blurb states.
Anthony Gatto, 9 is one of the world's great young jugglers. In January this year he was awarded one of the five gold medals at an international competition for young performers in Paris.
His father, Nick, who is his coach, a juggler and former vaudevillian, has helped develop his sons unique talent.'He's uncanny', says his father. 'His biggest forte is when things go wrong, which mind you, is rarely,he is able to reconstruct. He's like a peacock with a thousand eyes.'
After the eyes, you see his hands,. The rough surface of the juggling balls consistently nick his small soft hands, the hands of a child, sometimes limiting his practice time.
His major problem, as a juggler , is not keeping the implements in the air, but catching them when he is finished- in large part because his hands are so small. 
Gatto senior believes his son's main problem is that he should learn to smile more often during a performance, but his mother, Barbara , a circus flyer  for a time until she was injured says its virtually impossible to demand so much concentration and smile as well.
Anthony Gatto  is a juggling prodigy. What the sporting world might call a phenomenon , a gifted athlete. He is also an unassuming, nonchalant tireless polite young man , the owner of a pet chicken and a pet dog.

Anthony performed with ' The World's Greatest Circus Spectacular' in Australia in 1983/4 and the above pictures and blurb come from a programme.

Please comment if you wish...


Monday, December 7, 2015

Jugglers? Murderers? or Both? The case of the Indian Jugglers

 An account of the Indian Jugglers Cassim and Abdallah, who were convicted of murder in 1863

In January 1863, James Lane, an employee of station owner James Fagan made an odd discovery at White Sawpit Creek, near Queanbeyan in New South Wales.

Hanging on a twig he found a battered coat, inside of which was a piece of chalk, two empty gold bags, a pack of cards and a play bill advertising Madhoul and Co of Bombay and Madras. Leaving the coat on the tree,  James took his finds back to one of his fellow employees. They returned to the creek, and James' odd discovery soon became a gruesome one. Upon further investigation, they found a heavily blood stained shirt, several human bones, which had been  eaten by feral animals, a skull with several deep cuts on it, spurs , trousers and a hat.  It seemed clear from these discoveries that an evil deed had been committed at Sawpit Creek.

Suspicion soon fell upon two Indian Jugglers, Mahomet Cassim and Mahomet Abdallah. They were brothers from India who in August to October 1861 had been performing with Burton's circus. Advertised  as "renowned Indian performers from the Court of the Rajah of Mysore', they had performed acrobatic tricks with knives attached to their bodies, cut apples on their hands with swords and probably juggled knives, hence their appellation as jugglers. In November of 1861, they were seen in the Queanbeyan area accompanied by a third man whose name was unknown.

Cassim and Abdallah were quickly arrested for murder of their unnamed Indian companion.
They had been in Australia for several years. They tumbled and juggled their way across the country, until on reaching Lambing Flat in New South Wales, they met a compatriot, who promised that he could increase their earnings by hiring halls for them to perform in. They were interested in this proposal because their English was so poor they were having difficulty in obtaining employment. Soon their new friend was acting as their manager and interpreter as the three travelled around the countryside.

In October 1861 they were working with Burton's Circus in Goulburn as headliners. So it was that the trio arrived in the area around Sawpit Creek. In November, according to witnesses, they had asked to perform for the shearers who worked in the area.  They did so  and  stayed in a hut on a nearby property.

According to witnesses at their trial, one day the three men headed out to look for their lost horses.  Apparently they walked towards the creek, but only two men returned.

Further witnesses stated that Cassim and Abdallah had left the area by horse drawn carrier. During the journey towards Queanbeyan, Cassim had stated that they had been robbed by their friend who had disappeared. Another witness said that Cassim  stated that he would 'cut off the man's head' if he found him.

The trial failed to produced conclusive evidence that the bones, the hat and the coat had belonged to the man accompanying the Indian jugglers. A doctor testified that the cuts on the skull probably came from an Indian broadsword and other witnesses declared that the coat and hat discovered resembled that worn by their companion.

Despite the paucity of evidence, Cassim and Abdallah were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging for murder.

The case caused some controversy. The lack of solid evidence was noted by the press and a letter was written to parliament requesting a review of the trial. The men's lack of English skills, their inability to testify or question those who accused them was cited as  causes for the review. One doctor stated that the skull was too weathered and old to be that of the missing man. Furthermore, a fellow prisoner with Indian experience wrote a letter to the newspapers citing Cassim's claims of innocence and pointing out the flaws in the trial.

Due to these protestations, Abdallah's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but Cassim, deemed to be the leader of the two, was still condemned to death.

Cassim wrote a letter to the governor protesting his innocence. He also requested that he be shot instead of hanged because this was a more appropriate end according to  his religious beliefs. He further asked that his remains be taken care of by a man of his own religion from Sydney, as there were no Imams available in Goulburn Gaol.

On the day before his death in June 1863, Cassim and Abdallah sewed traditional clothing for the occasion. When the day dawned, Cassim donned the simple robe and a hat He embraced his brother tearfully and bravely walked towards the gallows. After the drop, his body twitched for three minutes or more, the unusual length of time was said to be due to his acrobatic profession.

Were the brothers guilty of murder? The circumstantial evidence certainly pointed towards it, but they would probably have been exonerated if they hadn't been jugglers of a different race. Their real crime was their itinerant employment, their shady occupation and their cultural difference. 

Surprisingly, some of the press supported their innocence. However, the government, the law and the conservative society of squatters could not overcome their prejudice. Even in death Cassim was not permitted the dignity of his own religion, his body was carted off and buried in the Church of England cemetery near Goulburn. His brother remained in prison and his fate was not recorded.

In 1867 a young boy minding sheep  found some items of Indian silver lying in the gravel and dirt of Sawpit Creek. The tokens were identified as belonging to the man who had accompanied the Indian jugglers. This find was said to be conclusive proof that he had been murdered by Cassim and Abdallah.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015