Regina Baranton was a member of the famous Baranton Sisters foot juggling / antipodism duo with her sister Eliane, a successful solo performer, and the wife of famed comedy juggler Gil Dova. Recently, I interviewed her about her life and career.
David Cain (DC): Can you tell us a little about when and where you were born?
Regina Baranton (RB): I was born in September 1942, right in the middle of World War II, in a small wooden trailer in Paris France. I’ll be 79 in September 2021.
DC: You come from a family of foot jugglers. Can you give us some family history regarding that?
RB: When I was little, my sister and I sort of lived with my mother’s parents. My grandmother, Sansous, was always telling us about our relatives, who was who, etc. She was always saying that her father was from Florence, Italy and her mother from Vienna, Austria. I think that was the first juggler in the family: my grandmother’s father. He did an act with his brothers named Troupe Bassi. According to my grandmother, her mother was a ballerina. My grandmother herself was a horseback artist and they were in a circus in the south of France for 16 years with the same circus. My grandfather was a sidewalk acrobat with one of his brothers who did magic. Somehow, he ended up in this circus and met my grandmother, Rosalie. So, Marcellin married Rosalie and soon The Troop Marcellis was born. My grandfather did a free-standing ladder act, but his career was interrupted by World War I, as he volunteered. They had five children. The two older girls, Regina and Anna, did a hand balancing act until they got married. The oldest boy, George, did a comedy actobatics act for years as the Marcellis with a partner. And then you have my mother, Marcelle (the youngest of the girls), and her younger brother Leon, deciding on foot juggling. So that is when the foot juggling started. Then my mother met my father, whose family were far removed from any kind of show business. But he was very young and my grandfather trained him. And so was born the Trio Bassi, who performed in circuses at first in the 1940s, but in clubs and theaters in the 1950s. All of them are gone now.
DC: You and your sister, Eliane, performed as the Baranton Sisters. Can you tell us about her and about how you learned to foot juggle?
RB: Eliane will be 76 in April, 2021. I must say I don’t really remember learning. As I mentioned before, we spent a lot of time with my mother’s parents in Paris, mostly in the winter. You have to consider that the war had not been over for long and Europe was quite the mess. So they left us behind when they went to perform in England, which they did quite a lot. If they had a nice summer season, they would take us with them. My grandfather loves small children and animals. He was a dog trainer and acrobat. Any animal or child left in his care would end up having to practice something. He made it fun and we loved to learn from him. He would make our little props from paper and glue. My father, being a carpenter, made our wooden props. He also made our first tiny foot juggling beds (trinkas). I need all the way. Grandpa would always have something new for us to try and balance on our feet. I guess I must have been around 4 or 5, or maybe even 3. I can’t really tell you. Then in the 1950s, my parents and uncle came to the US and we went with them, with my father teaching us foot juggling.
DC: Can you tell us about your time as part of the Trio Baranton?
RB: When the Trio Bassi split up, I took my uncle’s place in the act with my parents. It was tough at first, as no one wanted to contract us. My uncle was considered to be the best in the act, and people did not believe I was just as good. But one agent gave us a chance and I made my debut with my parents as the Trio Baranton at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo on January 30th, 1958. We worked mainly in Spain, where someone from The Ed Sullivan Show saw us and we made it to the good old USA. We worked many places and ended up at the Tropicana in Las Vegas.
Trio Baranton, featuring Regina’s mother (L), father (M) and herself (R)
DC: There is a video of the Baranton Trio, with with one of you balancing a giant card 1 balancing a bed with Popeye the sailor on it and one with a table. Who is who in that video?
RB: My mother is balancing the giant card. My father is balancing the bed, while I’m balancing the table. That was from 1958.
You can watched the video by clicking here.
DC: How did you and your sister Eliane start working together?
RB: At the time, they had the Folies-Bergere show at the Tropican in Vegas and the boss was Lou Walters, who my parents knew from when the Trio Bassi worked at the Latin Quarter in New York. By then, my sister and I were practicing a lot with our father as our coach. Lou Walters knew there were two of us, as we would go there when the club was closed to practice. So one day, he asked my father, “Where’s the other girl?” My father replied, “She is ready. We are just waiting for the opportunity.” And so, my mother retired and that was the start of the Baranton Sisters. I don’t remember the exact date, but I guess it was maybe late 1959 or early 1960.
Regina and Eliane Baranton
Elaine and Regina Baranton
DC: What were some of your career highlights while working with your sister?
RB: We started back in Europe with a summer season at the London Palladium in 1961. The Lido of course in Paris, in Vegas at the Stardust from 1964 to 1966. Lots of places here and there and then England; also in the US. We performed in the Barry Ashton show in Miami at the Americana Hotel several times and at The Radio City Music Hall in New York also. We also did a couple of Royal Command performances, one for the Queen Mother and Prince Charles in 1961 and another for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1963. We were performing in England at the time.
DC: What would you consider your best or hardest tricks from your act?
RB: Everybody was always impressed by the table. So I guess you could consider it to be the best as far as the public is concerned. But the hardest by far is the ball routine. Which trick in the ball routine? I can’t really say. All of them! Next come the barrels. Many people do one, and two is, of course, more difficult. The table did not take us long to learn. When we became successful, many people in the circus world that my parents knew were making their children do a foot juggling act. My father always used to say they can copy all they want, but if they want to do what my girls do, they will have to practice a good 10 years like they did!
DC: When did you start performing as a solo artist?
RB: I started as a solo performer in 1969 when my sister got married and left with her husband, who was a circus performer. Sadly, he passed away 2002, leaving her with six children who by then had children of their own, who are all circus performers in Europe.
DC: You met and married the famous comedy juggler Gil Dova. Can you tell us about how that happened?
RB: In those days, practically all the beach towns in England had summer shows for the people that came for their “holiday,” as they say in England. It was usually 13 weeks in a nice theater, and so I was very happy this summer of 1970 when I was booked in Blackpool at the Queen’s Theater. It was not the first time I had worked in Blackpool, at another theater and at the Tower Circus, but it was the first time by myself. I don’t know if they still have those shows, but there were always a line of girls who did several numbers. If the headliner was a singer, they would have a comic. Vice versa, if the headliner was a comic. And there were always two or three specialty acts. So I came to town, found the flat that I rented ahead of time, and dropped my props at the theater. There, I noticed the poster out front with the name of all the people in the show and my name along with Gil Dova. Well, I knew of him and he knew of me. Most performers know about other performers but that doesn’t mean they ever met. On opening night, Gil sent me a telegram, (that was the tradition there) saying, “Don’t drop any more things than I do.” Little by little, we became friendly and sometimes he would ask me out after the show for fish and chips in the pub across the street from the stage door. One day, he invited me to watch him play golf. I knew it existed, but I had no idea about the game. So I went several times. First time, I of course showed up with my high heels on, which is a no no if you’re going to walk around on a golf course. So Gil took me to the clubhouse and bought me some golf shoes, I thought they were the most horrible shoes I’d ever seen. Turns out he did not waste his money, as I wore them for years to play golf when we got married. By the time the season was over, we decided to get married. Gil had a contract in Miami at the Americana Hotel in the Barry Ashton show that my sister and I did years before, I had to honor all the engagements I had in different towns in Europe. So we had to put the marriage off for a while. It took me a long time to get my visa, but I finally did and came over. We got married on Pearl Harbor Day in 1971 in Miami.
Gil Dova and Regina Baranton
DC: Did you and Gil work on the same bill?
RB: Not before the marriage. After we were married, we on the same bill except twice when I was pregnant.
Regina assisting Gil
DC: What were your career highlights from your solo days?
RB: Before and after I was Mrs. Gil Dova, I work mostly in nice theaters in England in the summer (five seasons) and in the winter I / we did cabarets in Spain and Switzerland. There was also a nice theater in Hamburg, Germany where I work several times before and after when we were booking the two acts.
DC: When and why did you retire?
RB: The last year or two that we were in Europe, places we were working at were closing. The summer seasons in England were getting shorter and shorter. People just didn’t want to see that kind of show anymore. Show business was not what I wanted for my children. Plus, being on the road all the time might sound great to some people, but it’s not. I don’t even know how I managed with two small children. That is all I knew and so did my children until I decided I did not want them to be uneducated like me. I wanted something better for them and also a normal life, like the majority of people in the world. So in the fall of 1981, we settled in Las Vegas, where we owned a nice house. My children went to school and then to college. I guess some people would say I sacrificed my career for them, although I don’t see it that way. I don’t regret my decision, because I think I did the right thing for them, which for me was more important.
DC: Can you tell us about your life after performing?
RB: As I said, we moved back into our house in Vegas. It was quite the mess after it had been rented for 7 years. It was a lot to repair and we did it all ourselves. My husband took a few months off so he could get things started. He always had a saw or hammer or a paintbrush in his hand or he was in the backyard with a pick and shovel. It took a good year or more to get things looking decent. Meanwhile, I started making curtains and drapes and the couches needed to be re-upholstered, which I also did. All of that sewing took me several years, as I of course had to take care of my children, all the normal housework (cooking, laundry, etc.), not to mention that I was also a wife. Gil, of course, went away often here and there to work; a month here, a few weeks there. In the summer, when the children were on vacation from school, we would book club dates in California with the two acts. And so we went along this way until luck came our way in the form of an engagement for Gil at the Holiday Inn on the Vegas Strip, and that is when I really retired. After a while, I started playing golf again with Gil when the children were in school. We always had to rush back to get them after school! I had, or course, stopped playing when I became a mother. So now, I was finally living would I called a normal life.
DC: Are you close friends with any other well-known jugglers?
RB: I knew about them, but never met any, I’m sorry to say.
DC: Do you still practice your foot juggling?
RB: After I stopped performing, I did continue for the exercise, but after a while I was starting to miss a lot and got scared of hurting myself, which I did a few times. Things do tend to fall on your face and if you catch them in your hand, you often get a twisted finger. When I was learning, there were a lot of bloody noses, bumps and bruises here and there, swollen fingers, etc.. So I said to myself, this is stupid. I’m not going to go on the stage anymore, so why? My daughter had sent me one of those exercise balls. It was not to juggle with, be it reminded me that my mother juggled a big ball like that, so that’s what I juggle now just for the fun of it. I also exercise daily; different things I made up from ideas in magazines and TV, because I think it is very important to exercise to stay fit in my old age.
DC: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers that you think might be interesting?
RB: I was Mrs. Gil Dova for 44 years and 7 months. During that time, we had many “adventures,” as my husband liked to say. His last years were nothing but health problems. Very hard on the both of us. I nursed and cared for him as best I could until one day I had to call 911. It was not the first time, so I had no idea that he would never come back to our home of 35 years. Naturally, I was devastated. A few months after his passing, I decided I could just not stay in Las Vegas and decided to sell the house. My daughter thought I should move to Chicago, so I did. But my son insisted that Jacksonville, Florida, where he lived at the time, would be better, as I could never survive the Chicago winters. He finally convinced me and that is where my home has been since November 2016. I’m happy here. Covid-19 has stopped me from boarding the plane to visit my children. My daughter Victoria married her college boyfriend and they have one daughter. She works for the Lurie Cancer Research Center in Chicago as an event coordinator. My son Vincent married his college girlfriend. They have two “Dova Boys” as I call them. I’m very proud of both of them and they’ve accomplished a great deal compared to me. My son joined the US Navy, I guess around 20 years ago. He became a helicopter pilot and went all over the world, practically, moving his family something like 16 times or so. The Navy made him commander and decided he was needed at the Pentagon at the Homeland Security Department. So he moved once again a couple years ago, leaving me here by myself once again. But, I have very nice neighbors here and I just love the weather. I only wish the day would soon come so I can fly to Chicago or Washington, DC. I should also say that I became a US citizen in 2003.
Regina’s son Vincent, Regina, and juggler Joel Heidtman
You can learn more about Gil Dova’s life and career by clicking here.