|Directed by:||Donna Schatz||Rating:||TV-G|
|Release Date:||2005||Running Time:||58 mins.|
|More Info:||Wikipedia;QuickTime Clip||Category:||World Jewry|
An unlikely pair, Man Fong Tong, an acrobat from China, and his wife Magda Schweitzer, a Jewish entertainer from Hungary, both wowed audiences between the First and Second World Wars. Balancing Acts chronicles the story of how the entertainment industry saved this unusual couple from perishing in the Holocaust, and how their love endured the trials of war.
“I think Mom and Dad have always been, to some extent, competitive because they’ve been used to being in the limelight and used to the applause,” the couple’s grown son explains. “If dad was putting together an act or doing a show, mom wanted to get into the act, too—and get attention.”
Pairing archival footage and photographs of Man and Magda’s acts with private home videos and interviews, Balancing Acts explains how a young man from a small village in south China and a girl from an Orthodox Jewish family in Budapest shared a thirst for applause that developed into a deep love for one another – a love that prevailed through the trials of wartime Europe. While their careers were full of success, the spread of Nazism throughout Europe brought them both great hardships. Together they enjoyed public acclaim, suffered through the extreme poverty of war, bore two sons and endured a heartbreaking ten-year separation from one another.
Man and Magda had both left their families at age sixteen to pursue careers in show business. While tenacious Magda came up with a slapstick routine (with a male partner who was two feet taller than she was), Man teamed up with two other male acrobats. Dressed in sharp suits with slicked back hair, the three performed gravity-defying feats of balance and bodily contortions without ever breaking a sweat.
Man and Magda’s talents brought them both incredible success. They performed throughout Europe, alongside stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Patty Page and Bill Bo Jangles Robinson, and in prestigious venues — including the Moulin Rouge. Man performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” an unprecedented five times, and Magda bragged that her act was so famous it was featured in a Hungarian crossword puzzle as the answer to the clue “the best European show.”
But, on more than one occasion, success –- and prejudice -– put a strain on the couple. Only three months after their marriage, while Man and Magda were performing in Germany, Man was invited to perform for a private audience of top ranking Nazi officials, including Hitler. Although Man tried to refuse, insulting the government in such a way would have only made his Jewish wife’s situation more precarious, so he reluctantly complied.
As an inter-racial and inter-religious couple, Magda and Man faced prejudice and danger, but their commitment to one another kept them secure and grounded. When the Holocaust eventually made it impossible for Magda to perform, she decided to take up the unglamorous life of a housewife, as Man continued to work and provide for the family. Later, Man was forced to leave his wife and two young boys in order to find work in America to support them. The rest of their society put heavy value on religion and nationality, but these concerns were more or less irrelevant for Man and Magda. Their family’s well being was their first priority, and they were always willing to confront danger and make sacrifices in order to make their marriage work.
Although they both eventually stopped performing for a living, Man and Magda were agile and strong well into their eighties. “She was very proud of the fact that she was strong,” Magda’s son says of his mother, “she could still do cartwheels and head stands at 70 or 80 years old.” And, after a little coaxing from behind the camera, the 88-year-old Man takes a break from his interview to lift his legs over his head and balance in a perfect headstand.