Felix Adanos, the last of Vaudeville's great gentleman jugglers, died on January 15, 1991, at age 85. His skill at manipulating everyday items such as pool cues, pens, coffee pots and soda straws gave his act a sharp edge of delightful surprise unknown in juggling today.
The child of an actor, he was born Felix Hanus on Feb. 26, 1905, in the Austrian town of Laibach. He traveled with his family throughout Europe, then settled in Berlin where his father entered the film industry and Felix started school.
He began juggling at age 12, but not seriously until age 16. Growing up in Berlin, poster boards on the streets were covered with colorful lithos of the large circuses like Busch and Schumann and the variety theaters like the Apollo and Wintergarden. It was not surprising that Adanos was inspired by it all.
He left high school after a year, having persuaded his parents to let him join a juggling troupe as an apprentice. The experience was a sour one, however, and Adanos returned home remorsefully after just two weeks. He entered the business world for a year, but yearned for distant places and regularly attended variety theatres.
He began training at night and got encouragement from the artistes he met. Finally he quit business and enrolled at the Union-Viktoria artiste club in Berlin-Neukoln. His first act took shape there in 1923, with his first big engagement coming in 1925 at the Eden Theater in Hamburg.
He made a name for himself quickly and traveled all over Europe. English audiences, fond of leisurely, elegant lifestyles, were especially attracted to his salon approach to the art.
He was among the few jugglers who used five different objects, such as a long billiard cue, piece of chalk and three billiard balls. He also juggled an open napkin, a metal tray and three plates. He balanced a glass of lemonade on three straws on his forehead while juggling four plates.
While writing a letter on stage, he tossed it along with his fountain pen and ink pot into the air. He caught the letter in an envelope, the pen behind his ear and the inkpot on a tray. Another favorite was balancing a large picture frame on his head. With a quick movement he would slide it around to balance on another edge. He also performed this with a huge dressing partition. His finale was a demonstration of devil sticks.
John Ringling North saw him perform in Vienna in 1939 and asked him to join the Ringling Circus in America, but the outbreak of World War II preempted that contract. Adanos served six years with the Axis armies and finished the war in an American prisoner of war camp.
He reinitiated his career at age 40 with just a few battered props. But he regained his form again performing at American service clubs and got dates at variety clubs as they reopened. In 1955 he finally took up his engagement with the Ringling Circus and toured America for a year.
In a 1986 meeting with the Raspyni Brothers in Vienna, Adanos said the people who inspired him were Salerno, Kara and Fred Astaire. In Frankfurt once he and Rastelli had an opportunity to practice together for a month every day. "To me he is still the greatest ever, unsurpassable," Adanos said.
Adanos commented that most juggling today bored him. "It's all too similar, when I was juggling it was a law to be creative." And creative he was! In one trick he balanced a pool cue on his forehead with a coffee pot perched on top of it. While juggling three balls he would throw one up to open the lid of the coffee pot. The next one went into the coffee pot and closed the lid behind itself!
With this same cue/pot setup, he would balance a ball on top of the pot and do a three ball shower. He then shook the balanced ball off the pot to engage a four ball shower. "I hit myself on the head many, many times learning that one!" he recalled.
The likes of Adanos' forceful creativity may never be seen on stage again, but the memory of his gifts to the art of juggling should serve as inspiration for generations of artistes to come.