Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Alfredo Rastelli

From the The Telegraph.co.uk
May 14, 2005

Alfredo Rastelli, who has died aged 83, was one of the best-known musical clowns in the sawdust ring; during a career spanning seven decades he appeared in variety, pantomime and ice shows, as well as in circuses across the world.

The Rastellis, a travelling circus family, were in Paris, performing at the Cirque Medrano, when Alfredo was born on December 2 1923. The family troupe had been founded by Alfredo's father, Oreste - a cousin of Enrico Rastelli, the world's greatest juggler - whose wife, Lina Pollastrini, was the daughter of a Brazilian circus owner.

Oreste was a bareback rider, an equilibrist and an acrobat. His best known number was a trampoline acrobatic act in which his partner, a Brazilian acrobat named Aristides (but always known as Chocolate), performed hundreds of backwards somersaults in sequence (his record was said to be 508).

Young Alfredo was initiated into clowning in boyhood and made his debut with his father's act in Germany in 1928 when he was only four. He later joined the trampoline act.

In the early 1930s the family were forced to leave Paris after they were suspected of being Italian spies, and in the winter of 1934-35 they appeared at the Crystal Palace Circus in London, followed by winter seasons in Manchester, Glasgow and at the Royal Agricultural Hall, London in 1937-38.

On the outbreak of war, they were in Germany with the Circus Krone, and did not return to England until the winter of 1948, when the great impresario Tom Arnold invited them to appear in his Mammoth Circus, staged annually at the Harringay Arena in London. Arnold then took them to the Alhambra Theatre, Glasgow, for pantomime.

Each member of the Rastelli family team was a first-class musician, and between them they could play almost every instrument in the orchestra. But they added a rich vein of comedy by knocking each other's heads off, smashing guitars over themselves, and blowing up a piano which one of them had been playing only seconds before. Putting the instrument together again in time for the next performance took two hours.

Alfredo Rastelli was an exceptionally talented musician; he had a solo act in which he played 22 instruments in one sitting, and as part of the family's best-known clown act, Chocolate and Company, he would play two trumpets simultaneously in perfect harmony while accompanying himself on drums.

In the post-war years the Rastellis were very popular with British audiences. Their act was ideally suited to vast ice rinks such as the Wembley Empire Pool, where they appeared in Dick Whittington on Ice in 1950-51; Robinson Crusoe (1951-52); Sleeping Beauty (1952-53); Humpty Dumpty (1953-54); Aladdin 1954-55); Cinderella, with the skater Gloria Nord, in 1956-57; and Peter Pan (1962-63). They returned to Britain to appear in more ice shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and later performed in the Holiday on Ice spectaculars, touring Europe, Asia and South America, and making one American apearance, at the New York Expo, in 1964.

Alfredo Rastelli met his wife, Agnese, in Czechoslovakia while appearing with Circus Henry. Allied bombing had forced the performers to flee for their lives and take shelter in the cellar of a brewery in Jegnitz. Although none of the family was killed, the Rastellis lost all their belongings apart from their precious musical instruments.

Alfredo and Agnese were married, at Lugano, Swizerland, in 1946, while appearing with the Swiss National Circus Knie. They later returned to work at Knie, one of Europe's most prestigious circuses, in 1956 and 1967.

The original clown act had consisted of Oreste and Alfredo Rastelli (assisted by their wives) and the Brazilian, Chocolate, along with the Italian white-face clown, Antonio Poletto. After Oreste's death in 1962 he was replaced by Alfredo's 16-year-old son, Oreste Jnr, who had forsaken a promising career as a concert pianist to continue the family tradition. When Chocolate retired in 1969, Alfredo's other son, Vittorio, took his place, and developed a juggling act in the vein of his famous forebear. Poletto was eventually replaced by Oreste Jnr's wife, Francesca, a Swiss ice skater.

When the great clown Charlie Cairoli died in 1980, he was replaced, after a record run of 39 years, at the Blackpool Tower Circus, by the Rastellis. For three years they enjoyed considerable success in the Lancashire resort. They have continued to work around Europe with Holiday on Ice, and have also appeared in the British television series It's a Knockout from Blackpool.

In 2000, at the International Circus Festival in Monaco, Prince Rainier awarded Rastelli a citation in recognition of his career. Two years later Rastelli won the Golden Clown award in Copenhagen.

Rastelli, who died on May 1, is survived by his sons.

1 comment:

Raffaele De Ritis said...

This version was filmed in 1959 for the wonderful movie "Europa di Notte" (seen in the Usa as "European Nights", directed by Alessandro Blasetti). It was a compilation of the best variety and musical acts of the time, filmed between Paris and Rome, where most of them used to perform (it included The Platters, Channing Pollock, Henri Salvador, etc.).
The Rastelli act was filmed in a special session without audience at the Sport Palace of Turin (Italy), while they was appearing with the Holiday on Ice of 1958. The director arranged with them a reduced version of the act. The white face here is Antonio Poletto. The augustes are Alfredo and his son Oreste.