Juggler's World: Vol. 43, No. 2

Flash Back

Starting With Pop Bottles, Cal Kenyon Made Juggling Look Easy

by Bill Giduz

Cal Kenyon & George "Red" Kenyon

Cal Kenyon and his older brother, George "Red" Kenyon, wanted to be jugglers even as small boys in Greystone, R.I. During the summer they took a water jug, some sandwiches and their homemade props and went into the woods to practice all day.

Their first clubs were soda pop bottles with broom stick handles, and they broke many thousands in learning their art. Later they asked the stage manager backstage at the Scenic Theatre in Providence where they could buy clubs. He told them "look in the New York Clipper" and they would see ads for juggling props. So they sent to Bozenhart (Van Wyck) for clubs.

One evening after coming home from work at the mill, their mother said, "After you eat supper I have a surprise for you." She had received the clubs during the day. Well, the boys went wild over them. But where could they do club juggling with glass oil lamps in the house? George said, "I know. Come on, Cal," and dashed for the front door. They ran down the street to the corner where a street lamp was lit. So there, with half the town looking, they broke in their new, 22 ounce clubs.

George was 14 years old and Cal was 12 in 1902 when they first performed on an amateur show. They were spotted by a booking agent, and the very next week they were performing as professionals at the Albee Theatre in Boston. And so they became "The World Famous Kenyon Brothers."

In 1905 they joined the Guy Brothers Minstrels, then the Derue Brothers Minstrels, then played the vaudeville circuit in America and Canada. They are credited with the first two person, seven club routine, and passed 10 and 11 clubs when they were joined by Tom Allen in 1908 to become The Allen-Kenyon Trio for four years. Agents described the Kenyons as "the team that made juggling easy.

George juggled five clubs, and may have been the first person to do the three-club kick up. Cal believed they were the only jugglers to juggle six clubs with their feet, exchanging them with kickups. Cal was also widely admired for spinning clubs across his head while passing with his partners, and his record was 200 shoulders doing a six club pass.

In 1914 Cal joined with Dan Mahoney as Mahoney & Auburn. They went over the Orpheum circuit three times as the outstanding club passing team of the day, doing an eight club pass. Later they played the Pantages circuit twice, and the Loew State circuit twice, and also with George. Cal played Loew State in New York City 17 times, a record for any act. After Dan Mahoney passed away in 1920, Cal and George worked again as a duo.

Cal joined the famous Elgins troupe, playing hotels, night clubs, and ice shows for many years. In about 1940 George decided to stay in Providence and worked in a jewelry shop. He still juggled at times, and teamed up for a while with Jerry Buckley. Several times, when Cal lost a partner, George filled in so the dates could be fulfilled, until a ruptured disk ended his career in 1950.

Cal and the Elgins group was known for their precision timing, and they were the first group to pass in the box formation. At first they were five, then did a four act for seven years, making TV shows and Warner Brothers shorts in addition to their live performances.

Blessed with an inventive mind, George was always dreaming up new tricks for the Elgins even though he was not a member of the troupe. Some of his comedy straw hat moves were very simple, but the laughing audiences did not care.

Cal Kenyon never missed an IJA convention, where he was always ready to demonstrate the proper way to juggle and throw clubs. He was an IJA director from 1955-56, vice president in 1959-60, and was elected president for 1963-64 at the convention in Wickford, R.I., his home town. He retired from juggling in 1959, but still performed occasional dates into the 1960s with Bill Freeborn. He was such a popular figure in the organization that many old-timers got together each August in the 1950s and 1960s for an annual "Cal Kenyon Day" in Silver Lake, Penn. He died Sept. 9, 1968 in Providence, R.I.

Flash Back / Index, Vol. 43, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.