Juggling - its history and greatest performers by Francisco Alvarez

PART 5: The Palace Opens Its Doors

In New York City, a new theater called the Palace opened on March 24, 1913. Located near Forty-seventh Street, just a stone's throw from the spot where Seventh Ave. and Broadway intersect, the Palace was destined to become the best vaudeville house in New York City. Its first six weeks were far from successful, and not until such stars as Sarah Bernhardt and Ethel Barrymore had played the new theater did it begin to gain a measure of respect from the press and public.

The first bill at the Palace was presented without a juggler. But soon after, W. C. Fields and other jugglers appeared. In August 1914, Sylvester Schäffer was there, doing magic, juggling, sharpshooting, and rope spinning. Another favorite at the Palace during its early days was Joe Cook. Although famous at the time for a comedy number he did about four Hawaiians, Cook later displayed a great deal of juggling ability. In later years Joe Cook appeared in Rain or Shine, a musical comedy he did as a stage presentation and later as a motion picture.

Joe Cook was an excellent club juggler, walked on a globe, and had so many other talents that he was often called "The One-Man Vaudeville Show." Of Irish-Spanish descent, Joe Cook was one of the most brilliant musical comedy stars of the late 1920s. His home in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, is said to have been loaded with comical booby traps, designed to shock and entertain his guests.

But we're getting ahead of our story. Moving back to the years before 1920 and turning away from the Palace temporarily, we find Wilfred DuBois performing aboard the S. S. Sierra in mid-Pacific. The occasion is listed on the program as "Tuesday Evening Entertainment and Dance," and dated June 27, 1918. The S. S. Sierra plays a significant part in our little history, since it was an important means of transportation for vaudevillians of that period. The Sierra was a ten-thousand-ton vessel that sailed out of San Francisco, and made stops in Honolulu, Pago Pago, and Sydney. (NOTE - On July 11, 1931, Wilfred DuBois played the Paramount Theater in New York City, and a reviewer had this to say: "Wilfred DuBois, juggler, offers the first specialty and scored one of the genuine hits of the bill.") Several years before Wilfred DuBois had honored the Sierra with his presence in 1918, Fred Allen and the Littlejohns had made the trip. In his book Much Ado About Me (Little, Brown and Company), Allen describes his experiences aboard the Sierra on his way to Australia: "Also present were the Littlejohns, the Diamond jugglers, a man and wife who wore costumes studded with rhinestones, appeared before a black velvet curtain covered with rhinestones, and juggled Indian clubs which were bedecked with rhinestones."

Fred Allen, who made a name for himself as a radio comedian in his late years, had a fascinating beginning as a juggler working out of Boston in the early teens. Born John Florence Sullivan on May 31, 1894, Allen began his theatrical career by doing shows at the Boston Public Library, and later doing amateur nights in theaters. Subsequently, he met Harry LaToy, a juggler who had fashioned his act after the tramp juggler Harrigan, and the hat juggler Paul LaCroix. In the ensuing years, Allen's name changed to Fred St. James, Freddy James, and finally to Fred Allen. During his Freddy James period, he billed himself as "The World's Worst Juggler." Much Ado About Me is highly recommended to those who want to know more about Fred Allen and vaudeville after 1908.

In the summer of 1918 word came from London - Paul
Cinquevalli was dead. In his youth he had been intended
for the Russian priesthood, but his destiny was
to become a juggler.

Let your light so shine before men, that
they may see your good works, and
glorify your Father which is in heaven.

St. Matthew 5:16

It is of some interest to note at this time that two well-known theatrical figures of that period began their theatrical careers as jugglers . These were Gus Sun, the theatrical booker, and F. F. Proctor, the theater owner. The names under which they worked as jugglers appear next to their real names in the list on the last pages of this book.


Rastelli in 1924, at the White studios in Boston. After a photo in New York Public library.
Bobbed hair and low waistlines introduce the age of the flapper, the year is 1922: Douglas Fairbanks appears in Robin Hood, Charlie Chaplin in The Pilgrim, Mussolini's march on Rome glorifies Fascism.

Rastelli worked in Europe until late 1923, then sailed for America. When Rastelli arrived in New York, vaudeville had grown significantly. It was now a strapping, healthy, 40-year-old. Kara and Salerno were still top names, but no longer in their prime. A girl juggler named Elly was working the best theaters. Wilfred DuBois and Paul Nolan were favorites. "Nolan," observes a Pace reviewer, "is a 'jesting Swede' who showed a lot of class. His dexterous manipulation of hats and balls, plus his ability as a funster, make Nolan an entertaining chap."

For Rastelli experimentation never ceased.
Most historians say Rastelli made his New York debut on November 18, 1923 at the Hippodrome theater. My research, however, shows that Rastelli's name doesn't appear in the theatrical trade papers until the following year. I want to believe the historians, distinguished ones, at that: Kober, Sagemüller, and Truzzi among them. But I must also believe my research. I still can't explain the discrepancy. We do know that on Monday, February 25,1924, Rastelli did play the Hippodrome in New York City, a date which probably marks the beginning of a week's engagement. The Monday matinee was reviewed for the Billboard by M. H. Shapiro, who wrote, "Enrico Rastelli, juggler de luxe, has been compared to the best of all decades and there is every reason to believe that he is justly entitled to a niche of fame as high as any of them. A marvelous showman of inimitable skill." And on the Monday matinee of April 7,1924, Rastelli was reviewed at New York's Palace by Ed Haffel, who wrote, "Enrico Rastelli next showed remarkable skill in a truly extraordinary exhibition of juggling feats that scored solidly. This chap has no master." For the benefit of those who want to satisfy their curiosity or nostalgia, the following list is included. These are the acts that worked the Palace with Rastelli on that long ago 1924.

Vincent Lopez - The Four Ortons - The Kelly Sisters and Lynch - Ina Williams and Dick Keene - Jack Benny - Ruby Norton - Marjorie Rambeau - Jack Rose - Bob Snell.

The most informative review on Rastelli comes from an unknown reviewer (possibly M . H . Shapiro), who offers this highly descriptive account:

Rastelli is a juggler de luxe presenting an artistic exhibition of unusual skill and manipulatory cleverness in a highly commendable manner. With cherry-colored hangings of velvet almost shading to coral, and assisted by a fellow in dress suit and wearing white gloves, also a good-looking girl in a refined gown of yellow trimmed with black, the youthful Rastelli performed trick after trick with uncanny technic in most showman-like manner, even turning an occasional contretemp into a seeming feat with versatile dexterity. In a neat suit of yellow satin Enrico opens his act with juggling sticks and ball. He bounces a ball on his head and juggles six plates the meanwhile; he makes one stick revolve laterally while balanced at the end of another held in his mouth and makes it spin in the air thru revolutions imparted by movements of his head. At the end of a series of feats, Rastelli smiles as if pleased and his good humor and personality are infectious. His little trick dance step and pose would sell the feat even if less adroitly performed. Balancing a ball on the nape of his neck, Rastelli propels it in the air, turns a complete somersault and recatches it in the same locality.

Following he did a one-hand stand on a large piece of nickeled apparatus that resembled a coffee urn atop a table and at the same time caused a pole to revolve. Blindfolded he did a head stand atop a piece of apparatus camouflaged as a lamp shade, juggled a pole with his feet and three sticks with his hands while the apparatus caused him to revolve. This was a remarkable example of what skill plus unlimited patience and practice will accomplish. For a concluding feat a large globe of blue and silver was brought forward. This was illuminated from within by electric lights and decorated without by colored illuminated electric lamps and further ornamented with a couple of small American flags. Lying on space provided, Rastelli spun a large five-pointed nickeled piece of apparatus in the shape of a star on one foot, held a spinning smaller star on a rod in his mouth and juggled three sticks at the same time with his hands.

The only thing Rastelli couldn't do was hide his enthusiam.
The above account is probably from Rastelli's second visit to the United States in 1928. It is dated April 9, and carries additional information as follows: - Reviewed at Palace Theater, New York. Style - juggling. Setting - Special in three. Time - sixteen minutes.

Rastelli worked in the United States more than we might imagine. His two visits (1924 and 1928) were filled with constant bookings. He played not only the big theaters but also much of the Orpheum Circuit. Following is a partial list of the many theaters he played:




Despite stiff competition from Rastelli, Piletto was a successful stick-and-ball artist during the late 1920s. After a photo in the author's collection, photographer unknown.
It became clear at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s that, aside from Rastelli, "the three" had made the most memorable contribution to the art of juggling. Old-timers, remembering past performances vividly, had nothing but praise for Cinquevalli, Kara, and Salerno. Although Cinquevalli died in 1918 at age 59, Kara and Salerno were very much alive. Even though Kara's youthful career was in the 1890s, he continued to be active. As late as 1921 he placed an ad in a theatrical trade paper which read, "Kara, the juggler, now playing the B.F. Circuit. Representative - H. B. Marinelli. Best regards to all my friends."

Some of Kara's engagements during his mature years are listed here: Apollo, Berlin, April 20, 1919. Corso-Varieté, Zurich, April 19, 1920. Regrettably, a list of engagements played by Salerno was not available during the preparation of this book. We can safely assume, however, that Kara's and Salerno's careers were very similar. Both were "gentlemen jugglers," their ages were close, and they were both very successful. Cinquevalli's talent for playing the violin and for musical composition was matched by Salerno's mechanical resourcefulness. Salerno's color-changing torches - which he designed - are remembered and admired to this day. It is said that Salerno was also one of the first men in history to receive an aeroplane pilot's license.

It is no disparagement to place these men above the others. Indeed other great - perhaps much greater - jugglers had existed. We're well aware of Pat McBann, the Schäffers, Rapoli, Pierre Amoros, James E. Darmody, and others whose superb accomplishments certainly deserve more than mere honorable mention.
A characteristic Rastelli pose.
Rastelli. Another balance.
This illustration is after a photo which appeared in a German publication. The scene is described as showing Rastelli and his wife Stella in a backstage setting. Note that, even while carrying on a conversation, Rastelli managed to practice. Dr. Kober's collection.

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Text and illustrations © 1984 Francisco Alvarez
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