Showing posts with label James Howells. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Howells. Show all posts

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Australian Creightons


The Australian Creightons found Australia too small and travelled to the United States, only to have the love of a woman break up the pair.

The Creightons, juggling acrobats were two young Victorian men who met in a gymnasium in the Victorian suburbs around 1909. Fred Creighton, was the shortest and the eldest of the two. His partner, Jim Howell, known almost always as Jim Creighton, was a tall red-haired extrovert.

Fred was born in Richmond around 1890. Jim was born in Prahan, between 1890 and 1893. The pair later said they met at a gymnasium and their first appearances were suburban ones. They are first mentioned in 1910 at the Prahan Town Hall at a charity concert and by the end of that year they performed with The City Entertainers in Ballarat.  Over the next two years they built a reputation in that city as a unique pair of juggling acrobats. Their original act involved acrobatics, hand balancing and juggling. Fred was short and Jim tall, so the contrast in their build caused much comment.

In 1912 they got a big break and toured New Zealand. Described as the ‘most expensive’ juggling act to visit that country, they performed for almost 6 months with the Belle Crome company. Their act involved acrobatics, juggling and comedy and their ability to juggle in ‘unison’ was remarkable. Reviewers praised their novelty and one stated that their act was ‘mildly sensational.’

The good reviews in New Zealand led to a long booking on the Fullers circuit. In Sydney at the National Amphitheatre in 1913 they received plaudits and applause.

They juggled six clubs, three each,  whilst switching hats and cigars between them. Jim also juggled clubs whilst perched on Fred’s shoulders. Jim was the better juggler, whilst the smaller Fred was more acrobatic. They used their height difference to comedic advantage and were generally considered a unique and exciting juggling turn.

Jim later said

 When I started out in vaudeville I did not expect to get a high salary, but I certainly expected to be recognised when I started to do big business for the firm I was with. I knew I was as good as some of the imported turns, but I found that I stayed on the same old mark, whereas the turns coming here from England or the United States were getting two to three times as much as I. I decided to try my luck in America.’

Just after Jim’s 21st birthday in 1914, he and Fred left for the United States. They both travelled under the name Creighton. Jim later said that ‘Australia was too small’ He claimed that the limited opportunities in his home country resulted in audiences becoming bored with the same act. The many agents and theatres of the United States gave the pair more chances to show their skills in front of various audiences.

At first they performed for the small Plantagenet circuit, showing three times a day including Sundays. It was a brutal introduction to American vaudeville.  But soon the act was picked up by the gigantic Orpheum circuit where they played only twice a day and were, as Jim put it, ‘on easy street’ and ‘earning more money than I ever thought possible.’

 Their reviews were good, they were regarded as ‘a breath of fresh air’ after one show, and at another they ‘displayed exceptional skill in all their efforts’.

In 1917, both were living in New York and had to sign papers about their wartime service eligibility. Fred said he was unfit for duty, with bad teeth and poor eyesight, whilst Jim said he was perfectly healthy.

But love broke up the act. Sybil Warren, a young English dancer caught Fred’s eye and the juggling duo split.

In 1919, Fred returned to Australia with Sybil to introduce her to the family, and unbeknownst to him, Jim also returned.

When Harry Lauder offered them a place with his troupe during his Australian tour that year, they reunited. Fred was probably persuaded because Sybill was offered a role too.  In 1920 they performed in the annual pantomime Mother Hubbard. They toured New Zealand as part of the pantomime tour and stayed for some time, but when it concluded they again parted.

Fred said he had plans to travel to the UK with Sybil and it seems they may have done this. Jim however remained in Australia to have a long and prosperous career.

to be continued