Showing posts with label juggler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label juggler. Show all posts

Sunday, October 23, 2022

An Encaged Bird- Elimar the Juggler Part One

 This three part article on Elimar was inspired by David Cain's short mention here. I want to thank Elimar's daughter, Robyn, for taking the time to chat with me about her father. A lot of the information comes from official documents in the Australian Government Archives and newspaper accounts.

Part Two   Part three

 Elimar, the juggler who walked on a slack wire, was a promising young performer who took his act around the world in the late 1930s. However, his career was derailed during World War 2 when he was interned in Australia for six years.

Elimar Clemens Buschmann was born in Cologne Germany on November 18, 1917, to August Buschmann and Martha Meuller. He was the third and youngest son of the couple.

When he was 14, just before the Nazis came to power, Elimar left school, apparently against the wishes of his parents. He later told an Australian newspaper that he ran away to join the circus.

‘My parents found me already launched on a tight rope walking career and took me back home. They made me promise never to walk a wire again. However, when they found how interested I was, they released me from my promise and facilitated the study I have given to wire walking.’

It seems that Elimar was a wire walker before being a juggler. He found his first employment locally in Cologne, Dusseldorf and in other towns close to home, but his first international tour was to Switzerland. 

After this he began touring Europe, he claimed to have performed in France, the United States, and shared beer with the King of Denmark.  In Australia he told the press an exciting story about an adventure in Budapest where he was abducted and forced to impersonate a local prince.

‘Once I got used to the idea it was good fun- until a frantic girl, probably one of the prince’s discards, burst into the palace with a gun’

Elimar claimed to have been injured by one of the three shots she fired, but fortunately he survived the ordeal.  The journalist reporting this story doubted its veracity, but enjoyed its telling, proving that Elimar, even at a young age, was a skilled raconteur. 

Elimar from an early programme.

What is true is that in 1938 he was performing at the Palladium in London. In January the next year he was back in Germany and obtaining an exemption from military service from the government. Elimar was sending money to his parents regularly, and he believed this was the reason the government gave him an exemption.  

He returned to England in 1939. There was lots of war talk at the time but Elimar, at 22 years old and obsessed with his career, thought little of it.  When performing in London in April, he was spotted by Australian Frank Neil, who ran the Tivoli circuit. Neil booked Elimar for an Australian tour at around 50 pounds a week. The fair haired, 6 foot tall, lightly built young German juggler was on his way to Australia and was enthusiastic and excited about the adventure.

He left England in August 1939 on the Moloya. It was an eventful journey. On September 3, whilst Elimar was at sea, England declared war on Germany and Australia declared war the same day. The next port of call for the Moloya was Bombay, India, a British Colony, where Elimar and the other German passengers were interned for three weeks. The internment policy at that time was quite relaxed, so the internees were released to continue their journey to Australia after signing a document stating that they would take no action to harm the British Empire.  But more drama ensued when Elimar got into an argument with a fellow passenger about lights. Due to war time restrictions, all sea traffic had to travel in darkness, so there were strict rules about smoking on board and lights in the cabins. Elimar claimed that he had chastised a refugee for smoking in the open, while others claimed that Elimar had ignored the order to dim the lights in his cabin. The facts were disputed, but the German juggler and enemy alien was reprimanded, and a record was kept of the incident.  

He finally arrived in Australia in October 1939. For the first three weeks he stayed in Melbourne and relaxed, then he appeared on the Tivoli stage in November. He performed in a revue called, Carry On. The act was very well received by the Tivoli audience.

 He started on the floor, proving to be a skilled juggler with his feet on the ground, then moved to a slack wire and astonished the crowd with his abilities. Amongst his feats were juggling 8 hoops whilst balancing on one leg, and the highlight, standing on the loose rope, swinging a hoop on one leg, balancing a ball on a stick suspended from his mouth, and juggling eight hoops at the same time. The newspapers called him a ‘juggling genius’ and the ‘world’s greatest juggler on a wire’. His feats were described as ‘truly miraculous’ and he was touted as being ‘the only man in the world who has achieved what hitherto was termed impossible.’

He spent five weeks at the Tivoli in Melbourne and six weeks performing in Sydney. Tragedy struck the Tivoli circuit in January the next year, when Frank Neil, the man who had hired Elimar, died, and new management took over the theatre chain. Yet the performances continued. In February 1940 he juggled in Queensland at the Regent Theatre, entertaining between movies, in March he appeared in South Australia, but it seems his Tivoli contract expired shortly afterwards.  

Elimar was a German alien in an Australia at war. Almost immediately after war was declared, the Australian authorities had rounded up and interned known fascists and members of the local Nazi party. Other enemy aliens, including visitors such as Elimar, were subjected to stringent rules. He was obliged to inform the authorities when he left the police district or travelled more than 5 miles from his lodging, was required to visit the local police station regularly and sign yet another document stating that he would not do anything detrimental to the British Empire. However, in general, the Australian government was quite casual about enemy aliens. There was no urgency to intern them as facilities and money were an issue, and the authorities felt that their round up of German fascists, who they had been watching for some time, was sufficient to keep the country secure.

In April 1940, Elimar disobeyed the rules. He was lodging at the Alexandra Hotel in Melbourne and reporting to the local police station as required. One Monday after fulfilling his duty he was drinking at the hotel, when his friend, George Nichols, Australian comedian, and fellow Tivoli performer, invited him to go to Dimboola to shoot quail. Elimar thought this was a great idea and spent almost a week in the country with George and a group of Germans, to whom, on George’s advice, he posed as Danish.   They had an enjoyable trip and went to the annual military ball. However, when Elimar returned to his hotel in Melbourne that Friday, a detective was waiting for him. He was arrested and interned at Tatura internment camp for not informing the authorities of his movements.

He was swiftly released and after paying a 10 pound fine, was free to perform again.

Elimar from a newspaper 1940

In May 1940 he was touring Queensland with George Sorlie, a local vaudevillian and aspiring impresario. Also on the tour were several local performers including Buddy Morley, who was infatuated with Dawn Butler, a teenager, who assisted Elimar during his act. They toured the north of Queensland under a canvas tent and the group was warmly welcomed and applauded every night.

In Brisbane in July, Elimar gave an interview to a local paper, where he claimed to be Danish, and told the story of being abducted in Budapest.

That month, Elimar was happily performing with little care for events in the outside world. But the situation with the Allies had changed, the phoney war was over, and it was becoming increasingly real to Australians. Germany had invaded Denmark, and France had signed an armistice with the Nazis. The Allies situation looked bleak and somebody in the performing arts community did not think Elimar was fully supporting their effort.

‘Actors’ in the vaudeville community reported him to the authorities. Apparently Elimar had said ‘you will all be speaking German soon’, had openly made comments supporting Germany, and was having arguments about the war with fellow performers.  Elimar subsequently denied these allegations and suggested that professional jealousy may have caused some ill will. His salary was enormous compared to the wages of local performers.  However, the authorities decided that there was enough evidence of Nazi sympathies, and he was detained again.

In July, he was arrested in Brisbane and interned in Gaythorne internment camp, where he remained until October.  From there he was transported to Tatura internment camp in Victoria. He was to spend the next six years in Tatura as a prisoner of the Australian government.





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