Lester Raymond Bode was born Feb. 4, 1895, in San Francisco, the youngest of three brothers. At the age of five, his stepfather, a very strict disciplinarian, started teaching him to juggle. He practiced at least three hours every day.
Though the stepfather was not a professional juggler himself, he seemed to know a great deal about the subject. When jugglers appeared in San Francisco he would send Bode to watch each one at least three times. He would then check up to see if he remembered what they did. Woe to him if he didn't!
Bode vividly recalled seeing Cinquevalli, who set a pattern for his juggling. When he first started to appear professionally he copied Cinquevalli's mode of costume.
When he was about six years old, Bob Leando, who was then athletic instructor of the Olympic Club, took him under his wing and taught him ground tumbling and hand balancing. He became proficient at both, but never really liked either. Juggling was his forte. By the time he was seven, he was appearing in amateur shows, many of which were at the Olympic Club.
By this time he could cascade five balls. His first professional appearance was at age 10 at the Mechanics Pavilion in San Francisco in 1905. Bode recalled that he did tumbling, hand balancing building the blocks, and juggling. The amazing part is that his act ran 30 minutes. In 1909 he toured the Orpheum circuit doing a juggling act. By this time, he had discontinued the tumbling and the hand balancing. At age 15, working under the name of Lester Raymond, he was juggling five clubs and seven balls. He told me that the clubs he used were turned out of solid redwood and cost 60 cents. During his career he played just about every venue - big and small.
I first met Bode in 1926 when he was on the Pantages Circuit doing a juggling act with his wife, working under the names of Raymond and Geneva. He did two tricks that I have never seen before nor since. One was juggling three balls behind his back, and actually juggling them! The other was juggling three balls, leaning forward to juggle them between his legs, and doing a quick forward rollover. He would throw the balls high, catch them and continue the juggle. He told me that at one time he did takeaways of five clubs in practice with another juggler, Carl Riffner.
Anticipating the decline of vaudeville, he started his own business producing sparkling material for theatrical costumes and was very successful. In 1945 he sold his business and moved to Menlo Park, Calif. I visited him shortly thereafter. It had been 19 years since our last meeting and neither of us had juggled for about 15 years. We dug up a few props and it was amazing to me that after a week he was juggling seven balls and five clubs again.
In the early 1950s he started working professionally again, playing local dates and fairs. I helped him put together a comedy tramp act that was successful in kids shows.
But Bode suffered from arthritis and stomach disorders for about 10 years. His wife, Astrid, found him dead in bed on Jan. 10, 1965. With his passing comes pleasant memories of a wonderful friendship.