By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Somewhere between fumbling potatoes onto his mother's kitchen floor and bowing on stage with the B.B. King Holiday Revue, George "Guy" Mosley discovered that juggling was his ticket to the bigtime. But that was many years and many miles from the corner of 16th and California, where today the old man slumps onto his suitcase, removes his faded straw hat and dabs his forehead with a handkerchief.
Excuse that last performance, he says. He wasn't exactly at his greatest. His new tap shoes are too tight, he had trouble sleeping the night before, and when you're performing feats of juggling and dance simultaneously, you need all your powers of concentration. And with all the buses and police cars going by, it's impossible to keep the rhythm, let alone the music of the boom box, and he didn't get a chance to execute the bouncing-ball trick or the handkerchief number, which are among his most difficult maneuvers.
But he doesn't mean to complain. Complaining is not his style. And in Mosley's line of work, style is almost as important as showmanship. Consider his attire: patent-leather shoes, pressed black trousers, crisp white shirt, black bow tie, maroon sports jacket, old-fashioned straw hat lacquered with fourteen coats of fire-engine red paint.
"It's my trademark," he says. "Red is a major color in show business. Showgirls wear red. There are red drapes on the stage. And, as you know, there's the red carpet. Yes. Red is a very major color in show business."
Unfortunately for Mosley, red is also a color that absorbs the ninety-degree sun rather efficiently and helps turn his legs into limp noodles. At seventy, Mosley is too old to be risking heatstroke by dancing around on the sidewalk, but rent is due at his motel, and a man's got to do what a man's got to do.
As luck would have it, Mosley is a little name--a little name that was once a medium-sized name appearing on the marquee of New York's Apollo Theater with some of the best black performers of our time, Mosley says. Sadly, he has no way of proving this, since he didn't collect his newspaper clippings or photos. But even if he did, they'd be locked in storage with the rest of his belongings, under the supervision of a former landlord in San Francisco.
No matter. He has a story to tell and a laminated resume detailing the career of "Guy Mosley. Sepia Rhythm Juggling Sensation. A class act, a show stopper in every sense of the word."
"Oh, I'm good," he says. "Lord knows I'm good. As far as showmanship and artistic expertise, I've paid my dues."
Mosley rises to his feet, adjusts the volume on his boom box, snaps his fingers to the big-band beat and lets the rhythm soak into his bones. His shoes go "clickity-clack, clickity-clack" until the noise sounds like grease popping on a hot griddle and his mouth forms a little "o" of concentration.
Look out. Here it comes. His big move.
Mosley removes his straw hat, places it on the tip of his right shoe and flips it onto his head. One more time: Hat on shoe, flip onto head, a quick bow.
A blond woman walks by and nods. A black businessman drops a dollar into Mosley's yellow plastic change bucket. "Thank you very much, sir," Mosley says, and resumes his post on the suitcase.
Mosley was bitten by the show-biz bug when he was "knee-high to a grasshopper" during the Depression years on Chicago's South Side. His aunt would treat him to afternoons at the Regal Theater, which featured such acts as Count Basie, Tip, Tap and Toe and a juggler named Rudy Gardias.
"Gardias was one of the greatest of the greats," Mosley says. "An all-time master. He juggled pins, balls, rings around his neck, rings around his legs, everything. The guy was unbelievable. When I saw him, I wanted to be on the stage."
While the other kids played stickball in the streets, Mosley stood in his mother's kitchen juggling apples, oranges and potatoes.
"Every kid has his fantasy," he says. "I used to have people laugh at me and say, 'Why don't you just grow up?' My mother used to scold me: 'How many times do I have to tell you? Leave the vegetables alone!' But when people laughed at me, that only made me want to try harder."
And try he did.
"I practiced seven, eight hours a day," he says. "It took so much time I almost gave up on it. One ball would hit the other, and it was just so tedious. It's one thing to be an entertainer and another thing to be an artist. You have to be not just good, but outstanding. Creative ingenuity helps, but the key is self-discipline. Juggling takes coordination, razor-sharp skill and precision. That takes years and years."
At seventeen, Mosley got his first break. He was delivering newspapers for the Chicago Defender, and one of the employees decided to host a staff party and hire him as an entertainer.