A Biography of Rudy Horn

by Bob Brock

IJA Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 10, October 1964

Three clubsAfter an absence of a decade, it took the opening of the "Casino de Paris Revue" at the Dunes in Las Vegas to bring Rudy Horn back to this part of the world. He has been starring in this lavish spectacular since the beginning of the year, giving US jugglers a chance to again see one of the all time greats of juggling perform. Although Rudy is most famous for his cup and saucer routine, it is his marvelous club throwing and incredible ball routines that establish him as the finest tossing juggler in the world.

Living roomRudy was born to a circus family in Nurnberg, Germany, 31 years ago. Although his parents were versatile entertainers (acrobats, trapeze and teterboard performers), the jugglers in the family were his maternal grandfather, who owned a small open-air circus, and an uncle. Rudy began to juggle when only seven on the Christmas Eve of 1940 when his father, who had just been drafted into the army, tried to brighten the Yuletide season by juggling three apples for him and his baby sister. Demonstrating tremendous natural aptitude, Rudy picked up the apples, and within 10 minutes he could juggle them better than his father. His parents quickly recognized the significance of this event and evidently aware of what the future might hold for their young son, insisted that Rudy practice juggling.

Although the youngster did not relish the idea, he was required to practice an hour during his two-hour lunch period. In the afternoons, when he returned home from school, he was permitted to play with his friends; however, every evening when his father returned home from his army post, Rudy was required to practice with him from 7 until 10 p.m. Besides juggling, the boy worked on acrobatics and tap dancing.

After Rudy's father was denied permission by the army to perform, he went to the manager of the Wintergarden Theater in Nurnberg to get a booking for his son. The manager, when he learned that Rudy was only a child who had never performed before, thought the idea was ridiculous. Nevertheless Rudy's father persuaded him, and the youngster was booked in the Christmas show in 1942 on a bill that included many of the top variety performers of Germany.

Little nine year old Rudy shared the stage on his first public appearance with his grandfather. With him he did an acrobatic routine and some three club passing that included takeaways. Rudy stood on his grandfather's head while both Rudy and the elderly man juggled clubs. All this was done while they rapidly moved back and forth across the stage. The highlight of the act was the solo performance of Rudy. In addition to an opening tap dance he did juggling routines with three balls, three clubs, five rings, and finished with the kick up to his head of a single saucer, a cup, a spoon and a sugar cube. The act stopped the show and the boy became a sensation. He immediately began performing in the best night spots of Germany. After nearly one year the bombing raids increased, and his parents decided that being away from home was too dangerous for their son, so Rudy quit performing until the war ended.

Rudy recalls the next couple of years were dismal ones. Despite poor food he kept up his practice schedule. After hostilities ceased he started to perform for military audiences in clubs established by the US Army. By 1946 he could do seven cups and saucers, and his ball and club routines became so perfected that the only thing that dropped to the floor were the cigarettes (then the unit of currency exchange) that the Americans threw in appreciation.

PosterAn all important step in his career came in 1948 when he played the winter season with the circus Krone. His act was very popular and for the three summer seasons that followed. Rudy was at the top of the bill. At this time Rudy, just for his own amusement, enjoyed throwing a spoon from his hand to a balance on his forehead. He became so proficient at doing it that the stunt became part of his performing routine in the 1949 season. The kick up of a spoon from the foot was a natural progression and was added to the act during the following season.

Rudy's trademark, his cup and saucer finish, was inspired by a routine originated by a juggler and acrobat from Augsburg, Germany, named Ferry Mader who, incidentally, is credited with the invention of the trick of stacking candles with holders on the head. Mader, a close friend of Rudy's father used five or six large plates and bowls, and although he kicked up the first few objects, he tossed the top ones into place with his hand. The man is still living, and although 80 years of age, he is still doing club dates occasionally.

In contrast to his other routines young Horn enjoyed working on the cups and saucers. Although he probably has the most copied juggling routine since Everhart originated the hoops, Rudy has been able to stay well ahead of any copiers. The first serious duplication of the routine occurred in 1948 Rudy countered by learning to do the routine on a unicycle, although the effort was not an easy one.

During his first season with Circus Krone in 1948, Rudy managed to get on the unicycle of Lucky Flühr, a comic bike performer, and ride it for 30 feet on the first try. On subsequent efforts he was not so successful; nevertheless, Rudy recalls, he was soon able to ride a unicycle. The problem was to get one of his own, since none were for sale and he knew no one could make one. In the meantime the 14 year old Rudy asked the great master unicyclist-juggler Freddy Zay, (now a businessman in Nurenberg)if he thought the cup routine was possible on a cycle and received a negative answer. By early 1349 Rudy was able to have a cycle made for himself, and he immediately started getting the feel of the five- footer by riding everywhere he could on the circus grounds. He recalls the hardest thing about accomplishing the cup routine on the cycle was to determine if it was possible. After realizing it could be mastered Rudy began to practice six hours a day besides doing two shows that included the kick-up of ten cups while standing. In the 1950 summer season the unicycle was brought into the act using 6 cups and needless to say, the audience reaction was terrific.

Early durm bounceIn late 1950 an offer to be featured in the Bertram Mills Circus brought him to England. This was his first stint outside of his native country. While still a teenager, he received-his first international recognition; then he played for a year beginning in March 1951 at the most famous nightclub of all, the "Lido" in Paris. In this engagement the seven ball bounce on the drum became part of the performance. After rejoining the Mills Circus for another season, Rudy made his debut in the states in late 1952, where he played Las Vegas and the Ed Sullivan show. The year 1953 saw him again with Mills. A tremendous honor for him was doing a Royal Command Performance, just before embarking for the second visit to the US in 1954.

Nowadays Horn calls Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps his home; although, much to his dislike, he is not there as much as he wants to be due to his traveling. The compiling of a list of places where he has appeared during the last ten years is hopeless. From Stockholm to Beruit you name the best; clubs and arenas (Paladium, Lido, Moscow Circus, etc.) and he has played them.

The last addition to the act was the balancing of the lampshade while cascading the seven rings. The trick took only a couple of months practice to perfect during a years tour of Australia in 1959. The turnover of the lamp with the feet was added two years later. It was on this same Australian tour that his attractive sister Gerty replaced his mother as his assistant,

In addition to his juggling there is another side to Rudy, He is very interested in music both as a vocation and an avocation. He has studied popular singing (his favorite singers are Mathis and Fisher) with hopes of someday becoming a professional. A close traveling companion is his accordion, which he plays daily for relaxation.

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