Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Stan Kavanagh- Australian Juggler

Juggling is one of the most democratic activities imaginable, anybody who can throw a ball in the air and catch it, can juggle. It appeals to the most basic of human instincts and when mastered can provide hours of enjoyment and relaxation.

However, juggling has not always been considered in such a positive way. In the early years of the Australian colony, the term 'juggler' was a metaphor for cheat, liar and swindler. The juggler was associated with corruption, even moreso than the usual theatrical, and even worse, it was associated with the 'east', Asia, the heart of licentiousness. Or at least that's how our ignorant ancestors saw it.

It wasn't until the advent of Cinquevalli, the greatest exponent of the art, that juggling became fashionable. After Cinquevalli, jugglers made regular appearances in the popular theatres, even at the Tiv. (My article for stage whispers on Cinquevalli)

So it was interesting to follow the career of a native Australian juggler, Stan Kavanagh, a Victorian boy whose juggling skills took him around the world.

Stan ( Arthur Stanislaus Kavanagh) was born in Wangaratta  in 1889 the son of a bank manager. As a boy he saw a juggler perform in a travelling circus troupe. Stan was intrigued and from that day juggling became his passion. By 1907, Stan and his older brother Frank were performing on the variety circuit in the major cities, firstly the  Brennan circuit and then the Tiv.  They formed a good team and as the Kavanagh brothers, specialised in juggling clubs and racquets... their racquet juggling was highly praised in the press.

They travelled to England and during World War 1 were stuck there. Frank had married in 1911 and he was growing tired of the juggling trade. In 1916, after Stan married Henrietta Richards, Frank left the act.

Stan however maintained his obsession.

In 1922 he scored a spot supporting the legendary Harry Lauder. He performed with Lauder in England and in Australia the following year. In 1924 Stan, probably following Lauder, went to the US. Eventually he became an American citizen.

Stan continued to build a reputation as a fine exponent of club juggling and his career reached a high point in the 1930s when he appeared in a film, and in the Ziegfeld follies. As the magistrate in the follies of 1936, Stan shared the stage with Fanny Brice, Bobby Clarke and most amazing of all, Gypsy Rose Lee. Stan had come a long way from Wangaratta.

In the 1940s, Stan enlisted with the US army, and then toured Australia as part of a USO group. It seems he had started to juggle light objects- constant club juggling would have been tough on older muscles- he was best known as a comedy juggler, and was very well liked in the US juggling community. He even had a nickname- 'Kavvy.'

Information about Stan becomes sparse in the 1950s, but it seems he visited Australia again and continued to juggle. I think he died around 1956-57, but I'm hoping to confirm this.

Stan was an amazing man who showed how far the fine art of juggling combined with steely determination can take you. Stan said that if it wasn't for that circus troupe, he would have been a bank teller......he must have thanked them every day of his life.....

(Both pix from US newspapers- first from the NY Times at the time of his appearance in the Follies. Info about Stan and Frank's life events comes from newspaper articles and relevant Bdm websites.  The clubs in the first pic look like wooden one piece clubs- nowadays clubs are synthetic, lighter and more aerodynamic)

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