As I’ve stated in the past, many of my research projects, which in turn become articles for eJuggle, are initiated purely out of curiosity. I see something that is interesting about a long ago juggler that I’ve never heard of, and I want to learn more. This was the case with I saw the following postcard available on an online auction.
I didn’t recall ever hearing about Tom Hearn previously. I thought the idea of a photo of a shirtless man, turned with his back to the camera, and without any props, was a very odd advertisement for a juggler. So, I wanted to learn more.
The first, and most frequent find, was that of a caricature of Tom Hearn by artist George Cooke. Cooke rendered caricatures of many of the top Edwardian music hall performers in England, and this one was made when Hearn was on the bill at the Grand Theatre of Varieties in Hanley, during the week of May 15, 1906.
The piece shows a sleepy Hearn wearing a shirt and pajama bottoms, looking at a poster of a strongman performer (presumably Eugene Sandow, a contemporary of Hearn’s) and recognizing his own smallness. This image is based on part of Hearn’s act, as he would do the same thing as depicted.
Speaking of his act, Tom Hearn was billed as both “The Laziest Juggler in the World” and “The Sleepy Juggler.”
The following is a full accounting of his act which appeared in Ellis Stanyon’s “Magic” magazine, June 1903:
During last month Tom Hearn, who styles himself “the laziest juggler on earth,” gave at the Palace Theatre a very original show of comedy juggling. Stage set as a bedroom, and when curtain goes up, performer is seen in bed playing the part of the sluggard. Alarm clock rings on table and performer reaches out of bed for a stick with which clock is forthwith knocked off table. Gets up with counterpane [mirror] held in front of himself, walks round and gets back into bed again. Gets up (dressed in Pajamas) and lights candle, walks about in pajamas and drinks out of large wash jug. Throws jug in air, and turning round attempts to catch jug, but it falls and is smashed to pieces – and the same fate is meted out to the washstand basin. Placing candle in position in front of towel horse he “takes off” Chassino who makes”hand shadows” with his feet, and who appears just in front of him (see Chassino programme in our last issue.) Runs to cupboard in washstand, but door sticks, gets excited, and appears in a hurry – suddenly door opens, and he reaches inside and brings out – no ! wait a minute- only one shoe which he puts on one foot; this bit of business convulses the house.
Next follows a burlesque on Sandow’s home course of physical culture, all apparatus being diminutive and all exercises done in the laziest manner possible, finally he falls exhausted on bed. Next rings a bell, goes out and brings on his own breakfast. Snuffs candle with bell. Juggles dexterously with cups, teapot, etc., and gets his hand caught in a cup. As he cannot get hand out smashes cup with a hammer, then discovers he has cut off half of one of his fingers; (finger bent at middle joint) finds portion of finger and sticks it on again.
Spins top hat round finger and other movements, finally rolling hat along arm on to head.
Throws a large china vase, containing a tree 4 ft. high, in the air, turns round and endeavors to catch vase but it is smashed to pieces and performer falls over tree; and continues every now and then to fall over this tree.
Next follows an imaginary act of going down into the cellar by lifting a flap on stage; done by a gradual stooping behind flap – and back again.
Juggles with a plate, various movements on hand.
Juggles foil and two apples, throws one apple to audience who throw it back and he burlesques catching it on point of foil – really misses it and quickly sticks on the other apple all the time in the hand. Gets the apple he missed and does it again.
Juggles three apples and catches one on fork held in mouth. Throws one to audience (a confederate who changes it for a hollow one) who throws it back thinking he will catch it on fork; it hits him on the head and smashes to pieces and he falls apparently dead on stage, finally crawling back into bed.
Afterwards shows his arm, gets muscle up (India rubber ball) and fires a revolver. Works a rattle, breaks a chain, lifts a heavy (apparently) weight and throws it away (rubber).
A large ball comes on stage and chases performer round, dodging him, etc., this is, apparently, on a thread or wire, it suddenly disappears and performer gets wild and fetches a hammer to hit someone.
Balances a large lamp on his forehead (audience thinking “surely he will not break a beautiful thing like that”), the lamp falls – no! it does not break although it falls head first, i.e. on its glass chimney – it is a beautiful imitation of china and glass made of India rubber.
Juggles three hoops in front of himself, skillfully (a la Everhart) then plays the three hoops off at one wing and you see them enter at another, but the burlesque of this latter trick is apparent when some five or six hoops make their appearance as against the three. The hoops do not stop at five or six as myriads now make their appearance from every opening–performer gets dazed and bewildered, and as a last resource rushes back into bed covering himself completely with the bed clothes; and well he does this for a shower of some fifty hoops, (the cheap light wooden variety) seemingly hundreds, fall from the “flies” and smother him; and these are followed by a second and still larger shower of hoops as the curtain falls.
Performer, in response to a well merited encore comes out in front of curtain with his head and limbs tied up in bandages and the next “turn” wonders when, if ever, he will get a chance.
From other sources, I learned that Tom Hearn was from England, and was born in 1879. Several sources cite Hearn as being a friend and comedic juggling contemporary of W.C. Fields. It appears that Hearn mostly performed in Great Britain, but that he traveled to the United States of America to perform on Vaudeville stages there on several occasions.
Hearn’s outlandish antics garnered him reviews which included statements such as:
“give a comicality to slackness and keeps the hour rocking with laughter from the time he tumbles out of bed until the curtains close down on him”
“both funny and clever”
“entertaining as ever and always gets a royal welcome here”
“creates roars of laughter with his absurdities”
“the juggling does not amount to much – it is just an excuse for an entertainment which is excruciatingly comic. Of course, one must be in the mood for such a thing, but, granted that one cites only for the laughter of the moment, then I can heartily recommend”
In 1910, Tom Hearn turned his act over to his brother under the same name, but continued in a comedy act under the name Thomas Elder Hearn, where he played six different characters.
He obtained his pilot’s license in 1914 and did some early trick flying (multiple loops) in addition to comedic acting. In the 1920s, Tom worked as a director and tour leader for variety shows. The most successful show he produced was White Birds, starring Maurice Chevaliar in 1927. Tom Hearn passed away in 1954 at his home in Putney, England. If anyone has additional information about him, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.