Born in Lodz, Poland on December 4, 1903, Massimiliano Truzzi belonged to a famous Russian / Italian circus family. He learned to juggle from his father, who was an equestrian juggler, as well as from the legendary Enrico Rastelli, who worked for Circus Truzzi in Russia.
In 1940 he came to the United States to work for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. He was the first performer to do his entire act solo in the center ring for RBB&B at Madison Square Garden. Massimiliano continued to perform until 1960, when he retired from show business. He then managed a hotel in Sarasota, Florida until his death by heart attack in 1974.
Truzzi was a tall man with a very commanding stage presence. He eschewed the athletic appearance of Rastelli. Instead, he preferred elaborately decorated and unique props and costumes that had a theatrical flair. He intentionally used props that were quite different from his contemporaries and predecessors. Truzzi was also known for his use of dramatic gestures and flourishes to fill the stage or circus ring. During his time with Ringling, the serious tone of his act was often contrasted by having legendary clown Emmett Kelly appear and provide some comic relief with Truzzi acting as the straight man.
Truzzi’s act was generally 20 minutes to 35 minutes in length, which was amazing considering the caliber of tricks he performed. Highlights of his act included:
- Various elaborate “statue” balancing tricks
- Knocking balls off of pedestals forty feet away with other balls thrown over his shoulder
- Tossing boomerangs out over the audience and catching them upon return
- A nine ball cascade
- A three stick routine, using props similar to Rastelli’s sticks, only a bit larger
- Five clubs, using giant clubs that were more like medium sized balls on the ends of long sticks. He sometimes did this with a ring spinning on his left ankle.
- A four club spread done very wide
- A cascade with four knives and a small rubber ball
- Four knives while balancing a ball on his head and another ball on his foot.
- Head rolls with a small ball
- Juggling six plates decorated with phosphorescent paint in the dark
- Five or six plates with a ball bouncing on his head
- Juggling four large balls
- Juggling and rolling three large balls around his body
- Three balls balanced in one hand while balancing balls on his head and foot
- Three balls balanced on one foot while balancing balls on his head and foot and standing on a large ball
- Balancing a glass fish bowl on a knife shaped mouth stick and another glass fish bowl on his foot and then switching them. This switch was also done with one on the back of his neck and one on his foot.
- Five plates while balancing a pole on his forehead with a ball spinning on the top
- Various ball and mouth stick work using his unique knife shaped mouth stick
- Five torches
- A three torch routine with many tricks
In addition to his juggling prowess, Massimiliano Truzzi was a masterful chess player, a composer of music, a student of history and philosophy, and a friend to a wide variety of well-known circus, stage, and musical performers, writers, artists, and academics. He was married and had one son, the well-known sociologist Marcello Truzzi. Massimiliano Truzzi is one of only three jugglers, along with Francis Brunn and Lottie Brunn, who has been inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame.
While there are many amazing pictures of Massimiliano Truzzi, very little video footage of him exists. He is briefly shown twice in the film The Greatest Show on Earth, which was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and released in 1952. Other than that film, I’m only aware of three videos of him. None of these have been available online until now. I have transferred them into digital format and put them online to accompany this article. One shows Truzzi performing on stage and is quite fuzzy. Another shows segments of a circus performance. It is fairly clear but has some ropes and poles slightly obstructing the view at times. I have provided some narration to these two clips as they were silent and clarification seemed helpful. The final video is from the television show “Performers of the Circus” and features narration by Truzzi himself. Unfortunately, every example of this film I’ve seen is equally shaky. If anyone knows of any additional video, please contact the author. Likewise, if anyone knows of any of Truzzi’s props that still exist other than what Paul Bachman has, I’d love to know this as well. The video below can be seen exclusively by IJA members until January 1st, 2014, when it will be opened up to the general public.