Francisco Alvarez was a successful juggler and an important juggling historian. Born in Nicaragua in 1913, he came to the United States at the age of 12, settling in New Orleans. He learned to juggle at the age of 12 but also pursued an interest in art. Francisco studied art at the Arts and Crafts Club in New Orleans. He discovered that it was as much fun to juggle the erasers as it was to draw pictures. He and his family moved to New York City when Francisco was in his teens. During the height of the Great Depression, he struggled with a variety of unsteady jobs, working as busboy, commercial artist, and door-to-door photographer. However, his juggling career finally prevailed. Despite his introverted nature and belief that he was more comfortable behind a drawing board than in front of an audience, he had a successful juggling career in theaters and nightclubs that took him to seven foreign countries. He was a favorite novelty act at the Catskill resorts in upstate New York, where he repeatedly played Grossinger’s, the Concord, and the Nevele Country Club. He was a roommate of juggling legend Rudy Cardenas and a close friend of famed ventriloquist and juggler Senor Wences, whom Francisco helped get established with agents in the USA.
He appeared on television many times, including appearances on the Steve Allen Show, the Robert Q. Lewis Show, the Chevy Show with Andy Williams and Ethel Merman, and three times on Sealtest’s Big Top. He mentored jugglers throughout his career, including Joe Taylor. He retired from performing at the age of 61 in 1975 and moved from New York City to Albuquerque, New Mexico to be close to his three children. In Albuquerque, he taught juggling at the Mime Experiment and at the University of New Mexico. He was a mentor to several jugglers there, including Barnaby. He was a member of the Disabled American Veterans and the International Jugglers’ Association.
Here’s a synopsis of Francisco’s juggling career that he wrote in the 1980s.
“While in my teens, I bought a set of clubs from the Elgins; and after suffering from aching hands and bumps on my head, I realized that I was not a club juggler. (Recall that the Lind club was 16 oz. in weight, made of hardwood, and nothing like the modern plastic club.) I sold the clubs to a policeman from Hackensack, New Jersey, who practiced juggling as a hobby, and turned my attention to sticks.
I had been juggling as a hobby since I was twelve years old and could easily do five balls from the cascade to the shower without stopping. But I was still half-baked and knew nothing about putting an act together. During the next eight years I practiced umpteen hours a day, and met some of the great jugglers of that period. Everyone was helpful – Serge Flash, Bobby May, the Elgins, Youna, and Señor Wences. But I learned mostly from one Carl Lorenz, who had once done an act with sticks in the Japanese style. It was Mr. Lorenz who introduced me to show business and was the first to manage my career. In 1939 I began to do shows professionally in small night clubs around Manhattan and Brooklyn, using my first name only, “Francisco.”
Francisco joined the army during World War II. He continued his life story while in the army.
“I was whisked to Fort Bragg and later to Fort Sill, where I was kept busy doing shows and performing my duties as a soldier. Meanwhile, back in civilian life, shows for servicemen were being organized by the United Service Organization (USO). These shows employed performers who were not in the service. In addition to serving a good cause, the USO shows proved to be a boon to performers who, being provided with steady work, transportation, etc., were able to save a bundle.
On one occasion, the arrival of a USO show was announced at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. One of the names on the program was that of the celebrated comedy juggler Stan Kavanaugh. At first I didn’t believe we would be honored by the presence of such a distinguished juggling personality. But the day of the show came and there he was. I had never met Kavanaugh; and after I introduced myself as a juggling GI, we spent a most enjoyable day practicing and conversing. When Kavanaugh left, the good opinion I had of him was greatly enhanced. He was not only a fine juggler but also a fine person. He certainly had not joined the USO for personal gain; he was a well-to-do, extremely successful Broadway star.
After my hitch in the service, I informed my agent that I was back in business. Work for jugglers at that time was abundant. Agents literally plucked acts from the street (Broadway) and asked them to come to the office to sign a contract. With so much work to be had, I enthusiastically plunged into a life of constant practice and steady work. I never set the world on fire nor did I start a flame in anybody’s heart with my juggling act but I did make a good living for many years. Here are a couple of my reviews:
Francisco is a comical-faced juggler who can keep a variety of objects travelling through the smoothest arcs and ellipses in the most polished way. The effect of his dexterity being one of rhythm and velvet-smooth motion. He was without doubt one of the hits of the show.
The above is from The Standard in Montreal (Dec. 1943). And in the Gazette of Montreal, also 1943, we read:
A mute but expressive juggler, Francisco, is really well above average in everything he does. His work is clean and his timing faultless, and he manages to insert some humor into it, no mean achievement when he has eschewed all patter.
Television was not yet popular in 1944, but at that time I was asked to appear on a televised program. I wondered who would see it, since TV sets at that time were virtually unavailable to the general public. The show at the DuMont Studios in the Grand Central building in New York City , was televised on September 13, 1944. This was the first of about 21 shows on which I would appear during my lifetime.
Early television was plagued by the hot lights. Intense illumination was placed directly above the performer’s head and this naturally caused a perspiration problem. Also, in those days of early black and white TV, performers were told to wear blue shirts because white, they said, was too glary.”
Today Francisco is best remembered as the author of the book Juggling – Its History and Greatest Performers, which was published in 1984. You can read this entire book by clicking here.
Francisco Alvarez passed away in 2004. One of his torches is on display at the Museum of Juggling History.
Below are two videos of Francisco from 1948. This is the first time they have been online. I think you’ll be impressed by his considerable skill.