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

Bob Blau

Juggling Magician and Grand Young Man of the IJA

This disconcertingly active individual has come up with perhaps the ultimate melding of magic and juggling: a four color changing ring.

Few other IJA members can claim to epitomize the magical heritage of juggling as well as Bob Blau of Pearland, Texas.

Born in 1902, the same year the Society of American Magicians was established, he took up juggling and magic before the birth of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and was long established in both magic and juggling by the time the IJA was founded. He has been an active member in the IJA as a correspondent since its inception and up to the present.

An active magician as well, he has held offices with local chapters of the IBM and SAM, has recently written a book on magic, and is now working on a juggling book. At age 85, still performs magic and juggling and has, as he likes to point out, juggled under two passes of Halley's Comet - two passes and no drops!

Blau traces his performing roots back deeply into the adolescence of vaudeville. A fifth generation Houstonian, he was born into an active, outgoing family in the age when parlor entertainment predated radio. The Blau family entertained themselves with vaudeville-like performances.

He was fascinated by the novelty acts in vaudeville and spent hours practicing knife throwing, wire walking (resulting in a gimpy knee) and acrobatics. He picked up magic from his parents and, in 1910, with Halley's Blue Streak overhead, learned to cascade three pebbles. He was the first of his family to be seriously bitten by show business and soon infected the others.

He first interested his older brother in juggling and together they progressed from stones to sawed-off broom sticks, ten cent rubber balls and broom-handle torches. At 15 he paid the hefty price of $9 for three Van Wyck clubs, and later some torches - beauties with nickel plated bodies.

He and his brother gave free backyard shows, then earned their first buck in 1917. In 1918 he met his first booking agent when his 14-year-old girl friend got him a $5 job juggling on wobbly benches (with those heavy Van Wyck clubs). In the tradition of those romantic times, he and the young lady were later married.

The same year, at age 16, Blau left school and went to work for a dental supply company, a career he maintained for the next 64 years until retiring in 1982 at the age of 80. That move just cleared the decks for even more performing.

Along the way, he brought his family into show business. He began by producing and directing musicals and minstrel shows with his brother until 1924. He and his brother performed as the Aldo Brothers. Then they were joined by all four siblings and by 1925 he had an ensemble act, the Seven Blaus. It consisted of three brothers, a sister, two wives and a sister-in-law. The act included everything in the novelty line from juggling to mentalism to magic to fire eating, plus songs, music and comedy.

By the forties, the act had pared down and added a newcomer, Bob's son, Dean. Together they revived the title of Aldo Brothers. Recently, after 36 years, Bob and Dean, now a retired doctor, reunited their act. There seems an inexhaustible supply of energy in this Blau family.

In the best vaudeville tradition, magic came hand in glove with juggling for Blau. His fascination with deception was spurred by his mother's Handkerchief Mouse routine and his father's Ball and Vase trick. His dedication to magic equalled his love of juggling and both have been incorporated into his acts throughout his life.

At 18, he formed a small magic club that was later chartered as Assembly No. 19 of the SAM. He joined the IBM 9 years later and helped organize Houston Ring No. 39 in 1945. At the same time, he was active in the fledgling IJA, supporting Roger Montandon's "Juggler's Bulletin" with correspondence, and organizing juggling magicians into "jug fests" at SAM and IBM conventions before the IJA was formed.

In January 1945 he was featured on the cover of the "Bulletin" spinning a club, knob down, on the rim of a glass. Just two months earlier, he was pictured in the IBM's "Linking Ring." All the "notoriety" brought him the nickname of "Front Page Blau."

His long-time activity within the IJA must give him the record for most durable correspondent, having had letters published in both the 1944 "Bulletin" and 1986 "Juggler's World." He emceed the 1974 and 1975 public shows and was elected an honorary director.

This disconcertingly active individual has come up with perhaps the ultimate melding of magic and juggling: a four color changing ring. These three rings, changing red, blue, white, and striped cannot be manipulated by a nonjuggler and could not have been conceived by a nonmagician. It is the remarriage of estranged parties into the ancient "jongleur" - neither one nor the other, but the true magician/juggler. One could say that this octogenarian has literally reinvented the juggling wheel.

Blau credits the original idea to fellow Texan Sam Gainer, with additional work by himself and Sam Hawkins. The idea has been in the works since 1974 and is now perfected. From the standpoint of magicians, it's a good trick: angles are not important (but of course the juggler wants the flats facing the audience), and, although Blau would rather not have the audience closer than 10 feet to his "gimmicks," these are stage props anyway and show best at theatre distances.

The "gimmick" requires a magician's smooth touch, a little sleight of hand that makes them unsuitable for close-up work on the street or by the untrained. From the juggler's standpoint, they provide a startling visual surprise. Although a lay audience is pleased by the two-color change, the third comes as a surprise. And by the fourth, it's all a mystery.

The trick employs the standard turn-over in the cascade with the addition of a gimmick hidden by a little misdirection. It takes getting used to. They are constructed of a combination of wood, metal and plastic, and Blau has refined the device to make it lighter, easier to handle and more visual in motion.

Blau says rough comparisons may be made to Bobby May's electrically lighted balls and Truzzi's lighted clubs, both of which required special manipulation of the devices to work properly. And like any innovation in magic, he is guarding the secret "at least for a while longer."

Highlights of his juggling routine include the parasol coin roll with stopping and starting the coin several times, back catch off a high triple, boomerang cards and back catch of a deck of cards. The most recent innovation in his act is, of course, the phenomenal four-color changing ring sequence.

This latter ability to invent the new while in his eighties is the product of an accomplished and hectic life. His recently published "Bob Blau's World of Magic" (order direct from the author at $10) reveals the details of his Spirit Cabinet routine, one of his long time signatures, the Coin on a Fan, boomerang cards, common sense "thumb tip" tips and more.

He now has a juggling book in the works that promises to fill the gaps left by other books: midlevel tricks of great novelty value, including the side-by-side 7 ball shower pass he learned during a visit with Bobby May.

And the list goes on. He has played every conceivable forum including the Christy Brothers Circus, taught college classes in juggling and magic, played in a TV magic series, performed in operas and the musical "Carnival" with Anna Maria Alberghetti, and most recently played Houston's famous "Orange Show."

He continues to be tremendously versatile, showing his honest vaudeville roots, doing juggling, magic, mentalism, stage spiritualism effects, fire eating with hand and tongue burning, fire juggling, and delivering lectures on Houdini and off-the-cuff recitals of the biographies of great jugglers and magicians.

It's typical of this forward-looking gent that he lists among his heroes Anthony Gatto, a fellow some 70 years his junior - and with only one Halley's Comet under his belt!

Bob Blau / Index, Vol. 39, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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