By Bob Hamill
Jim Hedrick, or as friends like to call him “Juggling Jim,” was born in New Jersey and as a Navy brat settled in San Diego. He was a big fan of variety shows, in particular Ed Sullivan, and was amazed at the skills of the jugglers. A friend taught him how to master the art. This was the start of Jim’s addiction.
Every day after work Jim would take his juggling balls to the beach to practice. He said it was the best way to learn, as when he dropped the balls, they wouldn’t roll away in the sand. As months went by, a lot of dropped balls fell to the sand. Jim got to be good.
A local restaurant owner offered Jim a chance that would start his career. The owner told him he would pay Jim $10.00 an hour to stand outside the restaurant juggling to draw people in. It was an immediate success. He couldn’t believe someone was paying him to have fun.
In the early eighties, Jim moved to Tennessee. He was hired by a theme park that no longer exists, Magic World. Jim did a little of everything: juggling, magic and acting in stage shows and street activities. He met up with David Fee who also worked weekends at the attraction. Each had about an hour and half trip to work. Jim approached David about leasing a cabin for the summer season so it wouldn’t be such a long drive. Fee was hesitant at first but agreed to give it a shot. Little did they know, it would be the shot heard ‘round Tennessee.
When the gig was up, Fee asked Hedrick if he would like to go to New York where they could pursue other venues. While in the Big Apple, anything goes. Whether it was commercials, street performing or waiting tables, they were up for it.
Winter came and in New York it is not a time to be on the street juggling with your bare hands. Fee and Hedrick moved to Las Vegas where even more of anything goes. This time, it was singing telegrams, shows and blackjack.
In 1982, the duo was hired by the Tennessee World Fair where David started as an escape artist act and Jim his assistant. I’ve seen some of the video and it was impressive. I got to see how hard these men were working at their craft.
Carnival Cruise Line called in ’84 and the partnership was cemented. It wasn’t long before David became Cruise Director and Jim his assistant. After about 10 years, the boys were headed back to Tennessee searching for a theater. The most logical was Archie Cambell’s Hee Haw Theater. It was an old building that sat back on the Parkway without much of a stage and 250 folding chairs.
The boys took a lot of what they learned at Carnival and applied it to what is now The Comedy Barn, which is celebrating 20 years of good, clean family comedy. Along the way they picked up the Hatfield McCoy Dinner Show and the Smoky Mountain Opry. They give over $100,000 each year to charity.
Jim Hedrick said, “If you have a dream, it can come true. But you have to work hard for it.” Not too bad for a couple of old street performers.