Ollie Young – An Early Juggling Innovator

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Ollie Young 1900

Ollie Young (1875 – 1946) was born Oliver R. Young in Columbus, Ohio (USA) to John and Madeline Young. He was a member of a large pioneer family and had at least three brothers and three sisters. As a boy, he worked as a courier for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper and would often deliver messages to William G. McKinley, then governor of Ohio, and later President of the United States. It isn’t known when or how he learned to juggle, but one strong possibility is that he was an early assistant of William Everhart, the originator of hoop rolling. Both men lived in Columbus, Ohio and Young was certainly one of the earliest hoop rolling jugglers, sometimes even credited as the first to do the act.

Regardless of how and when he learned, by 1895, at the age of 20, Ollie Young was a talented juggler, best known for his work with clubs. A review from that year from a performance in nearby Marion, Ohio states, “Ollie Young is a juggler of jugglers. Young’s performance with the clubs is absolutely the best we have ever seen on any stage. No use talking, the grand entree was the hit of the show It was superb.” Young was the first juggler ever seen by famous club juggler and prop maker Harry Lind. Lind wrote, “In the spring of 1898 I saw Ollie Young with Field’s Minstrels and that summer at Celoron Park. After the park season closed Ollie came here and practiced at Allen’s Opera House before going to New York City to open at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall. I was a privileged character at the Opera House and so was permitted to watch Ollie practice. He was a great club juggler, doing four club tricks, foot balance, and the three clubs thrown right and left between legs. Though I have seen many do this latter trick since, no one in my opinion equaled the ease with which Ollie accomplished it. He first did four clubs at Hartman’s Opera House, Columbus, Ohio in 1898, at the start of the season with Field’s Minstrels. Ollie had a one sheet litho showing him using four clubs, a copy of which is in my collection, and to my knowledge this is the only “one sheet” to be used by a club juggler.” Ollie Young was credited by his contemporaries as the inventor of kick ups with clubs, using the step over, crossed legged version. He was also one of the first to do complex tricks with three and four clubs. He and Morris Cronin were considered the best club jugglers prior to the start of the twentieth century. In 1900, Ollie Young was the first juggler included in Edward Van Wyck’s “America and Europe’s Greatest Jugglers” with a billing of “Greatest Of All” and “World’s Superior Club Expert.” It is known that Young was with the Field Show for two seasons and then spent a season with the Lew Dockstader Minstrels near the beginning of his career.

In 1901, Young began performing with one of his brothers as “Ollie Young and Brother.” The name of the brother is never mentioned, which may be due to the fact that he used various brothers at differing times. Advertisements, photos, and reviews for “Ollie Young and Brother” can be found from 1901 to 1909. This pairing marked a major shift for Young, for no mention of him juggling clubs is ever made once he took a partner. The majority of the act now consisted of hoop rolling, with some boomerang throwing and diabolo work included as well. Young was one of the first, if not the first, to perform with boomerangs on the vaudeville stage. In 1906, Ollie Young and Brother toured with Ringling Brothers.

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Ollie Young and Brother 1902

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Ollie Young and Brother 1903

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Ollie Young and Brother 1904

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Ollie Young and Brother 1901

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Ollie Young And Brother- Ringling Brothers 1906

In 1907, the first of several major changes occurred in Ollie Young’s life and career. Ollie added two more brothers to form “Ollie Young and Three Brothers.” This quartet continued to perform hoop rolling, diabolo, and boomerang throwing. They performed for four years. A review from San Francisco, CA in 1909 states: “Ollie Young and his brothers are a unit in intention and fact. They do hoop rolling daily with diabolos and toss boomerangs about with consummate ease and certainty. They roll hoops from the broad stage up slender threads, and toy with the laws of inertia and gravitation as though they made them. Their act is not sensational, but it is neat, clean and without a quiver of uncertainty.”

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Ollie Young and Brothers 1909

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1909

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1907

In 1908, 33 year old Ollie married Adah Bedford, by all accounts a stunningly beautiful and charming young woman 13 years younger than her groom. She began to learn the skills of her husband right away, but did not yet join the act. Ollie Young and his brothers continued to perform, during which time Ollie developed a new act with Adah, now known as April. In 1909, “Ollie Young and April” debuted the act that would set them apart from other acts and which they would do for the next 38 years. It was the blowing, manipulating, and juggling of soap bubbles. While the couple continued to perform hoop rolling, diabolo, and boomerang throwing, it was their work with soap bubbles that mesmerized audiences and brought them true fame. By 1910, Ollie and his brothers finished up their contracts and from that point on, it was Ollie and April as a duo. Reviews of their act, which can be read below, were consistently very positive and usually included some comment on April’s beauty. Despite their fame and press, I was not able to locate any pictures of them together and found only one picture of April, also seen below.

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“Ollie Young and April, “Novelty Manipulators,” appearing at the Majestic Theater, presented what is undoubtedly the most unique vaudeville feature ever produced at this popular theater. The act opens with some clever pieces of hoop rolling, Young and three brothers having been the first to present the hoop rolling act to the American audience – needless to say that part of the act is good. The greatest feature consists in scientific soap bubble blowing and the juggling of the bubbles; astounding the audience with the uniqueness and cleverness. A good exhibition of diabolo playing also tends to make the act the headliner that it is on any bill. The costuming of the couple, their classy appearance and at “homeness” on the stage going a long way to finish off the success of the act. Miss April’s remarkable beauty of the pronounced blonde style, adds a tone to the act that fits its high class. Young and April come to the Majestic direct from the Grand Opera House, Pittsburgh.” Beaver, PA 1910

“Bubbles, frail things at their best, form a good part of the Bell Theater’s bill this week. Ollie Young and April disprove the ancient belief that an act is only as strong as the details making it up.   For here have we bubbles, soap bubbles as the feature of the “stunt” and the audience has a delightful time watching them.  Young and April do almost everything with bubbles but make a diet of them.  They Juggle with the elusive things cut then in twain, decorate their Interior with cigarette smoke, send them scooting over the house and start them on a merry bounce down the chutes. It is a darkening back to kid days, this soapy act, but it bubbles over with novelty, and that’s a great thing in these days of vaudeville. The team also prove adepts at the scientific game of diabolo and add a new thing or two to a large collection in the performer’s box of tricks.” Oakland, CA 1912

 “There is a scientific way to blow soap “bubbles” and Ollie Young and April show how it is done. They also display great skill in diabolo, juggle furniture, and introduce rolling hoops, making them twist and turn apparently at will.” San Francisco 1912

 “A distinct novelty will be presented by Ollie Young and April. April, by the way, is a bewitching girl who assists Mr. Young in a scientific soap bubble juggling and diabolo act. There is some boomerang throwing and hoop but the bubble feature is the incident which has made the specialty one of the most talked about acts of the season.” Allentown, PA 1913

“Next were Ollie Young and Adah April, “novelty manipulators” of bubbles. They make soap bubbles do all kinds of unheard of stunts. They roll and bounce them all over the stage, as though the bubbles were made out of rubber. Ollie and Adah also have a booth where they sell their bubble ingredients between acts.” Bangor, Maine 1913

“Ollie Young, the fanciful juggler, assisted by his pretty and graceful feminine partner, April, offer a real novelty. They specialize in bubble blowing, and make the soap bubbles perform the most amazing tricks imaginable. When the exhibition closes the stage is filled with rolling and floating bubbles, the picture being a gorgeous one.” Richmond, VA 1917

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Ollie and April continued to perform for close to four decades. They toured Europe twice, but mostly stayed in the United States. At one time Ollie was part owner of the B. F. Keith Theater. He was one of the founders of the National Vaudeville Artists Union and was a member of that organization’s board of directors. Ollie and April were well known for their charitable work with  the underprivileged in the Columbus, Ohio area, where Ollie lived his entire life. Ollie also produced shows, including several of the late Ziegfeld Follies, both on the Winter Garden Roof and in the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City, NY. The couple retired from performing in 1937. Ollie passed away in 1946 and April followed him in 1959. They had no children.

Ollie Young should be remembered as a pioneer in several areas of juggling. He was the inventor of kick ups with clubs and was one of the first to do complicated tricks with three and four clubs. He was a very early hoop roller and boomerang performer, and, along with April, possibly invented an entire new genre of juggling using soap bubbles. He also performed with diabolos, juggled furniture, and included battle axe juggling in his act. His three battle axes still exist today and are amazing props. One of them is gimmicked in such a way as to protrude a hidden razor blade out of the side of the otherwise blunt blade through a lever on the handle. This way the axe could be shown to be sharp by cutting paper or a string, but was actually completely safe. These axes are pictured below. (Photo courtesy of Erik Aberg. Props from the Larry Weeks Collection.)

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David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of sixteen books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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