Balloon Twisting – The Pioneers

He may well have been dressed up as a clown just like the guy who had guests spellbound at your young son’s recent birthday party, but Twisters, as these balloon sculptors are known, come in many guises and can be found creating shapes from special modeling balloons in various fields of entertainment.

Balloon Twisting or Modeling techniques have developed to feature a range of highly complex twists and turns as well as accompanying jargon to describe the vital moves which are likely to have been learned from a video guide with easy-to-follow steps. But how did it all begin? Who were the early exponents of the Balloon Twisting arts? The origins, it seems, are hazy.

Emmy Award-winning producer/director Joseph Maar has been putting the case for his late father, Henry J Maar (1921-92), as the original Balloon Twister. He tells how the former vaudeville magician, whose stage identities included the Sultan of Balloons, had a childhood bout of pleurisy and was encouraged to blow up balloons to exercise his lungs when a patient in a Milwaukee TB sanatorium. During his magic career, Henry, a regular on Bozo’s Circus and other children’s TV favorites, decided the show must go on in Chicago with a Balloon Twisting act after his stage props were stolen from his car.

Another contender was Herman Bonnert, from Pennsylvania, who was seen in action at a 1939 magicians’ convention and is hailed in a Balloon Modeling manual as the “daddy of them all,” while Frank Zacone, of Ohio, perfected a balloon act that was popular in the 1940s. It is likely that all these gentlemen were pioneers of Balloon Twisting or Modeling – without the benefit of an instructional video – and the art has progressed to become an entertaining spectacle coloring the lives of young and old.