“Three piece juggler” is a term used to describe a juggler who performs mainly with three balls, three top hats, and three cigar boxes. Many jugglers have worked in this style over the past 100 years. When most historians write about the origins of the “three piece juggling” act, they typically point to the start of Bela Kremo’s career in 1931. While Bela Kremo and his son, Kris, may be the most famous of the three piece jugglers, the Kremo’s definitely weren’t the first to perform with these props. W.C. Fields (William Claude Dukenfield 1880 – 1946) and Rebla (Albert James Stevens 1880 – 1963) specialized in the same props and predated Bela Kremo. The same is true of the Elliot Family, the topic of this article. Even more than Fields and Rebla, the Elliot Family helped define a genre that is still going strong today.
Bert Elliot was a British juggler much better known as Stetson. He began his career around 1917 and was a headliner, under his real name, at least as early as 1927. This is four years prior to Bela Kremo’s debut. Three years before this, he was recorded for a film by British Pathe. Oddly, he isn’t named in or with the film. Instead, he is simply called “Gentle Juggler.” You can see this brief video below, which features Stetson doing some nice moves with a top hat, cane, and ball of gloves.
Toward the end of 1927, Bert decided to start performing under the stage name of Stetson. Another British Pathe video, filmed in 1937, shows the routines that Stetson became famous for: three top hats and three cigar boxes. As you can see below, he was very talented at the “dancing hats” technique invented by Paul LaCroix and made famous by Frank Le Dent. This is where the direction of the spin of the hat is reversed by bouncing the brim of the hat off of the juggler’s head.
Stetson retired in the early 1950s. However, long before he left the stage, Bert Elliot passed his skills and guidance onto his two children, Peter and Patricia.
Peter Elliot was born in 1930 and was quite a child prodigy. By the age of ten, he was capable of performing much of his father’s top hats and cigar boxes acts, as you can see in yet another British Pathe video below.
Peter Elliot took on the stage name of Woodrow (sometimes Peter Woodrow) at around the age of 16, when he made his debut in America. The following pictures show Woodrow at that age.
Woodrow was an instant hit on stages around the world. In 1950, he became the first cigar box juggler to incorporate pirouettes while throwing one of the boxes into the air. He died in 1969 at the age of 39.
Patricia Elliot was born in 1933 and followed in the footsteps of her father and older brother, performing under the stage name of Patricia D’Or. She initially performed a duo act with her father around 1950, but soon went out on her own when her father decided to retire. She found a good deal of success during the 1950s. Their father managed the careers of Patricia and Peter until his death in 1956. Patricia retired in 1959 when she got married.
While Stetson, Woodrow, and Patricia D’Or are often merely footnotes in historical accounts of juggling, the Elliot family should be remembered as some of the earliest of the “three piece” jugglers and successful performers who haven’t received the proper recognition until now.