Sometimes, doing research on a juggler or jugglers from long ago is just a matter of filling in the gaps. Other times, it’s much more complicated, like putting together an oddly shaped jigsaw puzzle with no final version to guide you. Add in the obstacles of pseudonyms, stage names, and performance groups with ever changing members, and you have an even greater challenge ahead of you. Thus was the case of my research on The Tennis Trio, a juggling group from over 100 years ago!
While researching several other jugglers, I came across a few references to The Tennis Trio in some old IJA Newsletters. I have always liked tennis themed acts. The Wimbledon Brothers, Serge Percelly, and others have performed routines with only or primarily rackets and tennis balls. My brother David and I, as Raising Cain, had performed a tennis themed act in the 1990s at the ATP Tournament in Cincinnati, performing for the player’s welcome party for several years. The references I had found for The Tennis Trio had conflicting information though, so I decided to do some more digging.
So, who were the members of The Tennis Trio? Well, that depends on who you ask, and what date you are asking. The information available is pretty sketchy, but here is what we know. As early as 1899, a group called the Tennis Trio was performing in the United States on the Orpheum Circuit. At that time, the group consisted of Morris Alburtus, Jessie Millar, and L.W. Hawley. Morris Alburtus was one of the first club passers, having gained a bit of fame as a duo with Claude Bartram. Jessie Millar was a vaudeville sensation with a top-notch cornet instrumentalist act (a bit of a rarity for a female at the time), but was quite skilled as a club swinger and club juggler as well. The San Francisco Call newspaper dedicated a full page Miss Millar in their December 31, 1899 edition, and included nine photographs of her manipulating two or three clubs.
The Tennis Trio performed with this set of performers at least through 1900, with numerous mentions of them in newspapers and other accounts. Sometimes, The Tennis Trio and Miss Jessie Millar (with her cornet act) were even on the same bill. However, there’s isn’t much mention of what routines were performed in the juggling act, though we can assume that it involved club swinging, club passing, and tennis racket juggling.
Here is one of the only detailed (if you can call it that) newspaper reviews of their act:
Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY) – 9/19/1899 – The club juggling of Messrs. Alburtus and Hawley and Miss Millar is expert and graceful, and is specialized into more than common attractiveness by Miss Millar’s part in it; by the element of comedy or “human interest” quietly and cleverly introduced; and by the interpolation of a brief cornet solo also contributed by Miss Millar. Miss Millar is especially to be congratulated on the good taste that has guided her choice of a costume.
In Edward Van Wyck’s promotional booklet America and Europe’s Greatest Jugglers, published in 1900, the famous prop maker says this about the trio:
They are the people who deliver the goods in a new and original way. This act pleases the people, is not a quiet act, but always a laughing hit. They use no grease-paint, or stage props.
Between 1900 and 1906, the performers changed in The Tennis Trio, with William Campbell likely joining in 1903. By 1906, the act was performed by William Campbell and Alma and May Stock. The Stock ladies were advertised as being sisters.
There are quite a number of critiques of their act archived online. Here are a few examples:
Variety 1908 – Although the Tennis Trio are originally from the West, they have been playing in the East for some time, this being the second week in New York. The act makes a good impression from the start through the use of a pretty Japanese garden set and the neat dressing. The two young women wear dainty knee length frocks, very attractive, while the man carries a white flannel outing suit nicely. A simpler style of hair dress might be practiced by the girls. The juggling consists mostly of clubs, although there is some good work shown with tennis rackets and balls. The club juggling is uniformly good. The feminine end of the trio handles the clubs much better than is usual with women. The smaller girl also does some first rate work with the baton. The man attempted some juggling of plates, not up to the other work. The spinning of a dollar on top of a Japanese fan was heartily applauded. The act employs a soft light throughout, a departure for an act of this character. The Tennis Trio afford entertaining diversion, without question, and are a unique combination.
The Billboard – 8/29/1908 – The Tennis Trio, the novelty juggling act of Will Campbell, and May and Alma Stock, is most entertaining. During their act, they use rackets, Indian clubs, etc. The act is beautifully staged and is worth of sincere commendation. It is the closing number and holds the audience until the final drop of the curtain.
The Scranton Republican – 4/7/1908 – Still another attraction that is considered a headline feature is The Tennis Trio, composed of Will Campbell and the Stock sisters, who have a most original and artistic specialty which they call, “Juggling on the Lawn.” The Stock sisters are well known as two of the prettiest and most charming women in vaudeville, while Mr. Campbell Is in a class by himself as a Juggler. The gowns worn by the Stock sisters are said to be some of the handsomest creations of the dressmakers’ art. Unique, dainty and artistic are the words that best describe their work.
Oakland Tribune – 8/23/1908 – The art of juggling is presented in a novel way, with an original setting, and is truly refreshing. This is true of the offering of The Tennis Trio. This trio, composed of Will Campbell and the Stock Sisters (misses May and Alma Stock), have just returned from England and Scotland where they achieved fine success.
Despite being advertised as sisters, the ladies were actually mother (May) and daughter (Alma), and Stock was just a stage name. This information comes from a most intriguing newspaper article from the San Francisco Call on August 18, 1908 which read:
WOMAN JUGGLER IS SUED FOR DIVORCE – Husband of Orpheum Performer Says Wife Deserted Him to Go on Stage – “Slay Stock,” as she is known ln stageland, a member of The Tennis Trio jugglers, and now performing at the Orpheum, was sued for divorce yesterday on the ground of desertion. Her real name is May Wutrich, and her husband is J. C. Wutrich, a cattle dealer. They were married in “San Francisco in November. I887, and Wutrich alleges that his wife ‘deserted him in February, 1906 to become a variety performer. They have two, children. Alma, aged 18, who is one of the “trio,” and Camille, aged 8. Besides asking for a divorce, Wutrich prays that the custody of the younger child be awarded him. The little girl has been with her mother since the separation, but the father insists that he is better able to look after her care and education than his wife, who travels from city to city, all over the United States. Judge Sturtevant granted Wutrich a temporary injunction restraining the defendant from removing Camille from town while the court determines the case.
So, not only were the Stock sisters not siblings, but rather a mother daughter combination, “Stock” wasn’t their real last name either. William Campbell would leave the group in 1910, and he would gain fame as a juggler under a stage name himself. I won’t spoil the fun here, but refer readers instead to the interesting article found here by Peter Brunning for more information on the unique and varied career of William Campbell.
Once Campbell left the group, the women performed under the title The Tennis Duo for a few months.
By December 1910, the group was back to being The Tennis Trio, now as an all-female group. It isn’t clear who the third member of the group was. I wasn’t able to find any references to The Tennis Trio after 1910, but would welcome any information anyone else has on the subject, especially the “Stock Sisters”.
One last bit of news about The Tennis Trio. In the May 1946 edition of The Juggler’s Bulletin, writer Tom Breen shares numerous tidbits about “juggling firsts”. In it, he cites The Tennis Trio as being involved in the “discovery” of 6-club passing in a two-count. He writes:
Harry and Joe Barrett were the first to do a six club shower. They saw the Tennis Trio pass six clubs, throwing every second club, and after copying it, they asked the other act over to see them do it. Both acts were amazed as they were throwing every (right hand) club instead of every second one.