Juggler's World: Vol. 38, No. 2

All our Yesterdays

How it was for jugglers "back then"

A profile of Sandy Lyle from the Feb. 1953 IJA Newsletter

By Jack Greene

[image] Sandy Lisle, from his book

Sandy Lyle was born in Glen Falls, New York, at the end of the last century and started to juggle at age 12. He was self taught and always tried to be original in his presentation. He was not satisfied to copy other acts and worked out many original ideas. His dress as a Scotsman in full kilts was just one colorful example.

Frear Bagget and Frear, of which I was a member, played on the bill with Sandy in Atlantic City about 40 years ago at the Globe Theatre for a Sunday date.

You may wonder why there were two juggling acts on the same bill. I will explain it this way. Around Philadelphia at that time in some of the houses contracts called for a seven day week. Philadelphia did not run Sunday shows, so to fill out the seven day week you were transported to Atlantic City to finish out the week -- without extra pay. The booker for those theatres would pick out acts suited for this particular theatre in Atlantic City without regard to conflicting acts. Results? Occasional duplication of acts.

One of Sandy's tricks at that time impressed me very much. He would stand on one side of the stage with a waste basket on the other side and a cane bottom chair in the middle. He bounced a tennis ball on the floor toward the chair, bounced it off the chair, then to the floor and from there into the waste basket. A very cute and clever trick.

Another trick which stands out in my memory was his famous five high hat routine. He balanced on his head a hat tree with one hat on it. Then having one in each hand, one on his head and one on a foot, he would pass the hats from one position to the other. It was really sensational!

Later on I caught his act in Lowell, Mass., and first noticed his mirror clubs. The mirrors were the small round kind common in those days. The house lights were out and he worked in a spotlight. The effect of those mirrors on the revolving clubs was as pretty a sight as one would want to see.

His finish trick consisted of throwing three clubs in the air as high as the stage would allow, floating way up high on three turns. Gradually he would bring them down, down and down until they were spinning at a terrific rate of speed, jumping around all the while. Billy, as he was known then, never failed to get his full share of applause with that finish, many times stopping the show.

Lyle originated all of those tricks and many more. He used standard props -- from balls to hats to cigar boxes. But instead of the three cigar boxes he used two boxes and a large ball, just to be a little different.

Sandy started out with the Bennett and Moulton stock company about 1900. Those shows then charged 10, 20 and 30 cents admission, and were called 10, 20 and 30 shows. Sandy was with them until 1906-07.

In the summer he would play the parks, which were popular at that time, and for the most part operated by street car companies. The gimmick was to have people ride on the cars to and from the park. The parks naturally were placed on the outskirts or a few miles out so that it would be too far to walk.

In 1910 Sandy started on the Keith Circuit which he played for many years. About 1925 he joined the Kelso Brothers unit, staying with them for five seasons. Sandy says that never in his life did he ever do any passing or double juggling with any other jugglers, preferring to work alone. When Sandy was using the name of Billy DeLisle he was known as the Lightning Juggler.

In 1910 he published a book, "The Art of Juggling." The quotes extracted here indicate that he was quite serious about his vocation:

"In order to become a first-class juggler you must have complete control of your nerves. The use of intoxicants is very injurious, as a clear eye and steady hand are a a jugglers most valuable assets."

"Your friends will not, as a rule, give you any encouragement, and you will have to be very persistent, paying no attention to the remarks made with the intention of persuading you to abandon the project."

"An audience wants to see fast juggling, and while an artist should be a fast worker, he must also be a graceful one, handling his material with cool, quiet ease, making it appear as though juggling is as easy to do as to walk."

"I consider clubs the most difficult part of a juggling specialty. Once a person has mastered the art of club swinging and juggling they are competent to do most anything in this line of work."

All our Yesterdays / Index, Vol. 38, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.