Showing posts with label history of australian juggling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history of australian juggling. Show all posts

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Amazing Sparkling life of Frank P Littlejohn- Juggler


Frank Littlejohn, juggler, inventor, parachutist and acrobat had an eventful life that spread across two world wars, a depression and the 1960s social revolution. Frank was an inveterate traveller and skilful performer who juggled his entire life.

Frank Price Littlejohn was born in California in October 1890, his father was a farmer, but Frank obviously felt that farming was not his forte. He apparently had other, bigger, plans.

By the time he was 19, Frank was living in Oregon with the Brennon family. That same year he married 20 year old Clara Brennon. It’s not clear how or why Frank decided to become a juggler, but by 1913 he and Clara were juggling as ‘The Littlejohns’ on the variety circuit.

Not only was he juggling, but Frank had patented his own juggling club design.

In 1914 Frank submitted a design for an Indian club with a difference, it reflected light and was decorated with rhinestones. Frank’s 40 year juggling career was subsequently built on this invention.

Frank’s Juggling Club Patent.


Shortly after the club was patented, the Littlejohns were seen on stage in Chicago by Australian entrepreneur Ben Fuller, who invited them to Australia for a tour.

The pair readily accepted and in 1916 arrived in the country.

Their act was a ‘sparkling’ turn, filled with flashing props and shining costumes.

Axes and clubs set with crystals spun through the air whilst Frank and Clara balanced on a white shining wire. Clara balanced and juggled on a large mirror ball whilst Frank spun plates studded with rhinestones. The effect was a radiant flashy sequence of lights on stage, thrilling the audience with visual wonder

Frank and Clara 1916

The pair toured the whole country, visiting Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and regional areas such as Newcastle in New South Wales. Clara was pregnant and gave birth to their son Robert when the pair were in Sydney.

They remained in the country until February 1917, when they returned to the United States. While in Australia Frank had registered another patent, this time a method of attaching sparkling gems to flexible materials. This too formed the basis of his long career. 

In 1919, Frank and Clara applied for passports for another tour which included Australia. By this time they had two children, Frank and Robert.

Their intention was to travel to Japan, China, South Africa, India, England, Australia and Egypt. They arrived in China in 1920, but tragedy struck. Clara died shortly after giving birth to their third child, who it seems did not survive.

Frank decided to continue and he eventually ended up in Australia.

According to the Australian government, in 1920 he arrived with another woman who he said was his wife. In December 1920 he and this woman were performing in the Sinbad the Sailor pantomime in Melbourne for the Tait Brothers.

It seems that Frank often arrived in random countries without work contracts, hoping for the best. He seemed to have good contacts and a fine reputation amongst Australian managers and readily found work at this time.

The act stayed with the pantomime until February 1921 when it appears Frank returned to the United States for a time. The highlight of the performance in the pantomime according to the papers was the ‘balancing’.

When Frank returned to Australia in May 1921, he brought another lady with him. But this relationship did not last, because Frank had met Melba May Wilmott who became his juggling partner in the ‘Littlejohns’.

They briefly appeared on the Tivoli circuit, but there was little publicity or work available. According to the trade magazines, ‘Littlejohn laid off quite a while in this country waiting for an adequate salary. When it wasn’t forthcoming he decided to beat it.’

 By August he wanted to beat it with Melba. She was a charming 17 year old theatrical from Milton in New South Wales. Her father, George, was a labourer. However, Frank could not take a 17 year old to the United States without her parent’s permission. It seems George may have issued an ultimatum, and Frank and Melba got married in a beautiful church in North Sydney which overlooked the harbour.

Shortly afterwards, they travelled to the United States, to play the vaudeville circuit.

According to Frank, during this period they also performed in Japan during an earthquake. As the last act on stage they had to abruptly leave when the quake hit. When they returned over 1000 rhinestones were missing. The manager apparently explained that this was the audience’s way of showing appreciation.

In 1923 they returned to Australia. They were engaged to Fullers for a period of 28 weeks from August for a dual salary of 40 pounds per week.

Melba and Frank 1920s

It was, at this time, at the beginning of the roaring twenties, that the Littlejohns reached the pinnacle of their fame. Their bright, iridescent act fitted perfectly with the excitement, joy and exuberance of the era, and their high energy light show reflected the optimism of the age.

They entered a stage decorated with blue velvet curtains with elaborate decorations outlined in shining gems. Above them was a spinning vase reflecting a rainbow of lights.

Frank and Melba juggled on large multihued spheres and manipulated axes, dice, plates and their  patented sparkling clubs while dressed head to toe in bedazzled costumes.

It was the visual glamour of the setting that enchanted audiences and embodied the ethos of the age. The reviews concentrated on the set more than their juggling skills, although both performers were acknowledged as talented jugglers.

As one newspaper described it

 ‘The stage, the costumes and every item employed in the act are eye dazzling in a myriad of colours’

The pair were also praised for their prop making skills with Frank claiming to have worked in rhinestones for over 18 years. Frank said that he had provided special props for Broadway productions, circuses and more than a thousand vaudeville acts. He told one newspaper that he had a production house in New York where he paid workers one pound per 1000 rhinestones set.

 The pair played in the Mother Goose pantomime at the end of 1923 and stayed with the show whilst it toured the major cities of Australia.

After their contract with Fullers expired they put together their own touring company which travelled the regions of Queensland.  Then in 1925, the Littlejohn revue company travelled to Asia.

 It seems that Frank, as usual, had not arranged any firm bookings for the company before leaving Australia and without these, the performers were left without money and occupation. Members of the company started leaving. Albert Rees, the pianist quit, Ivy Nicholls left in Hong Kong, whilst Bessie Lester also left. A later report from the Australian government stated that two Australian women were deserted in the Phillipines by the Littlejohns.

The advance manager for the show, Jack Emsworth told a trade magazine that,

‘I am sorry for Littlejohn, he lost a pot of money.’

Frank and Melba cancelled the tour and travelled to the United States. There they performed on the vaudeville circuit. They also ran advertisements in Variety Magazine for Littlejohns Inc, 254 W 46th Street New York. Littlejohns Inc sold 100 rhinestones for two dollars. The price included instructions on a patented method of attaching rhinestones to any material. Littlejohns Inc also offered to rhinestone shoes for 35 dollars a pair. Clearly Frank was trying to make up for his losses from the tour.

In 1929 Frank and Melba returned to Australia to little fanfare. Their exploits in 1925 may have soured the local community against them and the dire economic situation was not promising for theatrical endeavours. The pair had a brief pantomime appearance and then toured Queensland and New Zealand with another company formed from local talent.


In 1930 Frank tried to arrange passports for the troupe to tour overseas, but ran into some difficulties with the authorities. An official Australian government report referred to a 1924 investigation that found that Frank’s ‘moral reputation had little to recommend it.’

Given this and that one of the troupe, 18 year old Winnie May Miller, was under age, the government investigated Frank again. It found that he had no firm bookings in Asia and was inclined to deny permission for the passports

However, Frank provided evidence of good character. He deposited money for a return fare for the women of the group and obtained permission from Winnie’s mother to take her abroad. In addition the Actors Union supported his application, saying they had received no complaints about his behaviour.

Finally the government approved the application for passports, but Frank decided not to proceed. The depression had decimated the theatrical industry. Instead, Frank, with Melba and 18 year old Winnie, travelled to the United States.

Presumably the three of them performed there.

The Littlejohns in the 1940s

Frank and Melba returned to Australia in 1935 for a run with the Tivoli circuit and another Queensland tour with a revue company. They returned again in 1941. The lack of performers during the war led to a mini revival in their Australian career and they spent most of it making sporadic appearances at the Tivoli.

A 1940s Tivoli Program

Frank and Melba continued the travelling life for the next decade. When in Australia and not performing they stayed at Melba’s family home in Milson’s Point in Sydney.

It was there that Frank’s children visited him. One remembers visiting his father around this time.

He lived at Milsons Point in Sydney and kept all his juggling equipment and props in his garage, I would visit after school and we would juggle and roll out the big rhinestone balls on a canvas sheet on the grass. good fun when you are a Kid

Frank continued travelling and performing well into the 1950s. It seems he could not stay in one place for too long. However, it was in Australia that he died in 1967, and despite never becoming a citizen, it was here that he stayed and worked most often.

Frank in the 1950s

Frank still has descendants in Australia and the United States who take a lively interest in the adventures of their famous juggler ancestor.













Saturday, July 9, 2022

Jean Florian and Mariora Florian in Australia


Jean Florian and his sister Mariora were well known jugglers in the 1930s-1940s. Both performed in Australia during the period and Mariora eventually settled in the country.

Jean and Mariora were born in Dresden Germany to Romanian parents. The family name was Matei and their father, Florian Matei, was a gymnast.  Jean and Mariora used Florian, their father’s first name as a stage name, hence Jean Florian, and Mariora Florian (usually just Mariora). Matei, who often travelled with them in their early careers, went by Matei Florian.

In 1929, Jean made his first visit to Australia. He was 19 years old and considered a ‘boy wonder’. The Australian newspapers told a story of how the great Cinquevalli had first ignored Jean, but after being pestered by those who though Jean had talent, decided to train the boy wonder. This was likely publicity spin as Cinquevalli died in 1918.  With the posthumous blessing of Cinquevalli, Jean had quite a successful tour of Australia in 1929.

Jean was described as a ‘remarkably graceful juggler’, but the most remarkable thing about him was his youth and association with Cinquevalli. On this tour, there were few reviews of his juggling, but he, and his father, who accompanied him, must have thought there was promise in Australia because Jean returned 6 years later.

Jean returned in November 1935 and was interviewed when he arrived in Perth with ‘partner’ Kathleen Schmidt. He described his act as an improved form of Japanese juggling that had never been seen in Australia.

A month later he arrived in Melbourne, ready to perform for the Tivoli circuit.

He gave another interview and was asked two very pertinent questions.

What is your hobby? To which he answered, ‘Juggling’

And ‘What is your ambition?’ ‘To be a good juggler’

Jean told the interviewer that he practised 10 hours a day.

Obviously juggling was his obsession.

His performance at the Tivoli in Melbourne was popular with audiences and critics. When the curtain rose he was vigorously skipping with a ball bouncing on his head. He caught balls with the tips of his toes, on the end of a stick held in his teeth, and on the back of his neck. The audience threw balls at him and he would catch them on different parts of his body. His skill and grace were notable and reviews of his act were florid in their praise.

He was labelled as more a magician than juggler because, ‘ balls which ought to drop to the ground halt at the command of Florian’s magic wand.’

The critic added, ‘It is as if he has taken the magnetic property out of the earth and placed it where he will’

He was considered the best juggler to grace Australian shores since Cinquevalli. In Sydney his dextrous juggling and spinning of several balls at once was greeted with standing ovations.

In July, Jean joined Stanley Mckay’s troupe and headed to Brisbane. He was greeted as an international superstar by audiences and was warmly received by the press.

Overall Jean’s tour of Australia was greeted with rapturous applause and critical acclaim.

Jean remained in the country for over 6 months and his warm reception probably influenced the visit of Mariora, his sister two years later.

19 year old Mariora arrived in Australia accompanied by her father Matei in June 1938 and under engagement to the Tivoli. She was described as one of the few lady jugglers in the world and the sister of famous juggler, Jean Florian.

According to the newspapers, Matei had created an academy of jugglers which had spawned Jean. Jean in turn trained Mariora, who first appeared on stage in Europe at age 16.

Mariora spent most of her time in Australia as part of a combined film and vaudeville show. The vaudeville acts filled  the spaces between movies. In 1938, the movie craze was reaching fever pitch in Australia so it was difficult for a young juggler to get much attention.

She was described as a ‘trim and lively little lady, built on springs.’ She juggled tennis racquets and balls and rings ‘in defiance of the laws of gravity.’ One published picture showed her balancing a ball on a stick whilst bending backwards, it was a clear reference to her brother’s act.

Although she stayed in Australia for almost 3 months, Mariora did not have the same impact on audiences as her brother. She returned to Europe to continue her career later in 1938.

Both of the Florians continued juggling in Europe however, the Second World War brought some intrigue and danger to their lives.

Jean’s partner Kathleen was the daughter of the famous Kitty Schmidt who was a brothel keeper in Germany. In in 1940s, Kitty’s brothel became the centre of a Nazi intelligence operation where the loyalties and secrets of World War 2 were tested and traded. The story of this operation has been told in books, a well known film called Salon Kitty and a website.

Jean and Kathleen had a son Jochem in June 1942 and they subsequently married. There are several pictures of them available on the Salon Kitty website.  Jean died in 1945 of pneumonia.

Mariora married a man called Roy Short in England and eventually migrated to Australia. The pair had children and grandchildren and Mariora died in 2005 in Queensland.

Recently Juggling Historian David Cain found lost film of Jean juggling. That footage and David’s commentary can be found here.

Friday, July 8, 2022

The Myrons- Balancers, Acrobats and Jugglers.


The Myrons, jugglers, acrobats and balancers, were features of the Australian stage and circus during the Second World War and beyond. Their voyage from Nazi Germany to Australian citizenship is a classic tale of the variety stage.

Arno Koehler ( Kohler) and Felix Slawinski were both born in Germany. Arno in 1905 and Felix in 1903. Felix was a wrestling champ and Arno a gymnast and they met while training. They paired up and produced a balancing and equilibrist act that astounded and surprised audiences.

In April 1939, the pair travelled to Australia under contract to the Tivoli circuit. Due to tensions with Germany, they were billed as Austrians who did not drink, smoke or keep late hours.

Their first performance was at the Tivoli Melbourne. They were jugglers, balancers and antipodean experts.

Their act was primarily balancing. Felix lay on his back balancing a ladder which Arno climbed. On top of the ladder Arno performed various feats. He stood on his head, he juggled four rings, performed hand stands and then lying on his back, twirled an axle with two large motor wheels with his feet. It was a turn that astonished Australian audiences.

Their tricks were called breath taking, and they were labelled ‘perhaps the finest acrobatic act that Melbourne had seen’.

Arno and Felix were performing as tensions with Germany were increasing. They shared the stage with comedians and satirists who used the international situation as part of their act. One such comedian was American Sammy Cohen who was Jewish. Cohen made jokes about Germany's treatment of their Jewish population. Sammy quipped that he had been offered a job in Germany for a lucrative salary with all funeral expenses paid. Such jokes were plentiful on the Australian stage in 1939 and Arno and Felix who spoke little English must have been the subject of conjecture and suspicion.

However, they were determined to participate in the life of the local community, and before leaving Melbourne for Sydney they contributed to a charity performance in aid of the local children’s hospital.

As war in Europe crept closer, the jugglers performed in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. By September 1939 they were in Melbourne. On September 3, Australia joined England and declared war on Germany.

Felix and Arno became subject to the Alien Registration Act. Their every movement was monitored and they were obliged to register as enemy aliens. As such, they were legally forced to register with the nearest police station if they travelled around the country. They were also fingerprinted and subject to internment in camps of dubious quality in remote areas of Australia. Their livelihoods and freedom were at the whim of the Australian government.

On September 13th both men registered with the St Kilda Police, their fingerprints and photos were taken. Alien 74 and Alien 75 were officially registered and issued with cards confirming this.

Their careers seem to have stalled immediately after war was declared, however, by March 1940 they were working with Wirth's Circus. They travelled around the Australian countryside to towns big and small as the Balancing Myrons. At every stop they registered with the local police and had their alien cards updated.

Unfortunately, working with the circus had unexpected hazards. For example, the circus animals did not recognise the importance of alien registration cards, and this almost caused a catastrophe that could have ended the freedom of the jugglers.

One day while raising the big top, Felix and Arno hung their coats on a fence. A curious elephant strolled by and investigated the contents of their pockets. Finding something papery, the elephant ate the contents. Unfortunately, the appetising papers were actually registration cards 74 and 75.The  Myrons raced to the nearest police station to get them replaced, and the duty officer duly noted that the originals had been eaten by elephants.

However, not all encounters with the authorities were so humorous. In 1941 Japan entered the war and this led to harsher restrictions for enemy aliens in Australia. There was an official ‘round up’ of Japanese people in Sydney, and Wirth’s Circus was targeted. Their alien performers were investigated and a Japanese acrobatic troupe, performing with the circus, was interned.  Felix and Arno escaped this fate and remained safely with Wirths throughout the war.

In 1944, perhaps attempting to avoid internment, the acrobats applied for Australian naturalisation and in 1947 they attained Australian citizenship. That same year they performed with George Formby and followed him to England. In 1948 they performed at the Royal Variety Command performance in front of the Queen.

After touring the world, Arno and Felix returned to Australia to perform in theatres. They were popular and well received wherever they went.

The Myrons, Felix and Arno weathered the storm of World War 2 safely in Australia. They lived their last years in the country. Felix died in Melbourne in 1979 and Arno, who had married and had at least one child, died in Sydney in 1987.

Friday, June 17, 2022



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Friday, June 10, 2022

Les Brunins- Billiard Ball Jugglers


‘She is lovely, she is divine and as shapely in form as she is classical of feature…. He is by no means beautiful’


Such was the description of Les Brunins, French billiard ball jugglers, during their tour of Australia in 1905. The pair returned to the country in 1910 to repeat their success on the Tivoli Stage.

Les Brunins were Jeanne and Maurice Brunin, French natives who came to Australia after touring the English provinces. Jeanne, born Julie Jeanne Joubaud around 1882 was 10 years younger than her husband. According to a 1902 English newspaper, Maurice, originally trained as a circus performer, had known her since she was 9 years old and the two had never parted since being married in Paris in 1901. They had at least two children by the time they arrived in Australia, Marcel and Jeanne.

When they arrived , Jeanne was 23 years old and Maurice 33. One of his first pronouncements upon setting foot in Australia was a declaration that their act was unique and that the billiard balls they used were real.  These were claims he continued to assert aggressively for 20 years.

They were engaged to the Tivoli circuit and began their tour in Sydney in September. They played an unusual kind of billiards using a small table and regular billiard balls. Maurice, taking a cue, bounced balls off the cushion of the table into nets that he carried on various parts of his body. Then Jeanne, in a beautiful orange dress donned a mask and Maurice shot the balls from the table to pockets attached to her head and shoulders.

Maurice blew out a candle with a well struck ball and even played a tune on bells with them. He was said to have a ‘sure aim and remarkable power over his cue.’

 Jeanne also  juggled the billiard balls.

Finally, she removed her elaborate dress, and in tight fleshings rode a bicycle around the stage while Maurice bounced balls from the table onto nets attached to her body. To conclude the act, he lifted wife, bicycle and table onto his back and carried the three off  stage.

Their costumes were elaborate, with Jeanne’s dresses said to be so beautiful that they  ‘ took away the feminine breath’. Their French style made their turn a popular one with Tivoli audiences in Australia.

The pair stayed in the country for three months and then departed for the United States. Their reception there was less enthusiastic.

Variety’s review was luke warm, saying

Juggling. Hammerstein's. For the first appearance in this country Monday afternoon Les Brunins did very well with billiard ball juggling. A man and woman attend to the work and the woman is attractive through her good looks, splendid proportions and the hand- some dress worn at the opening. ……….The juggling is not novel, having been shown by W. C. Fields and Aszra. Several new tricks are shown, and the finish where the woman in fleshings and pantalettes rides a bicycle catching the billiard balls thrown by the man from the table gives a showy close. With fewer misses the act will do easily. The style about it wins.

 Maurice took offence at the implication that the act was copied from Fields or Asra. He immediately wrote to the editor to refute those claims.


Editor Variety:

In Sime’s review of our act last week at Hammerstein’s, he mentioned W. C. Fields and Asra. I wish to let you know that we are the originators of this act. I took an affidavit to that effect in Toledo in 1901. I can prove I was doing this act long before Fields. He will tell you so himself. As for Asra, everyone knows that he has a poor copy of our act. The only difference is that Asra uses rubber balls, while we have real ones. I am absolutely certain if he sees my act now he will try to copy the bicycle trick also.  Of course I do not claim to be the originator of the “jumping ball” Any good billiard player can do that with a little practice, but I do claim to be the originator of every way we catch the balls and of everything we do with them. M. Brunin,


In 1910 Jeanne and Maurice returned to Australia with the same act. Maurice performed with a lady called Liane De Lyle. However, shipping records indicate that this was Jeanne.

Titled ‘ In a billiard Saloon’ Maurice and ‘Liane’  performed feats with billiard balls that ‘displayed remarkable dexterity’

In Adelaide, Maurice ‘ bounced a billiard ball off the cushion of the table, causing it to rebound off a pad which he bore affixed to his forehead. From there a sudden lurch forward on the part of the performer sent the ball spinning back across the stage into a net arranged on the head of the lady artist who was cycling around the floor’

 This remarkable feat drew wild applause in the theatre which had never seen such a unique act on stage. The newspaper described the audience as ‘dumbfounded’ by this trick.


Liane De Lyle’s toilette and costumes were a highlight of the act, and her beauty was much admired by newspaper reporters. However, one point bothered them. The Parisians insisted that the billiard balls they used were ‘real’, an assertion that the reporters found baffling because it seemed unnecessary,

 After leaving Australia, Les Brunins continued performing their billiard act around the world. In 1914 they travelled from Brazil to the USA but were using different names. They were now billed as the Kervilles.

 Variety described their act in 1917 as follows.

 The Kervilles. Jugglers.7 Mins. The Kervilles, man and woman, give most attention to billiard ball juggling off a prop table, much the same as W. C, Fields has done, only the Kervilles neglect the comedy Fields tried for and secured. The woman is pretty and well formed. She rides a cycle in tights toward the ending of the turn. Where this sort of juggling is unknown the act will do nicely, but rather in the opening position.

Maurice, again leapt to defend their originality by responding promptly to this review.

 Editor VARIETY:

In Variety’s notice today of the Two Kervilles, it said we do much the same as W. C. Fields has done, etc. We are the Brunins, the originators of the billiard table acts and W. C. Fields copied his act from us, as may be easily found out at the United Booking Offices, or my agent, H. B. Marinelli. I took out my papers for this act in Toledo in 1900, some years before we returned to France.

M. Kerviile. 26/9/17

 As the three Kervilles, the Brunins performed around the world until the 1920s. After that date they disappear from the records, although the memory of the ‘divine’ Jeanne Brunin remains on a postcard in the Australian Tivoli Artist series of 1905. (pictured above)

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Anita Martell in Australia


Irish born juggler Anita Martell spent most of World War 2 performing in Australia on the Tivoli circuit.

Anita was born in 1916 in Dublin Ireland, her real name was Nita Janette Davidson, though she appears to have used the name Janette. Her father, John Davidson, stage name Martell, was a professional juggler and her mother, Mona Anderson, known as Mona O Leary, was a singer.

The family moved to England when Anita was a child and by the time she was 14 she was performing on stage as a singer and dancer. One day her father saw her playing with tennis balls in the backyard and he decided to train her in his own profession- as a juggler.

John trained her 8 hours a day and she hated it. It took a long time for her to gain confidence in her abilities. The noise of her training became so annoying to the neighbours that the Davidson family had to hire a hall  to avoid their complaints.

At her first juggling audition she dropped regularly, however she was hired and made her professional juggling debut at age 17 with the Windmill theatre in Brixton.

Her career progressed rapidly, and in 1936 and 1937 she appeared in two films, Cabaret and Windmill Revels.

In 1939 she met future husband, singer and performer Len Young. Len’s real name was Louis Yenish he was Jewish and born in England. But the youthful romance did not last and the pair split amicably.

Until the next year when Anita heard Len dedicate a song on the radio to AM. Anita phoned Len and the two reconciled. In 1940 the pair married and shortly afterwards travelled to Australia for a working honeymoon.

London, of course was suffering from German air raids, so the trip to Australia was not only a voyage for work but a bid for safety. Len had been exempted from service, so was free to join his wife.

They arrived in late 1940 and started working immediately. They were contracted to the Tivoli circuit which was suffering from a lack of performers due to war exigencies. Anita’s versatility as a juggler, a singer and a dancer, meant that she was a valuable addition to the Tivoli’s dwindling roster.

In 1940 Anita appeared at the Majestic Theatre in Adelaide in the revue Vogues of Variety as a juggler. She wore long black silk tights, ‘the briefest’ of cloth black shorts, a tailored white waistcoat and black jacket, which complemented her slight 160cm frame, hazel eyes and brown hair.

She juggled tennis balls whilst keeping up a humorous patter and she also juggled hats. She was fast and dexterous, and claimed to be the only feminine juggler in the country. The revue travelled to Sydney and Brisbane where the reviewer said that there ‘was a freshness and vitality to her work which makes it outstanding.’ Her good looks and skimpy outfit were part of her attraction, and most reviews concentrated on these aspects of her performance. Whilst juggling she kept up a humorous patter. One joke revolved around her father, ‘ My father taught me how to do this trick, he can’t do it himself.’

She followed her appearance in Vogues of Variety with Black Velvet, a major revue which travelled all around the country. She was very popular in Brisbane where she gave several interviews to the newspapers including one where she admitted that juggling was exhausting and that she ended every show feeling like a ‘wet rag’. Despite this she still had the energy to take an active interest in fashion and designed most of her own costumes. She also trained at least 2 hours a day.

During 1940 and well into 1941 Anita played almost constantly in various revues around the country. One significant show was the all ladies show, ‘Ladies First’, which was apparently the first all female vaudeville show ever produced ( according to the Australian newspaper) .  One review said it may have ‘lacked the robustness provided by a proportion of masculine turns’ but  ‘there are still sufficient headliners to make a good show’ and it was ‘tuneful and colourful’.

Anita’s husband Len was in many of the shows with Anita and performed vocal impressions and humorous patter. However, Len’s work permit was limited and he was soon battling immigration authorities to stay in the country.

In late 1941 Len’s working permit expired. Anita had no desire to return to England, but Len, who had been exempted from military service, was being forced to leave Australia.

Len had failed the notorious Australian dictation test. The dictation test, a flimsy cover to preserve Australia’s racist “White Australia Policy’ meant that any prospective visitor to Australia could be asked to take a dictation test in any language. If they failed the test they were not allowed to enter or remain in the country.

British born Len had been asked to take a dictation test in Romanian, and had, of course, failed. It is probable that his Jewish heritage played a part in the farcical situation.

Len appealed his proposed deportation and was allowed to remain in Australia for three months but he had to pay a large bond and report to Immigration authorities regularly.

That Christmas, Anita displayed her versatility again by appearing in the annual pantomime Cinderella as ‘Dandini’. In January 1942 Anita appeared in ‘Laughter Express’ and was described as a ‘dapper streamlined young lady’ who promoted the ‘bare leg mode’. The newspapers heartily approved.

Anita and Len disappeared from the Tivoli circuit around April 1942 and Anita returned to prominence in October the next year. They probably temporarily left Australia to sort out Len’s work permit problems. His three month extension expired in April.

From October 1943 to the beginning of 1944 Anita appeared regularly in Tivoli vaudeville revues. She juggled, she sang, she danced, and she supported names like Ethel Formby, sister of George, and Roy Rene- Australia’s superstar comedian.

War time shortages were beginning to hit stage props by 1944 and Anita was having difficulty getting silk to line her hats. This was considered a minor inconvenience in the latter stages of the conflict.

In February 1944 Anita left Australia and travelled to California. She travelled under two names, Janette Yenish and Anita Martell. She gave her last permanent residence as ‘Tivoli Theatres Australia.’ She had been in the country for most of the last 4 years.

In 1946 Anita performed in a USO show in Guam, but she returned to the mainland US regularly. She travelled to France and back to the US and in 1951 married Californian humourist Roger Taylor Price. Anita and Price worked on the TV show ‘How to’ for CBS  together. The marriage lasted a year, and mentions of Anita are rare from that date.

She is said to have died in the United States in 2000.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Kremo Family in Australia.


Between June and October 1910 the most accomplished Risley act in the world, The Kremo family, visited Australia.

It was Harry Rickards, the legendary owner of the Tivoli who brought them to Australia, and it was Cinquevalli, the equally legendary juggler, who persuaded him to do so.

Rickards was in Blackpool England, chatting to his good friend and reliable money maker, Paul Cinquevalli when the juggler introduced him to Silvester Kremo. Rickards checked out the act and invited Silvester and his family to Australia. It took 5 years for them to get here, because they were so popular.

10 members of the Kremo family arrived in Sydney in June 1910 including Silvester, the leader, his wife, Victor and  Leon, who were twins, Eugenie, Ella, Emma, Frances and an infant.

The Kremos were experts in Risley work,  acrobatics with the feet. Their specialty was tossing a human being from one person lying on their back to another lying on their back . The youngster who was tossed like a football during the Australian tour was not a relative, because, as Silvester told a reporter, ‘even the most obliging of parents cannot be expected to keep up a supply of light youngsters.’

The four sisters were interviewed in Sydney, and were full participants in the show. They practised every day, but they told reporters that practice was like play to them. Eugenie, the eldest, was the only woman in the world who laid on the cushion and juggled people

They played in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and were greeted with wild applause in every city.

In Melbourne the performance was described as;

A stage filled with whirling, bounding, spinning figures whose gold spangled vestments are a blaze of light

The turn included a bit where three Kremos laid on their back and tossed three other Kremos from one to the other. A small boy, dressed in a checkered costume was a highlight, as he was thrown from Kremo to Kremo like a rubber ball .

The Kremos stayed in Australia until October when they sailed away for another 6 years of solid bookings.

The poor quality photos are from contemporary newspapers.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Joseph (Joe) Jalvan - Juggler

Minstrel troupes were always popular in Australia, and none were more popular than those brought to the country by the remarkable and amazing Orpheus McAdoo.

McAdoo was born a slave in North Carolina, began performing with Loudin's minstrels, and finally became an entrepreneur, touring African American minstrel troupes around the world.

In the 1890s he took his team to South Africa, and on a scouting trip to the US for more talent, he found juggler, Joseph Jalvan.

Joseph was reportedly born in Pensylvania, and worked with McCabes minstrels in Philadephia and Cuba in the early 1890s. In the latter country he was so popular that a fan gave him a diamond pin.

In 1897 he joined McAdoo in South Africa and was very popular there too. However, the prospect of war led McAdoo to decide to take the troupe to Australia and they arrived  in 1898.

Jalvan was a juggler, balancer and magician. He juggled plates, spun tops and balanced pipes, and a live pigeon.

You can see Joseph balancing various objects on top of some clay pipes held in his mouth in the picture below which comes from an Australian newspaper.

During his tour of Australia, Jalvan seems to have had a falling out with his boss and with some other performers started his own touring group, He married a local woman, Catherine Webb and left Australia to continue his juggling career in the United States. He was juggling up to 1929, where he seems to disappear from the records.

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