Watch the “Greatest Juggler of the Ages,” Frances Brunn, Perform His “Painfully Exciting” Juggling Routine (1969)

When John Rin­gling North, then pres­i­dent of Rin­gling Bros. and Bar­num & Bai­ley Cir­cus, saw a pair of Ger­man  jug­glers and acro­bats per­form in Spain, he imme­di­ate­ly invit­ed them to join “the Great­est Show on Earth.” A broth­er and sis­ter team, Fran­cis and Lot­tie Brunn would aston­ish audi­ences. In 1950, the­ater crit­ic Brooks Atkin­son called Fran­cis “the great­est jug­gler of the ages. Not many peo­ple in the world are as per­fect­ly adjust­ed as Mr. Brunn is. He will nev­er have to vis­it a psy­chi­a­trist.” If phys­i­cal grace and bal­ance are reflec­tive of one’s state of mind, maybe he was right.

When Lot­tie left the act in 1951, Fran­cis went on to pop­u­lar fame and even more hyper­bol­ic acclaim. “After he per­formed before the queen of Eng­land in 1963, The Evening Stan­dard called his show ‘almost painful­ly excit­ing,’” Dou­glas Mar­tin writes at The New York Times.

“Try­ing to describe Brunn’s act is like try­ing to describe the flight of a swal­low,” writes Fran­cis­co Alvarez in Jug­gling: Its His­to­ry and Great­est Per­form­ers. He became a reg­u­lar per­former on The Ed Sul­li­van Show, “played the Palace with Judy Gar­land,” notes Mar­tin, “and went twice to the White House, where Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­how­er pro­claimed him the best jug­gler he had ever seen.”

None of this should bias you toward the tele­vi­sion per­for­mance, above, of course. (How many jug­glers could Eisen­how­er have seen, any­way?) Judge for your­self. By way of fur­ther con­text, we should note that Brunn was known for per­fect­ing “an aus­tere but demand­ing min­i­mal­ism. He was fas­ci­nat­ed by con­trol­ling just one ball, and vir­tu­al­ly com­pelled audi­ences to share this fas­ci­na­tion.” Or as Brunn put it, “it sounds like noth­ing, but it is quite dif­fi­cult to do prop­er­ly.” As any­one (or vir­tu­al­ly every­one) who has tried and failed to jug­gle can attest, this descrip­tion fits the art of jug­gling in gen­er­al all too well.

Brunn made it look laugh­ably easy: “Large num­bers of objects posed scant prob­lem. He was believed to be the first jug­gler in the world to put up 10 hoops,” Mar­tin writes. He also liked to incor­po­rate fla­men­co into his act to com­pound the dif­fi­cul­ty and the grace. “I do not con­sid­er myself doing tricks,” he said in 1983. “There is one move­ment for eight min­utes. It’s sup­posed to be, let’s say, like a bal­let…. I would love if the audi­ence is so fas­ci­nat­ed that nobody applauds in the end.” Brunn, I sus­pect, nev­er got to hear the sound of stunned silence after his act.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch the Ser­pen­tine Dance, Cre­at­ed by the Pio­neer­ing Dancer Loie Fuller, Per­formed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Broth­ers

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Dis­cov­er Alexan­der Calder’s Cir­cus, One of the Beloved Works at the Whit­ney Muse­um of Amer­i­can Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.