Today is birthday of Félicien Trewey (Félicien-François Trevey, 1848-1920).
While the American vaudevillian was often spoken as the most highly skilled entertainer ever, I think even he pales beside the resume of Trewey. The son of a French factory worker Trewey began practicing juggling, balancing, magic and puppetry by age seven. At the age of 15 he ran off to perform in cafes and music halls, becoming successful within a couple of years as a clown, pantomime, and comedy dancer. His balancing act gained him even greater fame, making “Treweyism” a talked about mode of entertainment. He was the toast of Paris for about a decade, then toured throughout Europe, then finally to America with Alexander Herrman in the late 1880s.
Among his other noted skills, he was a tightrope walker, a musician (playing on his own home-made instruments), an expert card thrower, a chapeaugraphist (a now defunct vaudeville discipline — he made hats on the spot out of fabric), shadowgraphist (hand shadows), a lightning sketch artist, and he could write backwards. In the 1890s he appeared in several films by the Lumière Brothers and Méliès He also published several books outlining his secrets.
Here he is doing his chapeaugraphy, accompanied by some distinctly inappropriate music:
For more on silent and slapstick film don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.