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 Rudy Cardenas
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Dave Altman

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Posted - 09/06/2007 :  14:50:41  Show Profile  Visit Dave Altman's Homepage Send Dave Altman a Private Message
Rudy Cardenas, a juggler's juggler

Rudy Cardenas's mother was from the Suarez family, a well-known circus family in Mexico; his father was studying to become an engineer in college, but he worked in a circus during his vacations. During that time he met Rudy’s mother, they married, and he left college to join the circus full time. Rudy Cardenas was born in Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico on March 19, 1931.

By age three Rudy was already juggling three balls. He said, “It was very easy for me since all my family juggled. It was just something you did, not something you learned.” He appeared in several of the family’s acts and by the time he was seven, he could do five balls easily, five bell sticks (similar to juggling clubs), three hats, four plates, and practiced six plates.

By this time, Rudy’s talent had outgrown the relatively small town of Jalapa, so his mother got him a job working at a variety theater in Monterey, Mexico. He was so successful there that he soon moved on to the “big time” in Mexico City.

At age eight, he opened at the El Patio. He performed three and four bell sticks, bouncing a ball on his head while jumping rope, three balls, three clubs, the pockets and the hats. He received a standing ovation and people began throwing money on stage. After opening night in Mexico City, he immediately got offers to work in South America. He and his older sister, Ophelia, left Mexico to perform their act at the large casinos in Brazil. They passed six sticks, and Rudy ended up the act by juggling all six of them. They performed in South America for four years until his sister got married and broke up the act.

At age twelve, he moved back to Mexico and practiced juggling 7-8 hours per day with his cousin, Carlos Ricci. Rudy described himself during this period as a real fanatic. Because of his dedication to practice he was called, “The Little Rastelli.”

After a while, Rudy went back to South America by himself. He was in Rio for six weeks on the same stage as the great Carmen Miranda in the La Urca night club, and then he went to Buenos Aires. He was arrested in Argentina because he was too young to travel alone. He said he was treated well, while technically still arrested, he was doing four shows per day.

When Rudy was thirteen, he got the opportunity to work with the great comic, Mario Moreno Cantinflas, so, he left La Urca and flew back to Mexico City to work with Cantinflas at the Teatro Iris. He was thrilled to be working there and said it was the most talented show he had ever worked with.

After that he went to Cuba for six month engagement at the Casino Nacional, which led to moving to the United States. Rudy first worked at the Paramount’s Olympia Theater in Miami. He worked there for five years and was voted “Best Novelty Act” for Paramount in the late 1940’s.

At this time, Rudy was offered a five year contract to tour with Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz, and traveled around the country playing at Paramount Theaters. He did a six minute act, at a minimum of five shows per day, and sometimes up to ten.

He practically lived in the theater. As soon as his shows were over, he would practice. All of Rudy’s human contacts were people in the theater. They said he was insecure, and that is why he worked so hard. He said, “I just thought that was what you did if you wanted to be a good juggler.”

At age 19, he met, Joy, and they married around Christmas of 1950. They raised two children. Their son, Dolf, studied in England and became a scientist and their daughter, Melissa, studied in Paris, afterward rode horses professionally on the World Cup Grand Prix circuit.

Neither of his children ever expressed an interest in juggling. Rudy doesn't’t recall ever seeing them even pick up a prop. He never tried to teach them or anyone else how to juggle. He felt that the greatest teachers of jugglers weren’t great jugglers, themselves. His father taught him and he was not really a juggler, but a gymnast.

Rudy’s father didn’t come from a circus background, but he developed a lot of innovations that circus people never though about, such as, Rudy’s shaker cup moves. In fact, his father used his engineering background to design special shaker cups that allowed Rudy to do eight cups, while others only did three. Rudy actually worked on doing ten, but it wasn’t consistent enough to meet his standards to perform them.

Rudy Cardenas started working in Las Vegas in 1948, but at that time there were less than a handful of casinos; Rudy worked at the Flamingo, which was the last hotel on the Strip, then there was The Last Frontier, the Rancho, and later the Thunderbird and the Sahara opened. Being at the last hotel on the Strip, Rudy played to very small houses.

Rudy started doing a fourteen minute act for two shows per day; this was much easier for him than doing multiple shows. He would warm up for two to three hours before the shows and practiced the weak spots in the routine where he felt something was wrong in the previous shows.

Part of his routine at this time was jumping a small rope in time to the music, changing to a big rope, and jumped it while bouncing a ball on his head. While jumping the rope, he would stop the ball and roll it in circles around his head, catch it on the back of his neck, throw it high, and jumped the rope again.

Rudy claims to be the first person to do a three ball spin-one on each finger and one on a mouth stick and do a back roll-over, eventually he progressed to doing two roll-overs while keeping the balls spinning.

For a long time he did seven balls with billiard pockets. For a finale, when all seven were coming down he would catch the first six in his hands, then do a pirouette and catch the last one in a back pocket. It has to be timed so right, that it was very hard and unpredictable. He switched to six balls later because it was slower and consistent.

When Rudy first came to the United States, he was already a very good juggler, but a producer, Donn Arden, talked to him after a rehearsal. Donn said, “You know Rudy, when you do something, do it two or three times, not more than that. You lose the sensation of moving from one thing to another. If they see it once or twice, it's enough.”

Rudy was irritated, but he changed to what Arden suggested, and it made a tremendous difference in his act. Along the same lines, René Fraday, the head of the Lido went with Rudy to see a juggling competition. Fraday said, “Why do jugglers think that just because they juggle one more hoop or ball it will make any difference? People don’t care; they just want to be entertained.”

Finally, Rudy’s views changed. He later said, “It’s all in the performance, not the props. You have to have an act that's more than tricks. You have to keep in mind that you're working for an audience. It’s nice to talk about what you can do, but it doesn't pay your salary.”

Even at age 64, and over 60 years of juggling, Rudy Cardenas was practicing four to five hours per day, five days a week. Rudy’s view was similar to a quote attributed to Rastelli, “If you don’t practice one day, you’ll know the difference, if you don’t practice a second day, other artists will know the difference, and if you don’t practice a third day, the audience will know the difference…”

Based on a series of interviews and an article written by Bill Giduz for Juggler’s World 47/2, Summer 1995

Bill Giduz article/interviews
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"Toast of the town", 1961 with Jack Benny, et al
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Filmography and bio
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