Monday, April 16, 2018

Fregoli, DeWitt Young and Sister Jugglers, miscellaneous postcards

While in Florence earlier this year I did a little postcard hunting at the local flea market. It was an interesting place. Not many postcards, but some fascinating objects. So here are some postcards from Italy and some others that turned up during my Easter cleanup.

Paulino and Zeze- I know nothing about this card. If anybody has any information please post it.

Fregoli- This is a reproduction of an original. Fregoli was a quick change artist, very famous during the vaudeville era

A 1993 Festival in Italy.

DeWitt, Young and Sister- The College Boy Juggler. I suspect that there is a very interesting story behind this card. Young was a very famous juggler, DeWitt is a very famous name in Juggling, and 'College Boy Juggler' was a very early juggling skit. This card is an American card dated 1908 and sent to Ohio- a hotbed of early American juggling. Somebody, somewhere will have a story about this one, I'm sure.

I found this one while cleaning my house. Judith Anderson, a very famous Australian actor, in a Criterion Theatre Sydney production.

Another Italian festival.

On the back of this picture postcard it says, ' Doris and Dessy' Danceurs......acrobatique" Obviously French. It looks like it's been taken from somebody's photo album and I picked it up in Florence.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Maggie Dickenson and Harry Clay

Easter cleaning has led me to some interesting rediscoveries, including these lovely prints of Maggie Dickenson and Harry Clay.

Maggie was a very famous Australian Dancer who featured in many pantomimes. I wrote an article about her many years ago and in response received a letter from Dr Tony Gough, whose mother performed with Maggie.

Dr Gough also sent some prints which I rediscovered in a drawer this weekend.

Dr Gough's mother, Nancy Chapman aka Nancy Leigh, performed with Maggie as one of the Whirl of Girls pictured above.

I also found some prints of Australian entrepreneur Harry Clay, which were given to me many years ago by one of his descendants. 

Harry Clay managed many small vaudeville theatres in the Sydney suburbs during the early 20th Century, including one which sat where the old Newtown Hub theatre was. 

These are beautiful pictures and I am very grateful that people shared them with me.

I really should clean up more often. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

John Pamplin, Minstrel and Juggler

Just a brief and rough account of John Pamplin in Australia.. References upon request..

In  1899 juggler extraordinaire Cinquevalli opened in Sydney. He caused a sensation. However, another, equally talented ,juggler was also appearing in the city. He caused barely a ripple.
American John Pamplin was performing with Orpheus McAdoo's Georgia Minstrels at the same time as Cinquevalli. He was an African American artist who was an accomplished juggler, sleight of hand expert , gun manipulator and club swinger.

Before coming to Australia, Pamplin worked with the Georgia Graduates Company, which was a variety group active between 1895 and 1897. In the former year they toured the north of the United States and followed this tour with a transcontinental run in 1897. One of the lead performers on that tour was Ernest Hogan.

In 1899 Hogan, one of the earliest proponents of rag time, decided to take a minstrel group to Australia. Unfortunately, he had been beaten to the country by Orpheus McAdoo and the Georgia Minstrels.  Hogan quickly saw that there was not enough business for two minstrel tours, so some of his group joined  Mc Adoo . This could be how John Pamplin ended up touring Australia with The Georgia Minstrels .

Pamplin was, by all accounts, very talented . Unfortunately, contemporary reviewers did not describe his turn in any detail  He was part of a much larger ensemble including Ferry the Frog, a contortionist, and a group of singers led by Flora Batson.  Pamplin's feats were overwhelmed, not only by his fellow minstrels, but by the focus of the media on Cinquevalli. In 1899, there was only room for one juggler, and that juggler was the Polish, and white, Cinquevalli.

Of course, Australia at that time was considering federation. And one of the planks of the Commonwealth was the White Australia Policy. Racism was a major part of the Australian psyche. The desire to keep 'undesirable elements' off the precious island was paramount. Pamplin was not only fighting a fellow juggler for attention, he was fighting a whole culture imbued with racist ideology.

The popularity of the minstrel troupes in Australia was somewhat surprising. Historian Richard Waterhouse has described the early popularity of minstrelsy in Australia in terms of 'romantic racialism'. Waterhouse argues that in the early 19th Century, the image of African Americans as portrayed in minstrel shows was either of a childlike servant of a kind master or an exploited Christian slave to an evil landholder. This image of submission and infantilism was embodied in sentimental ballads of plantation life. Many early minstrel troupes played to this image successfully.
Waterhouse further suggests that by the turn of the century, when McAdoo and Pamplin toured, that this image had changed to one where the infantile slave had  become a threat to white supremacy. In Australia, this was embodied by sinister images of African Americans and Indigenous Peoples, and legislated with The White Australia Policy.

The McAdoo tour of 1899/1900 neatly combined both images of African Americans. Firstly, the songs concentrated on sentimental ballads. However, these were combined with new innovations such as the cake walk and rag time, to produce novelty. The troupe was very popular, but their tours concentrated on the smaller areas of the country. They visited provincial towns such as Goulburn, Bathurst and the smaller cities such as Fremantle and Adelaide. In each area, Pamplin's juggling was applauded.

So how did John Pamplin create a juggling act that appealed to predominantly white racist colonial audiences in Australia? The details are sparse, but there are some descriptions which give a clue to his  success.

Firstly, it's clear that he was a very skilful and talented performer . He juggled, he balanced, and he also did some sleight of hand.

His act played upon projecting a foreign appearance, and combining it with a dangerous edge. Pamplin  was in many ways, embodying the fears of the insular colonials.

He dressed exotically, sometimes in a Zouave uniform, a garb that included a colourful jacket and  unusual headgear.  At other times his persona was that of an Egyptian or Nubian Prince. A royal from Africa. This was a trope which had been successfully employed by Indian jugglers in the mid 19th Century, and it obviously had continuous appeal to Australian audiences.

The main part of Pamplin's act was gun manipulation. He also caught a cannon ball, a trick that Cinquevalli was performing in the larger theatres. There was balancing and further juggling, but it was his expertise with rifles which brought the most comment.

A very clever item was some gun juggling by John Pamplin who, clad in Zouave uniform, makes first one and then two guns fly around and all over him in most bewildering style.

Pamplin toured with the Georgia Minstrels in Australia for some time and then returned to the United States. There he continued to perform with minstrel troupes. In 1912, with Allen's Minstrels his persona was 'his satanic majesty, the  devil.'

There are records of him performing with a Wild West Show in 1929 where his finale was balancing a revolving table on a pole attached to his chin.

Pamplin died on February 27 1935 in Danville Illinois. His death was recorded by the Chicago Tribune as follows;

John M Pamplin,Noted Magician, Juggler, Is Dead

Danville Ill,. Feb 27- John M Pamplin, 60, colored, who had an international reputation as a magician, juggler and knife thrower, died of a heart attack in the Danville business district yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Theodore the Novelty Juggler

I found this tantalizing reference to Theodore, the novelty juggler in one of my old programmes.

The programme is from Newcastle's Victoria Theatre and dated 1911

I was thrilled to discover that Sydney's great magic historian, Kent Blackmore, had done some research about the mysterious Theodore.

Here's a link.

It's an interesting insight into early juggling in Australia

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Great Thurston

These souvenirs of American magician Howard Thurston are undoubtedly from his tour of Australia in 1904-1905.

The postcard below is of a quite young Thurston, looking suitably mysterious. This probably dates from his time touring Australia.

But perhaps of more interest is the letter below. It is addressed to scenic designer, Jack Ricketts on Thurston stationery and dated 7/9/05 from Melbourne. It may not be from the magician himself, the signature has been removed,  but it is a nice memento of his time in Australia.

The letter mentions the ferocious weather, the good houses and the help that Jack Ricketts gave at the Palace Theatre....I wonder what that was?

It's postcard fair time!

The bi monthly postcard fair was today and as usual I took a train to Croydon , Sydney, to see what I could find...

I had a very good day.

Firstly we have Rose Musgrove, daughter of George Musgrove who was J C Williamson's producing partner. George also had an affair with Nellie Stewart. Rose was the daughter of George's marriage and became a musical theatre star in her own right.

Next to Rose is Dan Leno. Dan was a very famous pantomime dame in London. I am unsure whether he came to Australia.

Below these two is one of my favourite Tivoli stars, Tom Dawson. Dawson joined the army during WW1 when he was well over 40 years old. He didn't live long on the Western Front. He was a Tivoli regular. I have written a story about Tom for Stagewhispers, so search their site to learn more.

Finally in this group of four is The Great Thurston. One of the world's most famous magicians. Thurston toured Australia in the early 1900s. I'm going to do a short separate post about Thurston soon.

In this group is La Sylphe, who was described as a continental dancer. She performed in Australia in 1907. Next to her is Florrie Forde, a very famous pantomime principal boy, who performed in Australia for many years.

On the second row is Beth Cole, from the Bohemian Dramatic Company. Next to her is Pressy Preston, who performed in vaudeville in the early 20th century.

This final group of three includes a double postcard of George Alexander and Irene Vanbrugh, English performers.

Below them is a very nice generic circus card.

Finally there is Daisy Holly, who I had never heard of before. She was a vaudevillian who performed at the Bijou in Adelaide.

I will be posting all these cards on my flickr account soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Art of Modern Juggling c1904

This amazing book was written by Anglo, aka Thomas Horton. He killed his wife in Adelaide in the early 1900s and was executed for the deed.

I have downloaded a pdf copy  of the book for interested readers.