The Bakers were a husband and wife juggling act from the UK that specialized in hat juggling. Harry Baker was born in 1893 in New York (USA). His wife Peggy was born in Manchester, UK. Harry learned to juggle at the age of twelve and was a popular juggler on the Vaudeville Orpheum Circuit in the 1920s. He married Peggy in 1939 and couple performed around the world into the 1970s. The couple had homes in both London, UK, and in Stockton, California (USA) and had one daughter, Shirley. Harry passed away in 1980.
The paragraphs below are taken from an obituary written by Dennis Soldati for the March, 1981 Jugglers’ World Magazine.
“Harry was born in New York in 1893 and started juggling at age 12. In 1905 he went to work for Ringling Brothers circus as a juggling clown. From Ringling he went into vaudeville. He worked the Orpheum Circuit and Pantages Circuit, and was a good friend of Alex Pantages.
By 1928 vaudeville no longer caught the public fancy; movies were taking over the entertainment circuit. Harry moved on to Europe and didn’t return for 22 years. In 1939 he met and married Peggy Bould in Manchester, England. She was a dancer, but learned to juggle and joined the act. Together they entertained the troops during World War II while bombs fell on England. With a sparkle in his eye, Harry made soldiers laugh while statesmen declared, “This is the darkest era in the history of mankind.” In 1950 Harry and Peggy returned to the United States to join the Ringling Brothers circus again. Since then, they worked for many circuses, fairs and vaudeville shows nationwide with their juggling and plate spinning acts. Even though the romance of the old traveling days may have disappeared, Harry’s spirit for performing always remained. Every spring and summer found Harry and Peggy on the sawdust trail. During winters they performed in night clubs, on television and casual dates while waiting for spring and the open road with the circus.
Performing as The Bakers – “‘International Hatters,” they juggled and passed clubs and straw hats. Harry was famous for his cigar box and boomerang hats act. He sold his act to agents as a “Good Comedy Opener – 15 Minutes of Laughs'”
As an apprentice to The Juggling Barrets, Harry learned to juggle straw hats, and said ‘old man’ Barret may have been the first to use boomerang hats. When Peggy joined the act she preferred the hats to clubs because they didn’t hurt as much. However, Harry was a good club passer and was able to pass solid shoulder throws.
Over the years, Harry worked with Jack Haley, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Morey Amsterdam, Little Dion and other top stars. One reporter wrote, “There are jugglers and there are jugglers, and some turn out an act that’s almost impossible to believe — but only a few in the history of show business can spin those Indian clubs or toss a hat with that certain touch of class that made Harry the King of the Jugglers.”
“It’s fellows like Harry Baker who helped keep this type of live entertainment alive,” said Dave (Happy the Clown) Twomey, and added, “Harry Baker has bridged the generation gap, first as a young man and then as an oldster — and he did it in a field where great stars have tumbled and the public’s taste has changed drastically.”
Harry’s long, long career should be a happy lesson to many young jugglers. When the daily, repetitious tasks of practice and performing seem interminable, we have Harry’s example to look to for inspiration. Harry was a star who never faded. More than 70 years of plate spinning and juggling. More than 70 years of performing through good times and bad.
A few years ago, when Harry was asked how he felt about entertaining under a small tent, and how he compared it to the big tents of yesteryear, he replied with a sparkle in his eye, “It was wonderful then and it’s wonderful now.”
Below is a photo of the couple in 1972, while they were still performing full time.
Below is a newly discovered film of the Bakers’ act, filmed sometime in the 1950s, which shows them performing boomerang hats, hat juggling, club juggling, ball juggling, and cigar boxes. The couple also had a plate spinning act.