In the early 1900s, the Germans were nuts about strongmen. Vaudeville audiences in the Fatherland never seemed to tire of watching husky men lift and toss barbells, cannon balls and other huge, bulky objects. One of the greatest of those stage strongmen was Paul Spadoni, who specialized in lifting, balancing and juggling just about anything heavy. He was born in 1870 in Berlin, and his real name was Paul Krause, but in those days circus and vaudeville performers were expected to have Italian-sounding names.
In addition to being very strong, Spadoni was a great showman. He had a superb sense of balance, and his act was always very successful. At the height of his career, he would appear onstage dressed as a Roman centurion, driving a chariot. He then unhitched the horses, picked up the chariot and balanced it on his head. Spadoni also used a springboard quite frequently, and one of his most spectacular feats was to put a large cannon on one end of the springboard and then jump on the other, sending the gun flying into the air. He would then catch it and balance it on his back and shoulders.
Spadoni’s act had become so successful by the early 1900s that he decided to take it to America, where there were large and eager audiences. The American public proved to be just as receptive to the German athlete’s act as Europeans had been. He traveled around America for many years and was always on the top of the bill because of his strength and panache.
Spadoni changed his scenery and sets often so that his performances wouldn’t get stale. At one point he forsook his Roman outfit and switched to playing a caveman in a fur loincloth. He wielded a large wooden club, juggling it with ridiculous ease.
In Europe in 1914 when World War I broke out, Spadoni was eventually sent to fight for his country. Wounds that he suffered in the trenches in addition to advanced age (he was in his mid-40s) put an end to his theatrical career. After the war he chose to stay in show business by forming a very successful theatrical talent agency. Over the years he handled the bookings for some 50,000 performers from all over the world. Paul Spadoni finally retired and moved to Rome, where he died on July 11, 1952. IM