Stan Kavanagh – Australian Comedy Juggling Star

Stan Kavanaugh was born on July 3, 1889 in Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia as Arthur Stanislaus Joseph Kavanagh. Stan wasn’t born into a showbiz family, as his father was a bank manager. Stan saw a juggler perform in a traveling circus troupe when he was a young boy and was instantly hooked. He taught himself, and later his brother, how to juggle. Juggling immediately became his passion. At least as early as 1907, Stan and his older brother Frank were touring on variety circuits to major cities throughout Australia; first the Brennan circuit and then the Tiv circuit.  Performing as the Kavanagh Brothers, they mainly worked with clubs and tennis rackets, presenting an act called “The Sports Depot.” Their work, especially with tennis rackets, received much praise in the press. In addition to Australia, they also toured Europe, China, and India.

While performing in England, they became stranded there during World War 1. In 1916, Stan married Henrietta Richards and Frank left the act, leaving Stan to perform as a solo act.


In 1922, Stan was booked to work with Harry Lauder, the famous Scottish music hall and vaudeville singer and comedian. Stan performed with Lauder in England in 1922 and in Australia in 1923. In 1924, Stan went to the USA, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. He even eventually became an American citizen, settling in Boston, MA.


Stan was best known for his club juggling, ball juggling, hat manipulation, and ball bouncing, all done with expert comedy that was dry and deadpan. One of is most interesting bits was to swing two clubs, occasionally knocking the two together. Then he would press a hidden button on one club to make it open and expel a “baby” club. Stan didn’t get the reaction out of this bit that he wanted, so he sold the custom made props to Larry Weeks. Weeks had more success with the routine by adding the line, “I didn’t even know they were married!” while holding up the two parent clubs after one “gave birth.” You can see these props in the photo below, courtesy of Erik Aberg.

By the 1930s, Stan was an established star. He appeared in the film Big Broadcast of 1937, which starred Jack Benny, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. He was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies, sharing the stage with many stars, such as Fanny Brice and Gypsy Rose Lee. American juggling legend Bobby May often named Stan as his favorite juggler. Stan was almost always given rave reviews for his act.

Stan traveled all over the world and had many adventures. He once wrote the following to Bobby May: “Bandits are quite a problem in China and they even attack convoys. There was a bandit village thirty-five miles from an airport. One night they attacked a village by the airport, killed eight people and got one hundred dollars, so you see life is very cheap in China. Our work here seems to be outside but we’ve been lucky up to now and haven’t called any shows on account of rain. I worked in the rain one night in China with myself and props all wet. We were going by truck in the evening recently and saw a full grown wolf alongside the road and he followed us for a little distance and then stopped. I guess he figured he didn’t have enough red points to eat me.” (Red points was a reference to wartime meat rationing.) He also toured India and Burma, among many other countries.


In the 1940s, Stan enlisted with the US Army. Touring with the USO, he even visited his home country of Australia. He picked up the nickname of ‘Kavvy.’ He continued to perform after World War II and appeared on the American television program Cavalcade of Stars in 1949.

Stan Kavanagh died on March 2, 1957. One of his signature Van Wyck clubs, pictured throughout this article, is on display at the Museum of Juggling History. You can see it below.

Stan is not nearly as well-known as he should be among jugglers today, but I hope this article will begin to change that. Perhaps the reason that he has not been remembered is that jugglers have never seen film of his act. While I can’t provide much, below is the only video I have a Stan Kavanagh, which is quite brief. It is provided by Bobby Jule. Thanks, Bobby!

 

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of sixteen books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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