Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 2

Early Stirring Toward Organized Juggling

The idea of a juggler's organization undoubtedly started early, in the heyday of vaudeville when actors were forming equity groups. The first great magician's society was formed in 1902. Because of the identity of magicians and jugglers, this served the purpose for some time. But for non-magician jugglers, one further, independent step was needed.

The first documented exchange of ideas on a jugglers association was in August, 1941. A group known as "The Old Troupers" met for their second annual dinner in Friendship, N.Y., and discussed formation of a juggler's association. At this meeting were, among others, Harry Lind, William "Doc" Crosby and Marty Lynch.

Lind became a founder of the IJA six years later and the other two became active members. Also before the war, Art Jennings and Bobby May discussed the idea of forming an organization. When Roger Montandon began his "Bulletin" in 1944 he immediately began calling for an organization among his subscribers.

It was Montandon's "Bulletin" that began pulling jugglers together, at least those with the shared interest of sharing the craft. Jennings calls Montandon's mailing list "invaluable" in forming the IJA. In June 1946, Jennings joined the subscription list along with Bernie Joyce, another founder, and Bill Talent and Ed Tierney, two accomplished professionals.

Doug Couden, one of the barn-storming school assembly circuit jugglers was one of the very few professionals who supported the idea. Montandon cites him as "probably having done more to contact and talk juggling to juggling enthusiasts than any other man in this country." Couden's letters are revealing of those early days:

"I for one would like to see the starting of a jugglers organization and kicking in dues to keep up this good work. Most jugglers are making pretty good money and I do not think $5 a year dues to start would be too much. Why not get behind this idea and let's hear what others think of it?"

(from the September, 1955, Couden Memorial issue of the "Juggler's Bulletin.")

As organizational efforts gained momentum, jugglers continued to meet at gatherings of magicians, and holding spontaneous juggling sessions at conventions of the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

1946 began to seem like the year. More jugglers were getting together more often. Couden wrote in his "Bulletin" column, "A Juggler In the Stix:"

"These get-togethers are a good thing for juggling and they may be the forerunner of an eventual national gathering. Betty Gorham wrote me, 'Sure had a pleasant surprise when Jack Greene, The Elgins, and Glen Phillips all came out and we practically had a jugglers' convention in our back yard.'"

(JB 6/46)

But the difficulty of organizing jugglers who were on the road more often than not was great. Art Jennings recalls that "most of my juggling friends were active professionals and we had the opportunity to visit only when working in or near the same city."

In May of that year, Montandon traveled East, ostensibly on company business, and attended the S.A.M. convention in Washington D.C., at the Waldman-Park Hotel. Bob Blau, ever the enthusiastic one, brought several jugglers together for an "informal jam session," that included Montandon, Blau, his brother and their wives, Lou Meyer, Charles Carrer and Dell O'Dell, Joe Fleckenstein, Homer Stack, and Leo Rullman, nearly all of whom later became prominent members of the IJA.

The following month, most of these jugglers met at the I.B.M. convention at the Jefferson Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. Additionally, there was Charlton Chute, Dick McKinney, and Art Jennings, who, as a headliner act at the convention along with Charles Carrer, promoted his idea of an independent association of jugglers.

There was resistance to this idea, of course. Even some of Jennings's good friends were against the idea of a jugglers association; Bobby May didn't join for several years. Later some of these hold-outs came to IJA picnics and conventions for the camaraderie, but continued to resist the membership.

Jennings said, "I talked organization for the exchange of ideas to anyone who would stand still, and I'm sure I strained some relationships." Even Harry Lind, who had long been in favor of an organization and could see a greater market for his clubs and other props, didn't think an association would work.

It was Jennings who finally made the decisive move. He was on the convention committee of Pittsburgh Ring 13, which was to host the 1947 I.B.M. Convention. He recalled, "The time had come. We put a separate Juggler's Session on the agenda for Tuesday (June 17, 1947) at 10:30 in the ballroom and featured it in the pre-convention promotion."

Early Stirring Toward Organized Juggling / Index, Vol. 39, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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