Freddy Kenton began his juggling career 59 years ago and is still performing at a very high level today. Hailing from the Netherlands, Freddy has toured the world and was the winner of the 2012 IJA Historical Achievement Award. Recently David Cain was able to interview Freddy about his long and interesting career.
DC: Please tell us a bit about your family background, family, and your early years before you started performing as a juggler.
FK: Both my father and mother were circus /variety performers. I was born in 1938 during the World War II. My parents were forced to work for the German Occupation Force. I stayed with my grandparents, went to school and 4 years college, and graduated at the age of 16!! I was best in History and Economics. My parents never forced me to become a performer. I began in the aerial act in 1953/54 and they said if you do not like it you can change to something else.
DC: You had a number of amazing jugglers as early influences and who helped you get started. Can you tell us about them and about how you initially learned to juggle and develop your act.
FK: In the Clyde Beatty Circus, Johnny Joanides, the slack wire juggler performed. His wife Wanda Chiesa was pregnant and she did not want a female assistant for him, so I came in her place and assisted Johnny for a whole season. In exchange, Wanda taught me, and Johnny made props for me. I saw during those years Massimiliano Truzzi, Rudy Cardenas, and Francis Brunn. Back in Europe my parents retired. I saw Angelo Picinelli (the absolute best) and Eduardo Raspini (the best showman juggler I ever saw). When I worked at the Moulin Rouge in the 1970s, Raspini came often to see me and it was there that I first met Evelyne, now my wife, from the Dors Sisters Rolling Globe act.
DC: Please tell us what your act was like in the first stage of your career.
FK: 3 clubs, 4 sticks, many ball spinning and ball and stick tricks, and I did what is now known as the Brunn Finish with a very tall lamp on my head. When I was 19 /20 I did 8 rings and for a short time 6 rings with rope skipping.
DC: What were some of your career highlights in the 1953-1975 period of your career.
FK: I worked at the Moulin Rouge in Paris for two years, Bobino in Paris, and did many TV shows in Germany. I worked in England, France, and Holland. I appeared five times on the TV show Tarde Para Todos in Madrid, Spain. I performed in the Blackpool Tower Circus two times and did many shows on tour in theatres in England with famous stars such as Shirley Bassy, Freddy and the Dreamers, Morecamp and Wise, and many more I forgot. I was in Switzerland on tour for one year with the then famous singing star who was also a very close personal friend, Vico Torriani. I performed in Geneva at the Moulin Rouge for seven months. I was on tour in Germany with Udo Jurgens, the famous singing star who recently died. In between I worked smaller nightclubs that where in every town in Europe at that time to fill the gaps.
DC: What other jugglers were you close to during your early career?
FK: Only my life-long friend, comedy juggler Dave Parker, who worked fifteen years at the Crazy Horse in Paris. He died ten years ago shortly after he saw me/us working at the European Circus Festival Show in Liege, Belgium.
DC: Please tell us about your retirement in the late 1970s.
FK: I never really did retire. I still performed in Holland where I lived on a small scale: galas and parties, mostly. I started a foam mattress business in the late 1970s, which included a factory and five shops with 30 employees.
DC: What made you go back into juggling full-time?
FK: I sold my factory and shops to two employees, but I still own the real estate where it is situated and have contact with them on a monthly basis.
DC: You’re now performing in the gentleman juggler style. Please tell us about how you developed the act and what you’re performing now.
FK: My act opens with Moulin Rouge music as my wife and I enter the stage. I do the three golf club balance with the top stick spinning as I play the French Can Can on the mandolin. I then do the balloon /glass of wine balanced on a knife mouth stick. I pop the balloon and catch the glass on the knife mouth stick. I then balance a champagne cooler bucket on a long billiard cue and throw up a champagne bottle, catching it in the bucket. I then do the trick with the falling billiard cue caught on the head, followed by three or four billiard ball juggling, catching them in a pocket behind me attached to a belt. I then balance two cue sticks and a ball with the top cue stick spinning and end by tossing the ball and top cue off and catching the ball in the pocket. I then balance ten wine glasses on a violin bow mouth stick and play the violin on the bow. I also shoot a ball out of special pistol and catch the ball on top of two cue sticks balanced on my forehead. This is always a big success. I end with a bottle balanced on my head and wine glass balanced on a knife mouth stick and pour the wine into the glass.
DC: What types of tricks are you working on now?
FK: I am working on the mirror trick (Salerno’s picture frame trick done with a mirror) and for pleasure I do a lot of top hat/cigar/cane tricks. I practice with a top hat balanced on cane from foot kicked onto a cigar in my mouth and many of these variations. I do all of them perfect but it would stop the fluency of my act.
DC: You’ve been a mentor to a number of younger jugglers. Can you tell us who they are and a bit about those experiences?
FK: Niels Duinker is a great friend and a very good listener. He has a university degree, is an excellent juggler, and under my guidance has become a good investor, too.
DC: You’re one of the oldest working jugglers in the world. How long do you plan on continuing to perform?
FK: There is at this moment no reason to stop. We are both in very good health, enjoy working, and always have enormous success, which makes us proud and happy. Luckily we do not have to work for the money. It is all pure hobby!!! (But we never work for free!)
DC: What words of wisdom do you have for jugglers wanting to have a long and successful career?
FK: Times have changed. There is very little work, certainly in Europe. Nightclub and cabarets with acts have disappeared. The circus schools turn out 100 or more acts a year. On French TV (Patrick Sebastien Show/Saturday night) they work just for travel/expense/publicity money. Personally, I see very little future in the profession. My friend Niels makes good money. I advised him to invest his money in real estate/stocks for the long run so that he will not be dependent on this profession in the future.
DC: What jugglers from the past should modern jugglers know about?
FK: Bobby May!!!! The problem with most jugglers nowadays is they practically all do the same tricks with the same props bought in the same juggling shops. Try to be more authentic, make your own props, and most of all wear real costumes; not like most performers I see: black t/shirt and black trousers!