Showing posts with label jugglers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jugglers. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Jugglers ( and others) at the Sydney Tivoli 1901-1903

 Once upon a time, Sydney had wonderful buildings like this;

Harry Rickards' Tivoli Theatre in Castlereagh Street.

Between the years 1901-1903 Rickards imported the best of the world's vaudeville talent, and supported the best of Australian Vaudeville talent too.

Amongst his amazing performers during those years were;

Lennon, Hyman and Lennon- Australian club jugglers and passers who were the main local exponents of the art. They had a long career as a partnership and Bert Lennon went on to manage the Tivoli in Adelaide. Bert was a legendary member of the South Australian theatrical community all his life.

The above is the group in 1906 when they were performing for William Anderson in Sydney.

However, back to 1901-1903 and the  Tivoli.

Another legendary group of local juggers were the Lentons. They were hat jugglers.

The two male Lentons started juggling as children. The name Lenton was associated with hat juggling in Australia for over a decade.

But it was Rickards' ability to import the best performers in the world to Australia that made the Tivoli legendary.

Derenda and Breen were high class club jugglers from the US and allegedly introduced the game of netball to Australia.

The Harbecks were some of the only hoop jugglers and rollers in the world. 

Of course the best juggler in the world was this guy who came to the Tivoli in 1902 for the second time.

The incomparable Cinquevalli.

However, this guy who came in 1903 was pretty highly regarded too.

W C Fields. By the time Fields got to Sydney his wife, Hattie, had joined him. She apparently added a lot to the humour of his totally silent act. 

 It wasn't only jugglers that Rickards imported.

Sandow was a huge draw for the Tivoli.

And these performers, French, look like fun.

Of course it cost a bit to get to the Tivoli.

And some audience members might have had to forget about buying dainty footwear from Grace Brothers.

But it would have been worth every penny.!

All this material comes from programmes held at the State Library of NSW. The programmes are bound in a book format and they are getting very fragile now.

I'm not sure how long they will last, but I hope the library takes steps to preserve these lovely souvenirs of our cultural (and juggling) heritage.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Ossie Delroy...mmmm was that really his name? with Jimmy Wallace.....mmmmm was that really his name?

This amazing two page spread of Ossie Delroy and Jimmy Wallace comes from Everyone's Magazine in 1940. Ossie was a legend in the juggling world and travelled overseas to entertain the troops in World War 2.

I suspect his real name was not Ossie Delroy, and I also suspect that his mate, Jimmy was actually James Bell who lived in Marrickville with his sister Florence...

I will be confirming this in the future- I hope.

And look at those clubs- how clunky are they?


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 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)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Australia's early circus jugglers.

Circus and Juggling seems to be a natural association, and so it proved in early 19th Century Australia. Whilst the main attraction of early circus was equestrian feats, juggling was included as another, less important, feature. The Australian circus began in Tasmania in 1847, and by the 1850s several different circuses had evolved. The gold rush which started in 1851 led to further demands for entertainment and a consequent increase in circus activity.

One of the early exponents of circus in Australia was James Ashton and juggling played an important role in his show from the very beginning. In fact, as early as 1849, in Melbourne, he had a benefit which featured Monsieur Risley, a juggler. By 1852, Ashton was in New South Wales and promising juggling, balancing and acrobatic feats for the entertainment of people in Singleton, a country town.

Ashton seems to have also performed Risley juggling, that is juggling people with the feet. This type of juggling was named after Richard Risley Carlisle who introduced it in the USA in the early 1840s. However, this was not the same Risley who performed with Ashton in Melbourne in 1849. Ashton also seems to have juggled other items with his feet, this is known as ‘foot juggling’. There is some evidence that Ashton popularised foot juggling in Australia, as one of his apprentices, Robert Taylor, was well known for this skill.

Taylor, born in Windsor New South Wales, was foot juggling in Sydney by 1855, firstly with Ashton and later with Burton’s Circus. An early picture of juggling published in the newspapers, showed Mr R Taylor upside down laying on his back, with a large ball balanced on his foot. Taylor is dressed in a one-piece frilled body suit which resembled the costume of a clown. His lower legs are encased in decorated stockings and his feet covered by flat pointed shoes with bows. In 1857, Taylor performed at the goldfields at Bendigo with Burton’s circus. In this performance he put a large ball ‘through a variety of evolutions moving it with the same facility with his feet as if they were his hands.’ He also stilt walked and balanced on a large ball whilst juggling.

Ashton was not the only circus proprietor at this time, in Sydney his circus had a rival, Malcolm’s Royal Australian Amphitheatre. At Malcolm’s they had a house juggler called Signor Cardoza, called the juggling king, who performed a ‘grand juggling act on a courser’, a horse.

Another competitor who arrived around 1852 was Henry Burton.  On Boxing Day that year he introduced his Grand Fete at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel at Botany Bay Sydney. It featured his great equestrian artistes, including Major John Downey, who juggled whilst his horse galloped at full speed, and an equilibrist who, on the back of a white horse, spun plates and manipulated other items.
It seems therefore that object manipulation was a major part of the circus tradition, although only a tangential part of the show. Juggling complemented feats of equestrian acrobatics, probably played a role with the clowns and tumblers and was in the skill set of most circus performers.

The discovery of gold in Australia changed everything for entertainers in the country. It brought wealth, thousands of people, and a multicultural mix to the small insular society. This resulted in a higher demand for shows, and many circuses responded by becoming itinerant and visiting the gold fields, chasing the money of those who were chasing their dream.

With this desire for more entertainment came a requirement for more performers. One way the circus met the demand was by adopting or acquiring unwanted Aboriginal children.   One of these was a young indigenous boy, nicknamed ‘little nugget’. In 1852 the young boy was juggling with Burton’s circus near the gold fields at the Commercial Hotel Bathurst. He performed as one of the jugglers of Antwerp, ‘spinning plates and throwing balls’.

The young man was ‘adopted’ or kidnapped, as many young Aboriginal children were, and trained in circus as an added, exotic attraction Later he was renamed ‘Billy Jones’ after John Jones, a former Burton employee who left to form his own circus and took Billy with him. Billy Jones was the first  documented Aboriginal person to perform in a circus, he was an acrobat, juggler, equestrian and superb performer.

By the 1860s circus had become a featured entertainment in Australia and juggling was part of the show. These early jugglers were some of the first to introduce juggling to large Australian audiences and from them comes a large part of the Australian juggling tradition.

- A lot of the background information for this article, particularly about 'Billy Jones',  comes from Dr Mark St Leon's superb book, Circus The Australian Story

If you are interested in present day juggling try Sydney Juggling

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...