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

Founding of the IJA

Pittsburgh, Tuesday, June 17, 1947

The other brother then did eight rings while spinning one on his leg and balancing a ball on a forehead pedestal.

The weather was partly cloudy and a little breezy, a cool 70 degrees. America was shaking off the post-war blues and fighting recession.

An eleven room manor estate with shore front could be had for $35,000, and a cruise to Havana was $299.50 - just two quality cigars under three hundred. For the hoi polloi, a new Chevy went for $1825. Haircuts were a buck, men's slacks were $13.75. Women's dresses were in the $9.00 range.

Despite record supplies of meat, price gouging was evident, with choice cuts rising above a dollar a pound. The Democrats decried the Republicans for ending price controls, calling them the "Vegetarian Party."

Thor Hierdahl's raft, Kon Tiki, was half-way on its calculated drift to the Marquesas Islands. The whole country was spotting UFO's. Tracy and Hepburn were playing in "Sea of Grass," Joan Crawford in "Possessed," Edward G. was snarling in "The Red Horse," and Dick Powell was Johnny O'Clock.

The news as ever was grim. A wool tariff was being pushed through Congress amid cries of isolationism. The Allies and Russia were arguing of the reconstruction of Europe, freezing down the cold war. Newspapers reported continuing attacks by Israeli terrorists as the U.N. held a special session on the question of Palestine, which the Arabs boycotted, saying they already knew whose homeland it was. Left unreported in the white press was the wave of terror and slaughter of blacks sweeping the south as the Ku Klux Klan went on trial and an anti-lynching bill was debated in Congress.

Amid the backdrop of these events, jugglers made their way to the stylish William Penn Hotel on Grant Street in Pittsburgh for a juggling session under the auspices of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

During the afternoon of the first day they drifted in, registered and found their rooms. Despite the difficulty of finding each other in the great crowd of magicians, they began bumping into old friends and introducing themselves to strangers they found carrying balls or clubs. Several got together for a juggling session in the empty ballroom before dinner. After a disappointing magic show in the evening, in which Art Jennings's comedy was the high point, most of the jugglers ended up at Thompson's restaurant around the corner. They pulled four tables together and shot the breeze until four in the morning.

All but the oldsters, Jack Breene and Harry Lind, who were invigorated by the late night session, dragged themselves out of bed late. They just had time for coffee before the ten o'clock Juggling Session, the formal demonstration of the juggling arts to the magicians. Nearly 20 jugglers were there for the big toss up.

All went according to plan until Bobby Jule (born Joe Pegnato) introduced two Italian kids, Sergio and Vinicio, ostensibly from Bobby's neighborhood. He noted that they were still rank amateurs, come to learn from the old masters, but that they would demonstrate the little progress they'd made just to be part of the camaraderie.

The first brother walked on with five rings and then, with four more from the wings, calmly did a nine ring cascade. The other brother then did eight rings while spinning one on his leg and balancing a ball on a forehead pedestal. Then they did some foot passing with rings.

They were the Chiesa Brothers, stopping by from Ringling Brothers Circus. Jule's joke is still talked about as the quintessential ringer of all IJA conventions.

The session broke up at noon and nine people left for lunch in the Hotel's Embassy Restaurant, around the corner at 600 Grant Street. This was no impromptu event. Throughout the last two days, there had been little stand-in-the-corner meetings of two and three jugglers amidst the knots of magicians.

Aside from the pleasantries, there was talk of forming a separate juggler's brotherhood. Plans were finally taking shape. Art Jennings was collaring people. "This is the time!" he told them. There were noncommittal nods, firm maybes, and a few dedicated "yeses."

Jennings, Montandon and Jack Greene decided on a luncheon meeting at noon - get the jugglers the hell away from this crowd, away from their props, sit 'em down, and hammer this thing out. George Barvinchak joined in a pre-lunch caucus in which preliminary by-laws were drafted. Of the 20 or so jugglers, 10 made the trip to the Embassy.

Bobby Jule and his hand-balancing friend, Teddy Ray, left early. Those eight became founders and Bobby and Teddy became charter members along with three others who quickly ratified what took place at the meeting: Vin Carey, Doc Baldwin, and Joe Fleckenstein.

The eight founders sat at two booths in a semi-private alcove of the Embassy. Jack Greene and Harry Lind were the old pros, masters of vaudeville, lending their years of experience to the youngsters' energies. There was Art Jennings, with his moving-force personality, certitude, sharp wit, and ready smile. Roger Montandon, chewing his ever-present cigar, added few words. The meeting was on track and he watched it quietly and carefully.

Tall and humorous George Barvinchak was willing to help in any way. Floyd "Bill" Dunham was quick to crack up the group with a joke, and quick to take on any dirty job nobody else wanted. And there was the young and handsome set - Bernie Joyce and Eddy "Easy" Johnson, just out of the Army, post-war students, who had taken the train in from Altoona in response to an ad in Linking Ring. They didn't know anyone there and couldn't believe the company they suddenly joined.

After the dishes were cleared, the meeting began. Jack Greene acted as chairman, and minutes were kept on the back of the menu until more space was needed. Hotel stationary was used then. The constitution and by-laws were drafted and voted on, to be ratified at the next convention.

Doc Baldwin, one of the charter members, held an international office in the I.B.M. and had been consulted on the legalities of the procedure. Jennings wanted everything legal and proper, unassailable - a good thing since there were those who later questioned the officers' authority and the legitimacy of the founding.

The first issue at the luncheon was whether or not to stay within the I.B.M. Jennings initiated the movement to make the IJA independent of the I.B.M. After some discussion over Jack Greene's suggestion for calling the officers Big Club, Small Club, Feather (Secretary), and Balancer (Treasurer), more traditional titles were agreed upon and officers were elected: Jennings as President, Johnson as Vice President, Barvinchak as Secretary, and Montandon as Treasurer. The first independent convention was decided for the summer of 1948.

It took three votes to name the new organization. There was a lot of debate over simply calling it "American," but Jennings pointed out that there were jugglers in England and Germany who had already, through Montandon's "Bulletin," voiced an interest in joining. He said they should be included - and why not think big anyway?

Nevertheless, Jennings main concern was that the name have three words, so that the initials could fit on the three clubs in the logo he had already designed. "The International Juggler's Association" was decided on, and the logo adopted.

Jennings made it a point that acceptance of a membership card be conditional on the pledge "to render assistance to fellow jugglers." When that motion carried, Jennings's real dream came true.

The meeting ended on the note that the IJA be dedicated to preserving and furthering the art (not just the business) of juggling, and to promote fellowship among all those actively or closely associated with the it.

As they broke up, Montandon and Greene pulled out cigars and the group went outside for pictures. Joyce, who had brought a camera, asked an I.B.M. member to snap a picture of them.

Immortalized: Bernie Joyce in informal student dress of T-shirt and jacket, Jack Greene with stogie and dress suit, facing away, admiring some passing fancy perhaps. Harry Lind in old fashioned three-piece suit, smiling straight into the camera. Art Jennings with hands behind his back, at parade rest, looking dour on this great occasion. George Barvinchak, looking spiffy in a new double-breasted suit, trying not to smile. Bill Dunham hunched down in his suit next to Montandon with his T-shirt and cigar. And Eddy Easy, nonchalant with elbow on knee.

Suitably framed in history, they returned to the hotel and enjoyed more magic and juggling, and began working on sustaining their new organization.

Founding of the IJA / Index, Vol. 39, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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