Sylvester Schäffer Jr. – The Most Talented Man in the World

Sylvester Schäffer, Jr. (1885-1949) was the son and grandson of professional jugglers. His grandfather was Karl Johann Schäffer (1824-1917), who was trained by famous juggler Karl Rappo (1800-1854). Karl’s sons, Sylvester (Sr.) (1859-1934) and Severus, were both skilled jugglers. This was especially true of Severus, who gained a reasonable amount of fame. You can read an article I previously wrote about Severus Schäffer (1867-1950) by clicking here.

Sylvester Schäffer, Sr., Sylvester Schäffer, Jr., and Karl Johann Schäffer

Sylvester Jr. was obviously influenced from an early age by his father, uncle, and grandfather. However, he was not content to just become a talented juggler like his uncle Severus or a juggler and painter like his father. Instead, he mastered a wide variety of talents and became famous for his ten act, one man variety show, which featured three separate juggling acts and lasted 90 minutes. And keep in mind that he had developed such a remarkable set of talents by his early 20s. Let’s take a look at his amazing set of skills. We’ll save his juggling acts for last.

Sylvester was a magician and quick change artist. He was known for his work with coins and cards.

He took after his father and was an oil painter and lightning-sketch artist.

He was a equestrian performer, able to perform many tricks atop his Arabian horse. He also stood on stage and made two horses dance across it.

Sylvester Jr. was a sharp-shooter of great fame, performing the feat of shooting peanuts off the tops of clothes pins.

He performed an act with trained dogs.

He was a world-class violinist, considered an equal to the virtuosos of the day.

He was an actor, both as part of his one man stage show, and also on the movie screen, as he appeared in eleven German films from 1921 to 1924.

Now we come to the juggling acts of his show. First, he would showcase Japanese-inspired tricks with Japanese drum sticks, balls, the “bottomless basket,” and other related skills.

Sylvester’s second juggling act was in the gentleman juggler style, although we don’t know many details about this act. We do know that he juggled tables and chairs. He balanced a hat rack and even a bookcase. He could also juggle 7 balls, as you can see in the photo below.

He closed out his show with his strongman juggling act. Dressed as a gladiator, he would ride a chariot pulled by two horses onto the stage. He would balance the chariot with his feet and on his chin. Sylvester would juggle cannon balls and lift anchors, steam boilers, and even an automobile. He would even lie on his back and juggle a kennel full of dogs with his feet.

As a finale, he would come out as a bare chested Atlas, holding a giant globe on his shoulders. Then five people would come out from globe, each representing a different continent of the world (Europe, Asian, Africa, Australia, and the Americas).

Sylvester Schäffer, Jr. utilzed at least a dozen assistants and had ten wonderfully made backdrops, one for each of his ten acts. He married Lilly Krüger, who had accompanied him since 1922 as a dancer and assistant. That same year their son Peter was born.

Sylvester was considered a heartthrob and was know around the world. In the late 1930s, he refused an invitation to perform a private show for Adolf Hitler, as Sylvester hated the Nazis and even had a Jewish agent. This hatred led Sylvester and his family to immigrate to the United States in 1939 and settle into semi-retirement in Los Angeles, where he concentrated on his painting and music. His wife Lilly worked as an actress in Hollywood, but was killed while filming a movie in 1942.

Sylvester with his sisters Stephanie and Stella

Sylvester Schäffer, Jr. passed away in Los Angeles, California in 1949.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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