Adonos and his famous ball and teapot trick (From "4,000 Years of Juggling")
Felix Adonos, born in 1905, was very pleased when we called him from Berlin last fall and told him we wanted to visit him in Vienna. While trying to conduct a "normal" interview, we found ourselves so intrigued that our heads filled with memories but our note pads remained empty.
We called him from the train station upon arrival and he walked a few blocks to meet us. We went to his beautiful home for red wine, chocolate cookies and more than three hours of wonderful conversation with him and his lovely wife Helmi.
Adonos was the last of Vaudeville's gentleman jugglers, using restaurant supplies, balls and pool cues. Even today at age 81 he moves with the style and grace of a man 50 years younger.
He told us he began juggling at age 12, "but very seriously at 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 Adonos was taken in 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 Adonos 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 artists 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.
John Ringling North saw him perform in Vienna in 1939 and asked him to join his circus in America, but the outbreak of World War II preempted that contract. Adonos 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 came to grips with his profession again 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.
The people who inspired him were Salerno, Kara and Fred Astaire. He told us about the time in Frankfurt when he and Rastelli had an opportunity to practice together for a month every day. "To me he is still the greatest ever, unsurpassable," he said. "Rastelli spoiled his health by practicing so hard. He rarely took breaks even to eat."
We asked Adonos his favorite trick in performance. "All of them, when they worked!" he replied. "I was not a nervous juggler (his wife giggled here) but there was a show once when nothing worked. When it was over, I broke three pool cues."
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.
Adonos the great gentleman juggler with wife, Helmi, in their prime (From "4,000 Years of Juggling")
Adonos said most juggling today bores 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 laughed.
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! He slapped his forehead and said the skin there is still very tough.
This great juggler, assisted by his wife, worked all over the world in circuses and vaudeville halls. "Where do jugglers work now?" he asked. "There used to be hundreds of show halls in England alone where acts could work. Now there are very few."
Adonos is such a calm and peaceful man that we felt like old friends after just a few hours. With our train leaving soon, we got up the nerve to ask him to go out in the yard and juggle with us. He said he hadn't juggled in more than five years, but he didn't hesitate as we put some balls in his hand. He did three in one hand and swore he "used to be able to sleep doing this."
As we left we knew our visit had been a rare experience, probably never to be equalled in our lives. If you're ever in Vienna, be sure and treat yourself to a visit with this great juggler.