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

"Bob Dow"

Stepfather of the IJA

The Shadow of Secrecy the IJA Was Founded To Eliminate

The guild of vaudeville jugglers was tight-knit and tight-lipped before the IJA. Being largely self-taught themselves, the idea of sharing, not only the routining of their act, but the athletic skills involved, was anathema to most vaudevillians. Show business was business first. Meeting the rare, cooperative juggler could change a young juggler's future. Meeting the usual kind of professional could stunt and kill a beginner's aspirations.

Typical of professional jugglers of the 1930's and 1940's was, let's call him, "Bob Dow," a consummate comedy juggler of the better circuits. Although odd-looking, completely bald, and slightly built, he wore an elegant black tux with formal bow tie under an old fashioned turned-up collar, and a red fez.

He opened his act with the ball-on-a-string comedy trick, then three ball routine with delayed catches, four ball bouncing trick while blindfolded and a three club routine finishing with a two-and-one spread. His encore was the apple eating routine with plate and rolled napkin.

He did the entire act in silence except for his signature wheezing laugh. His act was supremely simple. He had a knack for presenting difficult tricks as if anyone could do them. With his disciplined, yet casual approach, he seemed to the young juggler to be approachable.

It was while he was playing the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh that Bobby Jule went backstage to meet this master. As Jule, whose graciousness to fellow jugglers rivals that of Bobby May's, remembers it: "He was not overly gracious to me. In those days there was very little camaraderie between jugglers. This was something I came to learn and understand. The one great exception was Bobby May, as everyone knows."

Art Jennings, who made it a point to meet other jugglers and learn as much as he could remembers his own meeting with "Bob Dow" in more vivid terms. In essence, he accused Art of coming to steal his act. "Hell, get lost, don't give me your troubles, kid. And don't compete with me either."

In typical Bobby Jule style - spelled "Class" - he holds no grudge: "In any case, `Bob Dow' remains the finest silent comedy juggler I ever knew." And it was typical of Art Jennings to chew on this rude rebuff until an organization pledged "to render service to fellow jugglers" became, in 1947, a reality.

"Bob Dow" / Index, Vol. 39, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.