In July of 2021, eJuggle published an article featuring A Juggler and His Art, an article from 1910 that gave us a glimpse into what a juggling historian of the period knew and thought about the art form. You can click here to read it. The response to that article was quite strong, so I thought it would be prudent to follow it up with a couple of other such analyses of juggling from the past. Today, we examine an account by Clever Conkey, a vaudeville juggler of the early 1900s. It was originally published in Vaudeville Missouri Breeze on October 1st, 1915. I’ve added photos and editorial notes and hyperlinks to it for clarification and more information.
A juggler is a handsome being, usually male, gifted with keen eyesight, trained nerves of steel, and a mild, forbearing temperament. Webster defines a juggler as a tricky fellow, but the adjective has too many applications in show business to be an appropriate term for this line of work. A juggler is a fellow who tosses articles here and there and usually catches them. The word juggler is sometimes used in conjunction with equilibristric work, but balancing is not juggling in the accepted meaning of the term. A juggler must be both adept and certain. He must be proficient, he must be sure and at the same time must have grace and an easy method of working. The old saying that it is not what you do but the way that you do it, applies to juggling probably more than any other line of physical attainment. The juggler who can manipulate four balls or articles and do it gracefully and easily is more likely to please an audience than one who can juggle six articles but does it with evident effort.
The first juggler who obtained any prominence did balancing stunts, and although juggling has departed from the lines on which he worked, his place in tradition is secure. He made cannon ball jugglers of the present day look like beginners, for Atlas handled the world, balancing it upon his shoulders, without apparent effort. Cain was the first club swinger, although not turning his talent to a commendable use. Brutus undoubtedly takes precedence as a knife manipulator, confining his efforts to implement work, in which Caesar would testify were he living. Herman Shultz, the Holland lad, who held his finger in a hole in one of the dykes years ago, preventing an inrush of the sea, was first to handle water successfully, although this must not be taken as undervaluing the efforts of Charles and Anna Glocker, who have made more out of water juggling than others of the present day.
The juggler of the present day succeeds in most cases because he offers novel ideas, gracefully presented. The mere manipulation of articles does not count so much as it did when juggling was in its infancy, although jugglers are getting more proficient with the passing of every season and the tricks which are now granted honor from the craft would not have been considered possible a generation ago. The routine tricks of the present day include many features of a decade ago. When George Fielding juggled six balls with “The Black Crook” during the World’s Fair in 1893 the profession granted him topline honors, but the manipulation of six balls today is done by so many artists that the trick is looked upon as merely a part of an act.
Cinquevalli is admitted to be the greatest showman of the juggling world. He is a fine salesman and long ago mastered the art of offering and disposing of his wares to the greatest advantage. No one has come along to take his place and he stands as an ideal for the strivers.
Severus Schaeffer in his best days was the greatest exponent of the combination of acrobatic work and juggling, handling light and heavy articles. He was equally proficient whether juggling a feather or a cannon ball. [Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about Severus Schaeffer.]
His nephew, Sylvester Schaeffer, in his one-man show, offers a few of the feats presented by the elder Schaeffer, but hardly enough to draw a comparison. Kara is, perhaps, the greatest object juggler of the present day, and added to his dexterity he has physique and appearance. He makes many misses, but is showman enough to get results just the same. [Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about Sylvester Schaeffer.]
W.C. Fields enjoys a wider reputation throughout foreign countries than any other American juggler. He also has a splendid reputation in his own country, being a feature of vaudeville bills and having been identified with some big “revues” in the last year. He is the creator of a routine with balls which has been more widely copied by other jugglers than any other routine of tricks. He is strong on pantomime and a fine comedian. He makes an audience laugh and wonder at his proficiency at the same time. He bills himself as “The Silent Humorist” and his droll methods enable him to easily make good this billing claim.
Paul Conchas is the greatest heavyweight juggler. He has made so much out of cannon balls that to mention that class of work is to suggest him. Conchas has commanded big money for many years and this fact alone wins him respect from the fraternity. Conchas has a comedy assistant who is first-class and this lends big value to the act. [Editor’s note: Click here to read more about Paul Conchas.]
Amoros Werner, a German juggler, is said to manipulate ten balls at a time, and leads all in this line. He handles them “singly,” that is, he throws one ball in the air at a time. Salerno is noted for being the originator of the changing colored lamps, and this is sufficient to win him a place in the juggling hall of fame. “Billy” Cromwell is the swiftest juggler in the world and works with a precision that is remarkable. He makes up as a girl and fools the audience completely. Chinko, “the original boy juggler,” was first to manipulate eight balls, and has since held a foremost place among jugglers. [Editor’s note: Click here to read more about Chinko.]
Selma Braatz is unquestionably the leading girl juggler of the world. She has kept to the same act for several years, but works gracefully, doing tricks which would be worthy of the sincere efforts of the sterner sex. Anita Bartling is second among lady jugglers and Lucy Gillette is probably third. [Editor’s note: Click here to read about Selma Braatz, Anita Bartling, and Lucy Gillette.]
Morris Cronin, who was formerly acknowledged to be the best single club juggler in every way, is getting away from that kind of work, as he claims that it is practically impossible to secure real two-a-day recognition with a club act, pure and simple. He says the powers will take an act which has clubs as its basic principle and acting on this theory has gotten into the novelty class with his present act. He uses black art effects and other devices and has brought his act to electric light fame. [Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about Morris Cronin.]
Morris Cronin, courtesy of the Erik Åberg Collection
Redford & Winchester have been the leading comedy juggling team of vaudeville for some years. The straight man does some fine juggling and the comedian is a dandy clown. In addition they have prop stuff which is very funny.
Paul Le Croix is credited with being the originator of the bouncing hat trick. He stumbled on the trick by accident, but being quick to take advantage of an opportunity, advertised it judiciously and won a place with the two-a-day acts. [Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about Paul Le Croix.]
Paul Le Croix
Archie Onri is practicing several new tricks and will have an unusually big act the coming season, on the order of the display of Sylvester Schaefer.
Lawton is the best of them all when it comes to juggling balls from the forehead to the knees and the foot. He does some remarkable tricks of this nature. His cannon ball juggling is good, and he catches them on the back of his neck from a higher throw than anyone else.
William DeHollis is an excellent juggler and is one of those who believe in retaining the old-time tricks, or else concludes that he can do the best with the stuff he has been offering for years. There is no question but what he is an expert juggler and a good showman.
Ed Lavine leads them all when it comes to the hat and cigar trick. He only does three or four tricks in his act, depending for the rest on his comedy, which is always good. When he first started out he worked single and could do but seven minutes, so he got a drop and a property man and stretched his act out to thirteen minutes, when success came his way. Incidentally his salary jumped from the low limit to a nice standing. W.C. Fields still does the hat trick. He misses it frequently, but has the comedy to use in such instances that makes it quite as much enjoyed for him to miss as to make it. William DeHollis still sticks to the high silk hat, and does some clever things in this line. Kara still does the trick slightly modified from the traditional.
In the line of gun spinners there are really only two who command serious consideration, and they have been at it so long that they have become identified with their work much the same as Paul Conchas with cannon balls and shells. Major McLaughlin left a foundry twenty-six years ago and has been tossing heavy muskets ever since. Hadj Lessik, of Lessik and Anita, was formerly known as Kissel, but upon his marriage to Miss Anita he reversed his last name and evolved their present offering with the desert setting.
In the matter of present-day big-time club acts of four or more members, there is not much choice between The Mowatts and The Normans; both acts having many admirers who are firm in there contention that their favorite is the best in the business. John Whitfield is the real name of the man who has had acts out in the past under the name of the Juggling Johnsons. At different times he has had acts with Primrose & West, Ringlings’ circus and on the big time both at home and abroad. His acts drew big money, which he permitted to get away from him in unsuccessful experiments with a magic kettle act and an electrical novelty.
The Juggling Johnsons
Frank and Clara La Tour deserve credit in juggling circles for having originated the employment of a dummy in devil stick work. Frank La Tour thought out this idea three years ago and has copyrighted the trick. The dummy is made to work into the manipulation of devil sticks very cleverly and adds considerable comedy to the offering. The La Tours have been an act for twelve years. Clara La Tour worked soap bubbles with her uncle, who was the first man to take a moving picture show through Missouri. She revived it in the present act about ten years ago.
Frank And Clara La Tour
Harry De Coe has made the two-a-day ranks, both at home and abroad, with his sensational table balancing act, but it was as a juggler that he spent his first years in the show game. He was a good club juggler and also did a good object juggling turn, as well as being a good all ’round man in stock and medicine shows.
Harry De Coe
The Nichols-Nelson Troupe are fine hoop experts and one of the boys is a wonder at toss juggling of their stock in trade. They practically keep the air filled with hoops while they are on.
The Alpha Troupe has long been recognized as one of the standard hoop acts and one of the boys in that is among the very best workers of this kind. He caught a diabolo thrown from the roof of the Athletic club building in Minneapolis, Minn., a distance of 200 feet which stands out as one of the distinct accomplishments of that line. [Editor’s note: You can click here to read more about the Alpha Troupe.]
The Alpha Troupe
Moran and Wiser have made the most of the boomerang hats, a style of work generally admitted as being first done by The Juggling Barretts. [Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about the Juggling Barretts.]
The Juggling Barretts
There is no reason for jugglers to be discouraged. The field has not been exhausted by any means. The demand for new ideas is greater than ever. The fellow with something new can easily get an audience with an agent.
Strange as it may seem, there are a great many jugglers who do not view their work as seriously as they might, who do not strive as hard as they should. Some fail to realize how much a trick or a routine of tricks depends upon the position of the performer with reference to his audience. In ball work the best results are found by facing the audience, while in handling objects with considerable surface exposed or of unusual length, like sticks, plates or knives, it is admitted that it is policy for the juggler to face off the stage. It is possible that a striking and novel effect can be secured by deliberately turning the back on the house while doing a trick.
There is quite a colony of talking jugglers. Many amusing comedians combine feats of juggling with funny talk and get an audience right. It is believed that jugglers originated the idea of talk in connection with a novelty act. It was about eighteen years ago that kidding was introduced in connection with juggling acts have lost their qualification because of the humorous talk introduced. The Morton-Jewell Troupe, which disorganized some time ago, was the only big-time act which ever introduced singing in connection with juggling. The Kelso Brothers are most prominent among those who dance while doing a juggling act. These boys have a novel turn and while doing a dancing specialty touch up Indian clubs and put them into action without breaking their routine.
When one considers the long hours of hard practice, the vast amount of patience and the grim, bulldog perseverance necessary to become a juggler of even mediocre quality, it is reasonably safe to say that ALL JUGGLERS ARE GOOD, ONLY SOME ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS.