"The World's Wonder" / 1920s
- The greatest juggler the world has ever known: Enrico Rastelli -
(edited from Wikipedia, Juggling Hall of Fame, Circus Historical and other sites)
Born in 1896 while his family circus was touring Russia, Rastelli's father was also a juggler who had won greater fame as an aerialist.
His early years seem to have been divided between his homeland of Italy and Russia, where circus performers find greater success.
Although his family wanted him to join their "flying" act, he found his life's passion in juggling, which he would generally practise
up to twelve hours a day -- mixing it with more everyday matters such as having a conversation or meal.
Rastelli was the father of what is usually called Ball Juggling - the physical manipulation in various ways of inflated rubber balls.
Ball Juggling includes such dextrous feats as spinning the ball on the fingers, bouncing the ball continuously on the head, and generally
throwing and catching the ball with various parts of the body. The degree of control which Rastelli exhibited has never been entirely equalled.
His manipulations even included the use of the oblong rugby football, a task still unmatched. In his last years Rastelli introduced the
manipulation of the soccer ball into his act, and his extraordinary skill dazzled professional soccer players and fans alike. He could carry
on a lengthy conversation while constantly and alternately, smoothly bouncing two balls on his forehead!
Rastelli juggled wooden sticks rather than commonly seen Indian clubs. Not only did he juggle eight sticks quickly, he did so at a low height
where others couldn't juggle four. He juggled five sticks and one ball together - a most difficult feat due to the differences in weight and
throwing technique. His physical stamina was amazing... he would juggle three torches passing them alternately under each leg while goose-stepping
completely around a large stage three times.
Rastelli's juggling of plates was equally astounding. Plates, by their circular shape, are difficult to throw in the air with more than three
from each hand. Rastelli overcame this by making "holders" to his legs which could loosely hold two plates. He would then juggle six plates into
the air, then grab the extra plates from his legs, until he had the full eight plates in orbit. And he would do this while
balancing a tall object upon his forehead! This feat has never been duplicated. He also was the first, and one of the very few jugglers, to juggle
six plates while also bouncing a rubber ball on his forehead.
Rastelli was not only a rare artist but also an excellent human being, and it was said that he had no enemies - a rare thing in show business.
For example, when Rastelli fled Russia in 1919 due to the revolution, he came to Italy virtually unknown. He initially went to work with the
Circus Gatti and was an overnight sensation. But despite many great offers to appear in bigger and more spectacular shows, he remained with Gatti
for a few years more out of friendly loyalty.
In the early 1920s as he was becoming a star, he chose to perform in a silk costume adding static balance tricks to his energetic performances.
During the later part of the 1920s he made the move from the circus ring to the more lucrative vaudeville theatres.
In 1917 Rastelli had married Harriet, a highwire artist, and eventually they and their three children purchased a large villa in Bergamo.
In 1923 he and his wife visited the United States, where he performed at the Hippodrome in New York before touring for B.F. Keith's circuit.
Review from the Palace Theatre; New York City (date unknown)
"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. He balances
a ball at the end of a stick held in his mouth and makes it spin in the air through
revolutions imparted by movements of his head.
At the end of the 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 at the nape of his neck, Rastelli propels it in the air, turns a
complete somersault and recatches it in the same locality. He bounces two balls on
his head one after the other, juggles four sticks, two and two; showers eight plates
and does a variety of other remarkable feats with unerring rapidity.
Following he did a one hand stand on a large piece of nickeled apparatus that resembled
a large coffee urn atop a table and at the same time caused a pole to revolve.
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 a
place provided, Rastelli spun a large five pointed nickeled piece of apparatus in the shape
of a star on one foot, caused a white hoop to revolve on the other foot, held a spinning
smaller star on a rod in his mouth and juggled three sticks at the same time with his hands..."
After he returned to Italy in 1931 he cut his mouth very slightly with the mouthpiece that he used in his act.
This cut became infected, his gums suddenly started bleeding and shortly afterwards he contracted pneumonia and died.
He was thirty-five years old. His funeral took place in Bergamo, attended by thousands. A life-sized statue to Rastelli
was erected within his tomb, depicting him in a familiar pose, spinning a ball on his raised finger.