“Ride a unicycle”? Easier said than done, right? 99.99% of us can’t even get on one, let alone pedal it and “ride” it! Anyone who can do so has every right to show off, as far as I’m concerned! Nowadays, there are certainly some hobbyists and people who unicycle for recreation, but ever and always we associate this precarious means of locomotion with vaudeville and circus acrobats. As such, it is usually one of a myriad of skills developed by a performer. Joe Cook is the vaudevillian I identify most with the unicycle, and that’s really because he could do everything. Ditto Cary Grant, who started out as acrobat Archie Leach. Some lesser known acts from back in the day include The Great Clivette, Chester Dolphin, the Elliotts, Pop Kramer, and the Gae Foster Girls. As we wrote in our memoriam, the late Peter Scolari could ride a uni, and did so on Circus of the Stars! The best known contemporary unicycle act is perhaps The King Charles Troupe from the Bronx.
But what about the kid in the picture? That’s Bobby Burgess from The Mickey Mouse Club, and it just so happens that his birthday (May 19) falls during National Unicycle Week this year, so let’s celebrate him today as well, while we’re at it. Those juggling balls are clearly drawn onto this publicity picture, but it looks like he really could ride the unicycle. A professional performer since age five, he also sang, dance and played the accordion. Following his run as a Mouseketeer (1955-1958), he was a long-time regular on The Lawrence Welk Show as a singer from 1961 to 1982. Now in his 80s (b. 1941), Burgess is still teaching dance to kids. Whether he still rides a unicycle is unknown to this correspondent.
For more on the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.