Or He May Not
I juggled eight balls at one time which is a highly technical thing. It
takes a lot of practice.
Bobby May, whose real name was Ludwig Mayer, was born in 1907. He is
considered by many to have been America's finest juggler. He made his first
professional appearance in 1922, at the age of 15. Three years later he and
a partner started working on the RKO Keith Orpheum Vaudeville circuit as
"Joe Cody and Bro. - Comedy Mad Hatters". They did a straw hat and double
juggling act in which May played the straight man. In 1928 May started
working as a solo juggler again. In 1930 he toured Europe for the first
time, playing at the London Palladium, as well as theaters in Paris and
Switzerland before returning to the US. He played in circuses, night clubs
and skating shows as well as variety theaters. During the second World Way
he entertained US troops in East Coast camps, then returned to a contract
with "The Skating Vanities", where he performed until 1948. Many years of
ice shows in the US followed.
Though he could juggle up to eight balls, he was at his best with three and
five. His routines contained many bounce moves, particularly those in which
spin was put on the ball to make it bounce back to him unexpectedly. His
four club routine and his stick, ball and hat routine were also
outstanding. One of his tricks involved throwing a cigarette behind his
back and catching it in his lips. The cigarette was followed by a lighted
match, also caught in his lips, which he used to light the cigarette.
Bobby never liked to bill himself as a juggler, so whenever he had control
he would bill himself "Bobby May" and then very small underneath "Or He May
Not", so this way he could mislead the audience. Then he'd open his act by
playing the harmonica, and then break into his juggling act.
Bobby May - did not have a pretentious theatrical manner. He often made his
entrance wearing a beret and playing a harmonica. Resembling the boy next
door and radiating a hint of mischief, he was casual, indifferent, lovable.
But when he began to juggle - the roof came down! It was clear that his
audience took his personality lightly, but his juggling seriously. Bobby
May exerted so much control over lacrosse balls and clubs that it would
take the average juggler two lifetimes to come close to his achievements.
His three club routine included the more difficult moves, which he did with
great vitality. He also did ball bouncing as he stood on his head. His
closing routine easily compares with the best of Rapoli and Kara. Wearing
a hat, Bobby juggled five balls in a variety of patterns, the shower being
the last. Now the balls were allowed to systematically drop on the floor
one after the other. As each ball bounced, it was scooped up with the hat
except the last which was allowed to bounce on the forehead once, caught in
back of neck, and rolled down the back into waiting hat which he held
between his legs. From this position, he did a forward acrobatic roll, up
on his feet, and triumphantly walked off stage.
Bobby May died on November 7,1981. During his memorable career he was
highly respected by agents and fellow performers alike, and was one of the
giants of his day. He was often the headliner in a show. A privilege
rarely enjoyed by most jugglers.
Here is May's obituary, published in the
January 1982 edition of Juggler's World. It
contains a tribute to May and a detailed chronology of his career, as well
as reminiscences from Fred W. Mills and Alan Howard.
Here is a brief
description of May's act in 1945, published in the Summer 1987 edition
of Juggler's World.
Here is an interview with Dick Franco in which he
talks about the influence of Bobby May on his career. It's from the Summer
1988 edition of Juggler's
Here is an MPEG
movie of May with four clubs and here is one of
him with five balls. See the Great
Jugglers of the Past section of the JIS Movie Theater for
- "Juggling - its history and greatest performers"
- by Francisco Alvarez, Albuquerque 1984.
- "Bobby May: A Great American Juggler"
- Short video biography of May, including movies of his performances.
Available from Brian Dubé. Here
is a review of this video published in the Summer
1988 edition of Juggler's
The Juggling Hall of Fame is maintained for the
Service by Andrew Conway.
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© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.