Juggling Jems – Rita and Francine Rose

One of the more unique juggling acts of the 1950s was The Juggling Jems. This duo act consisted of sisters Rita and Francine Rose. Francine was born on July 4, 1940, and her sister Rita followed two years later, born on June 28, 1942. Their mother’s name was Frances Rose and their father was theatrical agent Harry P. “Tex” Rose of the Cooke & Rose, Inc talent agency in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (USA). Tex had been a successful performer, demonstrating skills as an actor, trapeze artist, cowboy, and radio star. He had also owned a circus at one time – the Rose Bros Circus. Growing up in show business atmosphere, the girls learned a variety of skills including tap dancing, ballet, acrobatics, and accordion. However, it was a trip to visit some friends that changed their lives forever.

In the summer of 1950, the girls (age 10 and 8) spent a week visiting the Colleanos, a family of jugglers with the Hunt Bros Circus as they toured Pennsylvania towns nearby. The family had a strict practice schedule, so the Rose girls practiced alongside of them. The girls learned to juggle rings during the week, and even participated in the circus parade each day. When they returned home, their dad began to work on an act for them with the help of juggler Lou Meyer. At first, Francine performed most of the juggling with younger sister Rita assisting. However, they practiced diligently and soon were both performing a solid act involving rings, balls, rolling globe, and rola bola (which they called either the rollo or roly poly at the time).

Their dad booked them on the Grand Chance Roundup TV show out of Philadelphia, which was a talent contest, and they won. They came back several times, each time with a different act, which forced the girls to add new skills to their repertoire, including lasso spinning and clubs. These would become the first of over twenty television appearances that the sisters would make together, many under the name The Juggling Jems. Among other TV appearances were spots on “Battle of the Ages,” “Super Circus,” “TV Teen Club,” “Big Top Circus,” and “Candy Carnival.”

As the girls grew older, their skills likewise improved. They performed a double rola bola routine and added ring and club passing to the act as well.

They were mainstays at the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) conventions during the 1950s, often appearing in the conventions shows and bringing some youthful exuberance to a group of jugglers that skewed older and contained very few children.

The Rose family hosted the 1955 IJA Convention in Lancaster, and the girls were central figures there, playing the roles of host and performing.

Rita, Tex, and Francine

The Rose Family

Rita and Francine performed intermittently since school, friends, extra-curricular activities, and social events came first for the young women. They worked once or twice a week, often booked by Leonard Trout, an agent from Baltimore, and Tiny Meeker, an agent from Washington DC. They played many banquet dates at some of the region’s finest hotels and many other events.

Following high school graduation, Francine left for college at Penn State, but dropped out after a semester to get married. Her husband was attending Bucknell, and the couple lived in married housing. This was the start of solo careers for the two sisters. Francine (now performing under her married name of Fran Kane) performed about once a week.

Fran performed with croquet balls, rings, clubs, and a unique routine of balancing an oil lamp on her head and putting her body through a steel ring.  She performed up to four clubs and five rings and balls. Francine quit performing in 1966 when she moved to Michigan, and was a mom to two young children.

When Rita graduated from high school two years later, she decided to make performing her full time career. She traveled quite extensively as a solo act, performing in circuses, USO tours, and night clubs that took her around the United States, as well as Asia, Europe, and South America. She eventually married musician Bob Moskal. For some time, Rita performed juggling to music supplied by her husband’s band. Her routines included tennis rackets, clubs, rings, and lasso spinning, often on top of the rolling globe or rola bola.

Rita performing with her husband Bob Moskal and band

Eventually, Rita moved to Lake Tahoe where her husband played in the orchestra at Harrahs, and she took a job in public relations at Caesars Palace (eventually Caesars World). Unfortunately, Rita was diagnosed with cancer in her mid-forties and passed away in 1990.

In 1979, Francine’s husband left her with a son in college and two girls, age 3 and 11, at home. She went back to college in Michigan and earned a degree in English and Library Science. She taught English at a community college and then adult and community education. She earned a Master’s degree in Counseling and then a second Masters in Educational Administration. She took on several challenging positions and was eventually an elementary school principal. Francine often juggled for the children at assemblies or in the school cafeteria. She retired in 2000 and remarried in 2002. Francine and her husband now live in Pinehurst, North Carolina (USA).

Francine and Gerald Crumbaugh

I’ve had the chance to speak and correspond with Francine several times in recent months, and she recalled her times at the IJA conventions. In a recent letter, Francine stated:

“Rita and I loved the IJA conventions. I have so many warm and wonderful memories. With us being the youngest, we received a lot of help and attention from the grown-ups. We were a smaller organization then, which made for an intimate, family feeling. Everyone knew everyone. Some of the “old-timers” I remember are Harry and Clara Lind, Bill and Amy Dunham, Doc and Eva Crosby, Lou Meyer, Vin and Winnie Carey, Bill Talent (what a classy guy), Cannonball Carl Thorson, Art Jennings, Art Jennings Jr., George and Cal Kenyon, Charlie and Oliver Helmrich, Studly Foster, and Stu Raynolds, among many. I have an 8 x 10 photo of Harry Lind (71 years old at the time) and me (10 years old at the time) facing each other and juggling. I remember watching in awe as Stu Raynolds juggled five clubs or Bill Talent juggled 7 balls with the ease that I juggled 3. What an inspiration they all were. Everyone seemed to have so much fun at the conventions and the banquet on the final night was the perfect ending. Later, in our teen years, I fondly remember Tommy Curtin and Bill Cash. My favorite venues to perform in were fairs. I loved being in the same place for a week or several days, and turning it into a vacation. I think that we both felt that way as kids, and I still did as an adult.“

Scott Cain is an IJA Life Member, IJA Numbers Championships Co-Director, a former Numbers gold-medalist, Teams medalist as a member of Raising Cain, Musical Theater Critic for Talkin’ Broadway (Cincinnati/Dayton), and assistant curator/researcher for the Historical Juggling Props Museum (www.historicaljugglingprops.com). He and his family live in Cincinnati, Ohio (USA).

Leave a Reply