Cinquevalli: The Human Billiard Table

Alexander Turnbull Library

The greatest juggler of his day and an influence on W.C. Fields and many others, Cinquevalli’s real name was the more prosaic Paul Kesner. Born in Lissa Poland in 1859, he was apprenticed at age 13 to a gymnast/aerliast named…Cinqevalli. Kesner took his last name. It was a common practice for acrobats to do that in those days. As you’ll see from many another upcoming example, joining an acrobatic troup was literally like joining a family.  By 1885, Paul C. had developed an act called “The Human Billiard Table” wherein he would play a game of pool on his own back. I guess he shot the balls…um…into his pockets!

His first U.S. tour was in 1888 (which was when Fields first caught him) and he returned in 1910 to work the Keith circuit, including 10 weeks at Keith’s Union Square—not too shabby. During World War I he was mislabled a German and that was it for his career. He died shortly after the war in 1919.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including jugglers like Cinquevalli, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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