Bert Holt was a well known juggler from Freiburg, Germany. His actual last name was Bertholt, but he split it up to create his stage name. He began juggling at a young age and originally did a ground act, as you can see in the following rare photograph from the collection of Erik Aberg.
In the 1940s, Bert developed an act where he hung by his teeth on an “iron jaw” aerial apparatus and juggled while suspended up to 12 feet off the ground. He performed a variety of difficult feats, most famously juggling six rings while spinning two more on his ankles, as you can see in the following images.
In addition to rings, Bert Holt also performed with large balls, clubs, sticks, ball spinning, and combination tricks, like the one below.
Bert also did a trick where he was suspended upside down, hanging by one foot. In this position, he juggled 3 plates while rotating a ring on the other foot. He often worked with Ringling Brothers Circus and later Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, first working with them in 1955 and continuing with them off and on until he retired in the late 1960s. He and his wife had two children, Chrystine, born in 1943, and Martin, born in 1948. The family moved from Germany to Casablanca, Morocco when the children were young. When Bert started working with Ringling, the family moved again, settling for good in Sarasota, Florida (USA).
While Bert was quite talented, he, or his agent, would sometimes use some hyperbole in advertising or discussing his act. The following poster is a perfect example of this. Bert also once claimed, “I can do everything Francis Brunn does hanging by my teeth.”
One of Bert’s career highlights was performing on the Ed Sullivan television program in 1960. Below is a very bad image of Bert and Sullivan.
In 1962, Bert fell and broke several bones and injured his back badly. Some reports say that it occurred while rigging his aerial apparatus to the top of a circus tent while others say it was during a performance when a rope broke. Either way, he had to stop performing for some time. While he eventually went back to performing, this only lasted a few years. He then retired and bought a motel in Sarasota.
Bert Holt’s daughter, Chrys, originally performed a tight wire act with her brother, Martin. She was unhappy with this act and wanted something more novel, like her father’s act. In the 1950s, Bert Holt performed center ring with the Ringling Circus. One of the acts in one of the outer rings was a Spanish juggler named Miguel Bratty. He performed a hair suspension juggling act, as you can see in the photo of him below.
Chrys decided to try her hand at this type of act and began training around 1956, practicing in secret for only ten minutes a day. When Bert Holt fell in 1962, Chrys stepped in to complete her father’s contract, debuting her hair suspension juggling act. She was an instant hit. Her natural beauty and feminine poses were a contrast to Bratty’s awkward body positioning while juggling. She was often billed as a “Hairialist.” She had a seven minute act which began with her being raised about 12 feet into the air. There, she took off her jacket and was then raised to 75 feet / 23 meters above the floor.
While the hair suspension didn’t allow her to look up much, unlike her father’s mouth hang, Chrys still was able to perform a nice variety of juggling skills. She juggled balls and clubs, spun rings on her arms and legs, performed ball spinning, and did combination tricks.
Chrys was often interviewed by local newspapers as she toured with circuses. In these interviews, she was always asked if it hurt to hang and swing by her hair. She told the reporters that it hurt quite a bit, especially as she was being raised up and after the act, but that concentrating on the juggling during the act distracted her from the pain. She also said that while the method of tying her hair was only known to her mother and herself, she did wash her hair and get a 30 minute scalp massage each day.
Chrys Holt once did a publicity stunt of hanging from her hair from a hot air balloon. Chrys performed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, She married circus manager Tom Inabinette in 1973. She is now retired and living in Sarasota, Florida.