L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i



Friday, September 15, 2017

Extreme balance - Renald and Rudy


Photograph by Douglas of Detroit.

"The Adonises of Balance", Renald and Rudy were perhaps the premier handbalancing act of the Forties and Fifties. In vaudeville and burlesque, they performed their novelty act for twenty-five years - eventually at venues as prominent as Billy Rose’s famous Diamond Horseshoe and the London Hippodrome - and even appeared a few times on television. Sadly, I've been able to find next to nothing about the two men, when and where they were born - and possibly/probably died - or even Rudy's last name.

Photograph by James Kollár of Radio City.
Photograph by Progress of New York. (Two images.)

The only real information I did get was from the book, "Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America", by Leslie Zemeckis. The author interviewed a now nearly blind Renny von Muchow - Renald - who lived with his wife - a former performer herself - at their home in Yonkers. He said that he and Rudy had met when he was fourteen and Rudy was thirteen: "They had a contest in school to see who the strongest boy in school was. And sure enough, Rudy and I came out on top. And we liked it so much, and we gained such a reputation for our strength in school. So we became hand balancers. Burlesque shows at the time showed novelty acts. And some of them were acrobatic and we said, 'Oh, we can do that. Why don't we do an act that nobody else can do because they're not strong enough to do it?' And we developed the act called Renald and Rudy, which kept us together for twenty-five years." They usually wore no more than tight shorts on stage, and tried to make their bodies look as much alike as possible; in photographs and on stage it was often difficult to tell them apart. Their act was usually seven to eight and a half minutes long. From working with strippers in Burlesque, they learned that lavender light "made the skin glow", and they traveled with their own lavender gels. "It wasn't work, it was play - and we were paid for it, well paid and traveled."


When their career ended, Rudy apparently had a hard time coping with the loss of the partnership. At the time of the interview, Renny told the author, "Rudy lives a solitary life in California in a trailer park. Unfortunately, he never got interested in anything else to get into, to make a living when he got out of show business. He did think he would like to become a hairdresser. He tried it, didn't care for it. Then decided he would become a dog groomer, took over a store on Hollywood Boulevard. And he was very, very busy - doing well - but he says, 'I kept looking out and seeing the sunshine and I'm in here working', and he walked away from it. 'Gee, Rudy you can't do that.' A lot of show people can't bring themselves down to earth enough to take a job that's 9 to 5. I'm afraid Rudy's one of those. Eventually he had to take something. He became a school bus driver. He enjoyed it. He didn't have to apply himself too hard."

 Photograph by Lon of New York.

The two would see each other only occasionally over the intervening years. "We never liked to write letters. Years go by without writing, but when we get out to California, we meet and it's just like old times. Rudy's like a brother to me. He's more than a best friend. We know each other so well. One thing that held us together, we did this thing together so well, it was as if we were born to do it."

Renny photographed by Tony Lanza. (Three images.)
Rudy photographed by Tony Lanza.
Photograph by Marvin of NYC.
Photograph by Marvin of NYC.
In rehearsal.
In performance. They often worked on a glass stage lit from below, surrounded by scantily clad ladies.
Cover photograph by Earle Forbes, 1945.




10 comments:

  1. THank you for posting this sad and fascinating story.
    LIke Rudy, my father was a celebrity in Vaudeville, a reknown international star. WIth the invention of television, talent with one or two acts were finished. MY father, unable to lead a normal life, needing to be a "star," demonstrated cheese graters in Macy's basement, sold encyclopedias door-to-door, and finally went into real estate, renting apartments in Queens. He was a bitter, angry man who spent the next forty some years living in his past glories.

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    1. How sad, Alice. Life has so many turns for a lot of us, and some can't seem to negotiate them all gracefully, happily. Very sad....

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  2. "We did this thing together so well..." - the bond that ties many unlikely partners, in show business and elsewhere.

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  3. please keep us informed if you get any news on this.

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  4. Thanks, Stephen, for this informative tribute to Renald and Rudy. As a friend of theirs, dating back to 1953, I can tell you that, besides being the world's best hand balancing act, they were both fine and decent human beings. Also, I'm certain that the fellow in photos 3,4 and 6, as you scroll down, is not Rudy. Rudy was movie star handsome and was considerably more muscular and symmetrical than the the model in those three photos. My guess is that he was an earlier partner of Renny's and was later replaced by Rudy.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Salvey!

      Interesting what you say about the identification of Rudy in some of the photographs. The images are quite varied but, to me, both gentlemen appear to be the same in all of them. And then from the history I've gathered - apparently quoting Renny, himself - they started together as teenagers, so I don't know how there could be an "earlier partner". Hmm....

      If you have any more information on the team I'd certainly love to hear about it!

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  5. Having come into contact with both Rudy and Renny at least three times a week during the 1953-55 period (except when they were on the road, performing), I’m convinced that the young fellow in the poses with Renny, in photos 3, 4 and 6, is not Rudy . You’re correct that he’s not an earlier partner. On reflection, I’m certain that the pictures in question were duo physique poses used in the “beefcake” magazines which were popular at the time, and were totally unrelated to Renny’s connection with Rudy as a hand balancer. Progress, Lanza and Lon (Alonzo Hanagan) were prominent photographers of male nude models and contributed their work to the beefcake press. If you look at the sixth photo down, you will note that the bathing suits were painted on; this was commonly done to nude photos during that period. The beefcake magazines are not to be confused with bodybuilding magazines, although the two were often displayed side by side on the magazine racks.

    During the early 1950’s Renald and Rudy opened their Skytop Gym, which was located at the top of an office tower on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 34th Street, overlooking Macy’s flagship department store, across Seventh Avenue. I was a member of the gym for over two years and became quite friendly with the duo, especially Rudy, who was the more outgoing of the two. A number of prominent NYC bodybuilders worked out there, as well as several professional wrestlers. Later, when the gym became co-ed, a few of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes began working out at Skytop, along with some Broadway showgirls. In addition to the venues named in the article quoted, Renny and Rudy performed at the Radio City Music Hall as well. I recall seeing them in a wonderful performance there, where they were covered in glittering gold paint.

    I last saw and spoke with Renny several years ago at one of the annual dinners sponsored by the Association of Olde Time Barbell and Strongmen. He had gone blind and was guided by his wife. When I asked about Rudy, he told me that he had lost contact with him.

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    1. Wonderful to hear more of their history; thanks for sharing this!

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  6. Stephen, I came across a good photo of R & R posing with the great John Grimek, but don't know how to post it here. Rudy's facial features are quite clear in that photo. Can you advise?
    Salvey

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    1. There's no way to post it in the comments, Salvey, but you could email it to me if you like: steveo7858@yahoo.com

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