Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 3

A Bavarian Juggling Fairy Tale

Written by Sandy Brown

Photographs by Mack McCormick

Once upon a time in a German kingdom, a family lived amidst the raging tumult of a great war. They lost everything and barely had enough food to eat. One Christmas Eve, the father placed three apples from a kitchen bowl into his young son's hands and encouraged him to try juggling them.

Perhaps he could train his son, and....

His plan worked! Before long the boy was performing. He traveled the world over. He appeared with famous artists, and gave private shows to rich heads of state. He retired, still young, in beautiful Bavaria, and lived happily ever after as a TENNIS TEACHER!

Sound like an eventful, rich life? Well it's the TRUE LIFE STORY of juggler-extraordinaire Rudy Horn. It was 1940 during World War II, in Nuernberg, Germany, when Horn began to juggle at the age of seven. Persuaded by his family members who were vaudeville and circus artists, pint-sized Horn gave his first performance two years later in the Wintergarten in Nuernberg.

With a bit of tap dancing, acrobatics, juggling, and tossing a saucer and tea cup onto his head from his foot, he stole the show. During the five years following the war, he was employed to entertain the U.S. troops still in Germany. Payment was mostly cigarettes and chocolate - valuable commodities he traded for food since the Reichmark was worthless. But he was already on the path to fame and riches.

In 1949, with the achievement of 8 tea cups and saucers kicked from his foot to his head, (adding 2 more a year later) Horn began a three year stay with Circus Krone. The other circus performers became family to the 17-year-old, satin-breeched juggler. He managed to find a unicycle, owned by the high-wire act (unicycles were not easily available in post war Germany!) and within a week he could ride it.

By combining his unicycle with the tea cups, he became very well known, very quickly. Krone was the springboard from which his career catapulted internationally, but he always made return engagements to the famous circus in Munich.

Horn was booked by the Bertram Mills Circus in England, and subsequently appeared in such nightclubs as London's Olympia Hall, Savoy, and Palladium. One breakthrough led to another as he was offered an entire year at the Lido in Paris.

Then as word traveled across the ocean, he once again found himself performing for Americans - this time on their own soil. He was a smash on the Ed Sullivan Show for 80 million people, not once, but four times. Viewers called in to the show station and exclaimed, "We don't believe what we saw! Put that juggler on again!"

There was also the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Reno, Chicago, and San Francisco. He returned to Europe in 1955, having worked for five years without a holiday.

During the next decade, Horn had consistently lucrative bookings all over the world. He even worked with the Russian Circus in England. He travelled from continent to continent by ship because he had a fear of flying. He shared the bill with Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Ray, Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.

Horn's 9-11 minute act was fast paced and blended with comedy. The five ball routine was a highlight. The pattern went from a cascade to behind-the-backs, then over the head throws. He held each pattern for an effective length of time. His 7-balls off a drum was a terrific crowd pleaser he can still perform on request.

For comic effect he flipped a spoon from his foot onto his forehead, then with a quick head roll (and a grin), the spoon lodged itself, sideways, behind his ear.

After the spoon trick, he juggled 7 rings with a stick balanced on his forehead. Finally, the trick from which he gained the greatest renown - tossing 10 tea-cups and saucers from his foot (each one placed by an assistant) onto the top of his head while idling on a giraffe unicycle.

He always included a minute of controlled disequilibrium to thrill the crowd all the more before he completed the trick.

His career seemed to pick up momentum with every performance. It also took on a partner during a Scandinavian sweep when he married his assistant, Helga. It was the beginning of a lasting relationship on and off stage.

In 1968 while appearing in Tehran, he was invited to give a private performance for the Shah and 1000 diplomats. There the Persian carpets were 50 meters long in the garden, and security guards had to be convinced that Horn's clubs were not grenades. He and Helga used the Shah's mother's palace for a dressing room. From Persia, the Horns traveled - by sea - to South Africa, where Horn shared the stage with Caterina Valente.

He was forced to take an entire year off during 1970 due to a torn Achilles tendon, which he tore while playing sports. However, he went right back up to record speed for the next four years. He made a return trip to England, had bookings in Portugal, Monte Carlo, always Krone and Circus Knie, and made one final journey to Australia.

In 1975, he retired in Bertchesgaden, within the Bavarian Alps. That's where Rudy Horn now lives happily ever after with his wife and two sons as a tennis teacher!

An Interview with Rudy Horn

JW: Who else in the business did you admire and what did you learn from them?

HORN: I never saw other jugglers in the beginning. The tricks that I did in my act, I created myself because there were never other jugglers on the same program. The first juggler I ever saw was Francis Brunn in Vegas - he was so fast and modern! The rings he only flashed, but the rest of his stuff was fantastic. My father used to say, "Why don't YOU do large balls?" But that's not my kind of juggling. And Francis already did it, so why should I do it?

JW: Who else?

HORN: Oh, I also saw Bela Kremo and he impressed me very much, but on the other hand, it was not my kind of juggling. Bobby May I knew very well, we were very good friends. He used to like to drink beer, like me! Later in my career, I saw a film of Rastelli who was about 30 years older than I - he amazed me because he MOVED and so did I! Did I tell you how I began to move during my act? I was doing shows for Special Service troops after the war and many times the band couldn't read music...so one time they said, "Well, we'll just play the jitterbug or something," so I started to juggle and dance at the same time and the crowd went crazy!

JW: What was your juggling style?

HORN: I liked to combine difficult tricks with comedy...fine comedy, because the audience wants to see a little more than just technique. I wanted them to realize that the skill level was high, but that I could also make a gag with it. And in each country, I always learned a favorite comment or expression and added this to the act. It made the audience feel like part of the show. During the difficult tricks, I held out each trick for a certain length of time, because I wanted the audience to know that I had the control. For example, I never did 7 rings for less than 5 times through, or 35 throws, because otherwise it's nothing. I never liked jugglers who just threw the objects up once through. OK, the audience will accept it when you toss 11 up, IF they they know you have control with 7 or 9.

JW: Were there things you practiced in private you never performed?

HORN: Yes! In England, in 1961, I was working to put 9 balls in the act, but at first I could only do them one and a half times or twice through and this wasn't enough for me. Soon after, I was booked some place where the ceilings were too low. I could also juggle 8 rings at least 5 times through, but then I was booked at the Lido and again, the ceilings were too low. So I decided just to do what I could do everywhere. Besides, it's no good if they see you do 8 rings at Circus Krone and they say, "Why don't you do 8 rings here in this nightclub?".

JW: If magic could enter your hands now and you could automatically do one trick without ever practicing it, what would it be?

HORN: 7 balls on the drum...It's one of my favorites. I don't know why - maybe because I could always do it!

JW: Did you ever have the problem of other jugglers using your material? How do you feel about this?

HORN: Yes, In 1971 people started copying the tea cup trick. I don't know why people don't have a brain to think of something else to throw on their heads! I started to toss up champagne glasses because it was different. If jugglers ASK me to show them a certain trick then I do, because I always was a juggler who showed everybody my tricks...why not? If they can do them - great! They'll live after me and that will keep it going. Besides, the way they do the trick will not be the same. It's even true with comedy. If someone says a joke, and somebody else says the same joke, it's still not the same joke. That's what made Bob Hope so good - he had TIMING.

JW: How did the public view you as a juggler? Was it a position of high prestige?

HORN: Yes, I was the only German artist to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz from the government, an award for high achievement. Also, in 1973 I won the Rastelli Oscar. I was probably more well known in England because I played there for nine years. Out of the 33 years I was in the business, I only played three in Germany.

JW: Which of your character traits played the biggest part in your artistic success: ability to deal with agents and get bookings? strength of your juggling talent? luck? connections in the show business world?

HORN: It was my ACT....Rudy Horn. If you're not wanted, no agent can sell you. I had several agents during my career, but sometimes an agent can kill you.

JW: Why did you decide to quit juggling?

HORN: There were several reasons. The salary basically started to stay the same. I had to pay an assistant since my wife was staying at home with our son, Michael. I had several houses built, and I really didn't need to work. Plus I was having difficulty with my eyes watering and trembling and with my nerves, so I made one decision. If I had trouble with the drum in the act, then I would stop. So one day I had problems, and that, simply, was the end.

JW: If you don't mind talking about it, was it a lucrative career?

HORN: It is lucrative IF you're capable of saving your money. I knew acts who made much more than I, but now they have nothing - they drove in a Cadillac and I went by train. My father persuaded me to invest in real estate, and he was right, because when I'm 60 or 70 I won't be able to work anymore. I only learned how to be an artist. At the Sahara in Vegas in 1951, I was making $2000 a week. That's was a lot of money back then...it's a lot of money now! If I could do it over, I would concentrate more on where the money was going.

JW: There's a professor in Munich who wants to test and find out how your equilibrium works. Has your physical talent enabled you to become such a successful tennis teacher?

HORN: It has nothing to do with coordination. I think the most important thing is, that you see the mistakes. That is the problem with many good jugglers - they can't teach because they don't see the mistakes. That is my strength...I can see what other people do wrong.

JW: Compare performing opportunities, past and present.

HORN: After the war, there was a chance to get somewhere, IF you were good. Today, there are so many obstacles! Where can jugglers work? It's either the circus or a few night clubs, because we have no theaters. I hear in the United States more theaters are being built - this is wonderful because people are tired of sitting with four walls around them watching this stupid TV. They would rather sit and watch sports, because SPORT is number one.

The time has come when we have to get away from the television and go out with the girlfriend, wife, or family to see LIVE entertainment. But the problem is with the price. Everything is so expensive! Still, people must learn to get away from the home again. THEN there's a chance of bringing back vaudeville like it used to be.

A Bavarian Juggling Fairy Tale / Index, Vol. 39, No. 3 / jis@juggling.org
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