Page 8                                                                                  Spring  1985

Stack and stacks of vaudeville

by Nancy Levidow  - San Francisco, California


Familiar only to a small group of professionals and jugglers when they were rare in city parks and streets, Homer Stack reigned as a teacher, a friend and a source of information for juggling newcomers in the San Francisco Bay Area.


At a buoyant 93, he remains one of the oldest of the vaudeville jugglers. He is undoubtedly one of the most outgoing and generous with his time and advice.


For years, aspiring performers have come to visit Homer Stack at his home just south of San Francisco to talk, get some suggestions on improving their act or browse through his enormous collection of juggling photos and memorabilia.


"I like to teach, I enjoy it. I like to see people learn," Stack explains in an eager, lively voice. Though fewer younger jugglers now make the trek, Larry Merlo of the Juggling Merlits recalls how Homer was "the only one around to talk to" when he began juggling 16 years ago. "This was before Ray Jason, before the street acts, before the Renaissance Fairs."


"In those days, there was nobody to teach juggling. I was it," Stack continues. "Now there's so many that juggle, everybody's teaching it." Merlo explains, "Whenever people visit Homer he makes them feel real welcome to come anytime."


Another attraction is Homer's attention to what makes an act work. "With me, the act is the thing. I'm a nut on acts. There's hundreds of jugglers around but how many of them can get out there and do an act? Not many. And a lot of times you can get more out of a simple trick than you can from a hard trick. With doing it right, see. "


His own juggling career began in 1904 as a young teenager after seeing a comedy juggler at the Park Theater in Alameda, California. "I saw him and went home and juggled three apples. I've been juggling ever since." As a performer in the vaudeville theaters, Homer did a 13-minute silent comedy act three times a day on weekends.


He played mostly Bay Area theatres as well as casuals and club dates. "I didn't do anything sensational, but did everything well. " His act included 3 and 5 balls, clubs, a derby, broom manipulations, straw hats, and, surprisingly, devil sticks. "It was very simple for me. I never was much for practicing," Homer admits. "But I always did simple tricks that I could do well."


Old studio photos show him playing a tramp-style character, mugging impishly before the camera. A show program from 1925 notes Homer Stack as "very versatile. "

Comedy played a large part in his show. "My opening was so simple that it was funny. I'd walk out on stage, look at the audience, glance into the wings. and back off the stage. I came back with a broom, walked off again. and did it more times until I finished some simple but very funny pre-show business."


 In another gimmick bit. after finishing a trick with a glass of wine on a tray, drink the glass of wine and have a planted gunpowder-fueled explosion. "This thing would explode - Bang!"


Larry Merlo had the opportunity to view some rare film of Homer's act. "He had very unique routines, moves that you'd never seen before. He did a piece with straw hats between 2 people, shifting them around. They weren't such difficult moves, but very unique."

Homer Stack young

Homer Stack old

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