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

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Paula Coutts- Australian Juggler

 The Southern suburbs of Sydney was an unusual place to find a female juggler in 1948, but that was the home of one of Australia’s most successful exports, Pauline Coutts.

Pauline, known professionally as Paula, was born in Sydney in 1930. Her father Arthur (b1904)  was a balancer and had appeared as a minor player on the Australian variety circuits before she was born. He encouraged his daughter in his profession and Paula’s first appearance was at 9 years old, in a picture taken at Bondi Beach. In the picture,  Arthur balances on one hand whilst Paula has her body wrapped around him. Thus began a successful vaudeville partnership- Paul and Pauline.

Before they got their professional start, both Pauline and Arthur worked for some time for the local post office in Kogarah. But fame was too enticing and when Pauline turned 18, father and daughter left Australia for the bright lights of England.

As Paul and Pauline, the pair toured the English provinces , Wales and Scotland for about 3 years.  Sometimes Pauline would perform twice, once with her father and once as Paula Coutts , lady juggler. In 1949 Paul and Pauline were presenting head and other balancing , feats of endurance and dental work. Paula was also juggling on the same bill. Advertisements from the time call her ‘cute and clever.’

In 1951 they returned to Australia. A picture was published in the local newspaper of Paula, doing the splits, balancing her father. It was an odd counterpoint to their original visual debut on Bondi Beach.  

At this time, Arthur seems to have returned to the post office, but Paula, in her unusual occupation as lady juggler, revisited  England. She was described as ‘a dainty Australian juggler’ ‘attractive’, and as presenting some unusual feats in her ball juggling specialty. Paula mainly juggled with balls, and was a skilful snooker player. 

Another performance during this time, was a spot in the Gene Kelly film, Invitation to the Dance. Paula appears in the circus segment, dressed as a clown, juggling balls and clubs. In a later interview Paula said ‘ Gene Kelly’s got what it takes.’

In celebration of her celluloid debut, her dad gave a brief interview to a local Sydney paper. He dismissed her juggling skills saying, ‘she was the worst of the lot’ , but ‘ she has the personality’. According to the proud father, Gene Kelly had wanted a boy juggler for the role, but was so impressed with Pauline that he offered her the part.  Arthur’s attitude towards Paula’s juggling was fairly typical at a time when female jugglers were rare. Unfortunately, her skills were often disregarded in favour of comments on her physique or personality.

In 1952 Paula joined other entertainers on a tour to the Middle East to entertain the troops.

In 1953 she returned home for a brief visit and was greeted by newspaper reports. She was quoted as being a smog refugee travelling home  for her health. The report was accompanied by Paula juggling three balls in a bikini. She was described as ‘small and shapely with a mass of red curls’. Her plan was to reunite with her father as Paul and Pauline. 

In 1954 the pair performed together  for the Hot Ice spectacular as the only non-skating act. Off stage, they gave the skating star, Pat Gregory, juggling lessons between performances. Hot Ice toured Australia for six months visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. 

Paula’s appearances in Australia were sporadic over the next few years, She appeared in RSL clubs and for charity galas in the suburbs. In 1961 she joined a large cast in a show called Yellzapoppin. The show successfully toured New Zealand and Paula was pictured tossing tennis racquets in a photo spread. 

By 1963 she was back in England. She appeared in TV shows such as The Good Ol Days for the BBC and joined and performed for the CAA ( Creative Artists Association.) In 1964 she was described as ‘ that rarity, a girl juggler, not only efficient but dauntingly attractive.’  By 1973 she was back in Australia appearing on the Bert Newton Show.

From this date references to Paula juggling are quite rare. There is some evidence that she may, in later life, have taken to TV acting. It seems she passed away in 2022.

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