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

Roger Montandon

Voice of the IJA

Montandon's contribution to the founding of the IJA cannot be overestimated. In his quiet way, he wove threads into the tapestry upon which others could build. As Montandon wryly puts it, "I like being the mystery man of the IJA."

While Art Jennings, the first IJA president, describes himself as an early Yuppie - with all the driven ambition and expansive reach the term has come to imply - no better contrast could be found than fellow IJA founder Roger Montandon.

Montandon is an amateur juggler and magician who has done little else than hold down one job all his life, work his land, and pursue his life of magic and juggling through a life-long collection of books, props, and photographs. But that "little else" is considerable: His initiative of publishing "The Juggler's Bulletin" beginning in 1944 was a key in development of the IJA.

Full of news, tips, discussions, anecdotes, information, and history, the quality of "The Juggler's Bulletin" was never fully matched until publication of "Juggler's World," over 30 years after it ceased publication.

More important, the "Bulletin" gave voice to a wide scattering of jugglers who had no way previously of sharing their interests. Montandon and his "Bulletin" were the central point around which organized juggling first took shape.

This was a time when the number of "hobby jugglers," as they were called, was increasing, and they were looking for tips and advice. Professional jugglers were beginning to drop the secret guild attitude toward their craft share their knowledge.

"The Juggler's Bulletin" provided the first community of juggling. Each issue represented the first juggler's conventions, and each issue brought closer, through discussions and then plans, the founding of the International Juggler's Association.

Montandon lives on Snake Creek in Bixby, Okla., just south of Tulsa, on 40 acres of what can generously be called good scrub land. The Snake periodically floods, costing him livestock, flooring, and damage to his extensive juggling and magic library.

He has a soft-spoken dignity, a flashing child's sense of humor, and friendly eyes. He meets his visitors in a clown print shirt and escorts them around his land: a pecan orchard where geese and goats graze, where he raised burrows until they were taken down with disease. A dachshund runs by his side and the baby goat comes to his call for the bottle. He follows rather than leads his guests, watching through their eyes, speaking only to direct questions, and offering no-nonsense small talk.

He lets his visitors thumb through shelf upon shelf of his library, and paw through his collection of priceless Van Wyck and Lind props. He brings out several boxes of photographs and souvenirs. He has an obvious pride in all this, but he keeps it in his pocket and lets others enjoy.

At lunch time his wife, Juanita, a warm and gracious woman, spreads a picnic in the welcome shade of a gnarled old tree - home-grown tomatoes and sweet onions, homemade pickles and preserves, sandwich fixings, ice tea and fresh goat's milk. Desert is wonderful - homemade, home-grown goat's milk pecan ice cream.

The talk is slow and casual, with much quiet enjoyment of a hot, still, summer day. Juanita and Roger are given to banter, and she is often caught slapping at him affectionately.

Snake Creek is low key, the mood mellow and lazy, a kicked-back, laid-back, down-home country feeling. Excellent juggling vibes.

Montandon first took up magic in childhood and, in 1933 at the age of 15, added juggling to his repertoire in order to win a part in a school variety show. Where Art Jennings learned by analyzing other jugglers, Montandon availed himself of written resource materials. He sent for Rupert Ingalese's book and learned enough during the summer to qualify for the show in the fall.

His inspiration to juggle came from W. C. Fields in "The Old Fashioned Way," which he saw a half-dozen times. (One of his prized possessions is a signed letter from Fields dated 1934. In the letter, Fields, characteristically business-like but encouraging, calls juggling "a bunch of fun.")

He gave his first paid show on Nov. 7, 1933, and still has the first dollar bill he made from it. His parents, although not thrilled, were supportive enough to present him with a book on magic which cost over $12 and was therefore, at the height of the Depression, great support indeed.

He did a little semi-professional juggling in college, sometimes combining his act with magic. He joined an entertainment group that toured Oklahoma. In 1941, he graduated from Oklahoma A&M as an electrical engineer, and went to work for the Wait Manufacturing Company, where he stayed until retirement.

The association with the Wait company was a perfect one. Logan Wait, 80 years old last June, was a prominent local magician Montandon met in 1933. Montandon became his assistant and did a juggling act after Wait's magic show. Wait was a great supporter of magic and juggling - Lottie Brunn and Michael Chirrick were among his house guests - and Montandon was able to pursue his interest in both with Wait's encouragement. Their association was close throughout the years and they collaborated on a magic booklet, "Not Primogenial."

Although the company concentrated on government contracts during the war, and later distributed outboard motors, lawn mowers, and electrical equipment, it also manufactured toys on the side.

It was on a fortuitous trip East in 1944 to promote "Whoa Boy," a Wait company rocking horse, that Montandon drummed up support for his "Bulletin" and for an organization of jugglers.

Montandon actually established his own Montandon Magic Company in the Wait building. He sold magic and novelty items and manufactured sorely needed juggling equipment such as practice clubs and some beautifully weighted nickel-finish spinning plates. And it was in an office over on of the Wait plants that Montandon began publishing "The Juggler's Bulletin."

From 1959 to 1964, Montandon also published "The Collectors Bulletin," packed with information for collectors of magic and juggling materials. He also acquired the rights to the juggling material in Stanyon's "Magic Magazine," a British publication, and to Stanyon's booklet, "New Juggling Tricks," which he reprinted in 1978.

He has spent a lifetime scouring publications as divers as "Jack and Jill," "Rogue," "Boy's Life," "Man's Magazine," "Scientific American," and "Argosy" for references to juggling. His bibliography of juggling-related articles and publications is near-definitive.

Through his correspondence and his "Bulletin," Montandon set the stage for the founding of the IJA by providing the first cohesive forum for jugglers' communication. As early as 1944, he was calling for a "Juggler's Club of America," and was urging all jugglers to show up in force for the juggler's shows at magic conventions.

Montandon's contribution to the founding of the IJA cannot be overestimated. In his quiet way, he wove threads into the tapestry upon which others could build. As Bob Blau says, "Montandon must have been the first to activate interest in organized juggling when he started sending his plain newsletter free of charge to everybody that he knew who was interested in juggling."

And Art Jennings states emphatically that, "Without Montandon and his 'Juggler's Bulletin,' it is doubtful that we would have ever gotten off the ground."

Upon helping to found the IJA in 1947, Montandon served as its first treasurer. After attending the first two conventions, however, he was rarely seen outside Oklahoma. Doug Couden once remarked that receiving a letter from Montandon was "bigger news than if he had bit a dog."

His natural reticence, and his decision to cease publication of the "Bulletin," led to the general belief in the membership that a rift had occurred between Montandon and the IJA, the kind of rift that has so often occurred among prominent members throughout the IJA's history.

This added mystique to the Montandon image and made him a bit of a legend in the IJA. But, as Montandon wryly puts it, "I like being the mystery man of the IJA." And as to why he rarely attend conventions: "I guess its the hermit in me."

It is ironic that one of his prime reasons for pushing for a juggler's association independent from the magicians organizations was that he felt jugglers didn't enjoy meeting in the crowds of magicians. Success has now crowded the IJA conventions. Roger's dream of a little juggling privacy has come full circle, back to Snake Creek.

The Collector

Montandon has devoted a lifetime to collecting juggling souvenirs, from the priceless to the trivial. Here, reprinted from the February, 1973, "Newsletter," are his tips for the collector:

"A recent most pleasant visit from Rosto, the Dutch Juggler who is currently working school assemblies and stopped off during the Christmas holidays on his way from Nebraska to Arkansas, gave me a chance to go through some of my collection and become reacquainted with the wide variety of collectibles of juggling interest.

"Usually when one thinks of Juggling collections one thinks primarily of books and photos, but there are some other fields of equal interest that can be less costly to collect and can even offer more of a challenge.

"One such field is the collecting of Christmas, birthday, and other greeting cards having some juggling theme. Of course, some jugglers make up an original card and these are perhaps the most prized. To mind comes the annual card from the Willers, who manage to work into the design both Betty's juggling and Ken's one-hand stand. And then along different lines would be Rosto's full color reproduction photo of an 1894 lithograph use by the 7 Perezoffs.

"Still another type is a commercially available card doctored up to give it a juggling theme. A unique one of this type was sent to be by the late Tom Breen. The card showed a fireplace with a set of andirons whose front looked a bit like juggling clubs. Tom had an arrow pointing to them and wrote, 'Look what I did with my clubs!' Over a period of years, the quantity of commercial cards having a juggling theme may surprise you.

"Another field is the collecting of cartoons. Again it is surprising to find how many cartoonists use juggling themes fairly often over the years. By watching the comic strips and magazine cartoons you can create a very interesting collection, and one which portrays the layman's view of jugglers.

"Most cartoonists draw a juggling club that more closely resembles a bowling pin. Exceptions are such juggler-artists as Phil Berube, Kirk Stiles, Joe Marsh, or George DeMott. If this field interests you and you get duplicates send them to me and I'll send back something you'll enjoy adding to your cartoon collection.

"Still another challenging field is the collection of similes, metaphors and humorous stories. In the case of stories one must often substitute the word juggler for 'actor' or 'magician.' To illustrate, the following is a story usually told about actors but could apply equally well to jugglers.

A troupe of jugglers was stranded and trying to reach the next river town but had no money or means of transportation. Finally they talked the captain of a river scow carrying a load of garbage into giving them a lift. As they passed a bend in the river a vice from shore called out, "Hey cap'n, what're you carrying this trip?"

"A load of garbage and a bunch of jugglers," the captain yelled. One of the jugglers was heard to exclaim, "Not even first billing!"

"The collecting of similes and metaphors is perhaps the most challenging since they appear in a wide variety of books, magazines and newspapers. Here are a few samples: From the book, 'Gus the Great' by Thomas W. Duncan - 'But she really felt more like a juggler that autumn, she was so busy not letting her left hand know what her right was doing.' Or from the same book - 'She had momentarily forgotten Barbara; she could never juggle more than one idea at a time.'"

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