There are a myriad of misconceptions regarding the art of juggling. Many are on the part of audience members, whose lack of understanding and knowledge is laughable, but somewhat understandable. However, many members of our own community fall victim to false beliefs as well. Some are about performing and some are about the history of juggling. It’s these historical misconceptions that I’ll be discussing here.
The First Juggling Superstar
If you were to ask jugglers to identify the first juggling star, most would probably answer Enrico Rastelli. Rastelli was indeed a superstar entertainer, becoming a sensation first in the world of circus and then on the vaudeville and music hall stages. He even had endorsement deals. His death was international news and his funeral was attended by thousands. His mausoleum is a landmark in the town of Bergamo, Italy, featuring a life-sized statue of him. Below are two pictures of Rastelli’s Mausoleum taken by Steve Langley.
However, Rastelli was not the first juggler to achieve such fame. Paul Cinquevalli (1859-1918) was a predecessor of Rastelli and similarly gained vast fame.
Paul Cinquevalli was not only a master of amazing juggling feats, but also a master at marketing himself. Regarding Cinquevalli, juggling historian Francisco Alvarez wrote, “we note that the vast amount of publicity bestowed upon him was not enjoyed by other artists, though some of them certainly deserved it. Perhaps the reason is that Cinquevalli was not only a great juggler, but did not hesitate to “reward” a journalist who was willing to write a story about him.” While such incentives to the media may have occurred from time to time, it can’t explain the enormous media coverage given to the juggler all around the globe. Cinquevalli’s name became closely associated with any amazing feat of juggling for quite a while after his death. This can be seen by the two brief videos below, which come from 1925 and 1930.
Juggling historian Erik Aberg is writing a biography of Cinquevalli and has amassed a great deal of evidence showing the enormity and global nature of his fame. The press coverage he obtained far exceeded what Rastelli would later achieve and even the details of this personal life and relatives were international news. He was given top billing over the most famous singers and comedians of the day. He truly was one of the top entertainment stars of his day.
Enrico Rastelli’s World Records – 10 Balls, 8 Sticks, and 8 Plates
Several other misconceptions revolve around Rastelli. Many jugglers assume that he performed the famous feats of flashing 8 sticks and 10 balls that we often remember him for today. While a well known poster from 1921, seen below, features these and other feats, it is not believed that Rastelli ever performed either in public.
The first person that we know for sure that performed a ten ball flash (without multiplexing) was Jenny Jaeger, who did so at the age of 15 in 1924.
Chinko (Tom Knox-Cromwell) multiplexed 10 balls in performance prior to this in 1904. Below is the only picture I’m aware of showing Chinko, performing the famous picture frame slide trick.
The first known juggler to perform 8 sticks was ….. me. I performed it for a couple of months in my show in 2002. You can see the only video I made of it (doh!) by clicking here. Anthony Gatto was the first to flash and qualify 8 clubs in practice while Nikolai Gerasimov, Willy Colombaioni, Rudolf Janecek, and Emil Dahl have flashed 8 clubs in performance.
Since the existing video of Rastelli doesn’t show him performing 8 plates, many jugglers believe he never did so. This, however, is not true. In fact, Bobby May reported seeing him flash 8 plates twice in performance, the second time doing so with a ball / head pedestal balance. Likewise, the following drawing of Rastelli in performance by Marthe and Juliette Vesque shows him juggling 8 plates with the pedestal in 1925.
However, Rastelli’s 10 balls and 8 plates may not have been records when he flashed them! Frank Le Dent (1886 – 1948) of Philadelphia, PA (USA) may have flashed or even qualified 11 balls and flashed 9 plates in his act prior to Rastelli’s feats! In his autobiography, Vaudeville comedian and juggler Fred Allen wrote, “When I saw the really great jugglers -Cinquevalli, Rastelli, Kara, Chinko, and others – I was discouraged. I could juggle four balls, Frank LeDent juggled eleven.” Well known vaudeville and post-vaudeville juggler Tom Breen wrote that “Frank LeDent still has all jugglers stopped by juggling eleven balls. Some jugglers claim he only “flashed” them – that means throwing them all up just once and catching them, but any one knows that jugglers have to be able to do a trick better in practice before trying it on the stage before a critical audience.” Larry Weeks, who is in his late 90s and still living in New York City, wrote that Le Dent flashed 11 balls in the book The Manual of Juggling by Max Holden. Even more impressive is the description by old time juggler George Kenyon. He wrote in a 1952 IJA Newsletter, “I saw Le Dent twice at the Old Keith Theatre in Providence. He started with three balls and juggles four, five, six, eight, ten and eleven balls. He crossed 11 balls, six in one hand and five in the other, about twice around and caught all of them close to his body. He also tossed up nine plates.” This would indicate that Frank Le Dent qualified 11 balls and flashed 9 plates in performance! Juggling historian Karl-Heinz Ziethen gives the date of Le Dent’s addition of 11 balls to his act as 1922, but I’ve recently discovered the following advertisement from the May 1st, 1909 New York Clipper newspaper that shows that he was performing it much earlier. Note that this was 6 years before Rastelli even started his solo performing career.
While most jugglers are not even aware of his existence, Frank Le Dent should go down in history as the first person to perform eleven balls and, perhaps, 9 plates. Below are the only three known pictures of Frank Le Dent. The first is from the collection of Erik Aberg and the other two are from my collection.
To add to the confusion regarding Rastelli’s 10 ball flash record claim is an article from the Vaudeville Missouri Breeze, dated October 1st, 1915, in which author Clever Conkey states, “Amoros Werner, a German juggler, is said to manipulate ten balls at a time, and leads all in this line. He handles them “singly,” that is, he throws one ball in the air at a time.” This would be a reference to Pierre Amoros of the Werner-Amoros troupe, which is pictured below. Pierre is on the right hand side of the photo.
The First 7 Club Juggler
Many jugglers believe that Jack Bremlov or Sorin Munteanu were the first jugglers to juggle and perform 7 clubs in the 1970s. While it is possible that one of them, probably Bremlov, was the first to perform this feat, they certainly weren’t the first to achieve it. Bremlov was trained by Romanian Mitica Virjoaga, who certainly juggled 7 clubs in practice and may have performed it. However, at least two jugglers did 7 clubs prior to this. Russian juggler Albert Petrowski was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1963 for juggling 7 clubs in practice. However, the first 7 club juggler was American John Breen, who could juggle 7 wicker “basket” clubs for at least 70 throws in practice. Breen died in 1912 at the age of 21.
The First 11 Ring Juggler
It should also be noted that Albert Petrowski was the first person to flash 11 rings, both in practice and in performance. He released ten from his hands and took the final one from his mouth. He performed this from 1963 to 1966, thirteen years before Sergei Ignatov first flashed 11 rings. It is a common misconception that Ignatov was the first person to flash 11 rings.
Ball Spinning Origins
Regarding ball spinning, most jugglers believe that Rastelli was the inventor of ball spinning. However, there is little evidence that Rastelli did any ball spinning other than spinning a rugby ball on a mouth stick. Instead of spinning a ball on the end of a finger, it appears from video evidence that he would balance a ball there statically, with no spin.
Almost all of the large ball manipulators who came after Rastelli did spin balls, though. However, Karl-Heinz Ziethen writes in 4,000 Years of Juggling that ball spinning was first done in China using glass balls the size of human heads around 1700.
The Origin of Albert Throws
Albert throws are between the leg throws done from the front to the back with both feet staying on the floor. The name was given to the trick by Kit Summers to honor Albert Lucas’ mastery of it. Click here to see Albert do the trick he made famous. Some younger jugglers know this trick as crotch throws or body throws, as they are called by WJF Founder Jason Garfield. Many jugglers assume that Lucas invented the trick, but this is not the case. The originator of the basic trick was Morris Cronin, who was a well known juggler in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Cronin was one of the first club jugglers and was recognized as perhaps the first juggler to master a variety of three club tricks. Tom Breen wrote in a 1947 Juggler’s Bulletin, “Cronin was first man to juggle three clubs and shoot clubs through legs while both feet are on the floor. He was also the first to throw a club back thru legs and catch it while juggling three. Another of his original tricks was juggling three clubs under the arm with one hand behind back. Cronin was a tall man and had long arms so these tricks were easy for him. As he dressed in evening clothes and made an elegant appearance he never did tricks he had to struggle for. Everything had to be done smooth and easy.” Below is one of the only existing images of Cronin, which has never been published before.
It is not known if Cronin did Albert throws with both hands or just one at a time. While a few films were made of Cronin’s club juggling, no copies of the films are known to have survived. Bobby May also did such throws, but with only one hand. The first juggler I know of for sure that did the trick with both hands was the great performer Rudy Horn. You can see him doing it with double spins in the following video.
The First Electrically Illuminated Juggling Clubs
While researching Morris Cronin for this article, I discovered a misconception that I was under regarding the origins of electrically illuminated clubs. As I reported in an earlier article, it has long been believed that Salerno (Adolf Behrend) invented the first lighted clubs in 1912. I’ve just discovered that Morris Cronin filed a patent in 1897 for an electrically lit club. A diagram for the club can be seen below and the entire patent can be seen by clicking here.
This revelation may explain what the “Electric Clubs” in Edward Van Wyck’s 1900 catalog were!
Albert Lucas’ 7 Club Juggling
Many jugglers have expressed doubt that Albert Lucas ever really juggled 7 clubs, even though he was listed for doing so in the Guinness Book of World Records starting in 1984. This stems from his failed attempts to do so in the IJA Numbers Championships that same year and their belief that he never demonstrated it in public. Albert did, in fact, perform it at various times as an added exhibition to his regular show and qualified it often at the 1996 IJA Convention. A clean run of 15 catches of 7 clubs by Lucas can be seen by clicking here.
The First Plastic Clubs
Most jugglers believe that the first hollow plastic clubs appeared in the middle of the 1970s, when Dube and JuggleBug first released their American clubs. However, I’ve recently obtained hollow plastic clubs going back to the 1950s and 1960s.
The first hollow plastic clubs were part of a children’s juggling set made my the Irwin Corporation of New York City in the late 1950s. This “You Can Learn To Juggle” set contained three hollow plastic balls, three plastic plates, and three red, 12.25 inch long hollow plastic clubs. I’ve been very fortunate to purchase two of them, both is excellent condition, on ebay. You can see them below.
About a year ago I heard rumors that the Bartl magic company of Hamburg, Germany sold hollow plastic juggling clubs in the 1960s. I was sent a picture of a set of these, but was unable to learn anything more. In November of 2013, I was given a set of these clubs that was purchased in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1961. The sticker on the clubs is marked “Havemann” and the clerk that sold them told the buyer that they were made in Italy. Below is a picture of these clubs, which are 17 inches long.
The history of juggling isn’t as well documented as other art forms, but hopefully the picture is becoming more and more clear as historians and collectors dig through books and the ever growing amount of information on the internet in search of the truth. Hopefully this article has cleared up at least a few misconceptions. Then again, I’m sure it may spark more discussion and debate about some the issues that were covered. That’s a good thing, as long as the picture becomes clearer.