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Westside Watch

After Years of Cutting Up in Venice, Juggler to Retire

July 24, 1994

Robert Gruenberg, the renowned juggler of dangerous objects, is hanging up his chain saws.

A fearsome sight on the boardwalk since 1983, Gruenberg has developed a routine of flying machetes, bowling balls, eggs, apples, politically incorrect wisecracks and, of course, his noisy, gasoline-powered, slicing machine.

Strangely enough, he says, he began juggling chain saws to overcome stage fright.

"I was such a good juggler inside my bedroom, but when I got out in front of people, I would drop everything," said Gruenberg, 35.

"But with the chain saw, I was so afraid that I would hurt myself that I was able to conquer my fear of people and concentrate only on the juggling."

He was recently named as the second recipient of the Venice Boardwalk Assn.'s seafront entertainer appreciation award.

"We felt competition for our entertainers from other boardwalks and piers, so we wanted to make an effort to keep them here in Venice," said Mark Ryavec, executive director of the association, which granted the first $200 award to a sidewalk artist last month.

Gruenberg said he has never suffered a major slicing. He took a few stitches in his upper lip in Atlantic City once, but that was from hitting himself with the chain saw handle at the end of the show.

Unfortunately for his fans, the comedian-juggler-artist will retire in September. He will hand off his act to his apprentice and regular volunteer, Greg Wodzynski, 19, and try his hand at writing scripts for a proposed semi-auto-biographical TV series about the life of a single dad who juggles chain saws for a living.

"I've had enough of the streets," Gruenberg said. "Every single time I do this, I'm scared to death. I mean, my 4-year-old daughter thinks I trim trees for a living."

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WOMEN'S PLACE: The year-old women's caucus of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights recently found itself embroiled in controversy when its effort to support female City Council candidates was branded as a move to dump incumbent Councilman Kelly Olsen.

Caucus founder Laurie Newman insists that the group is trying to promote women, not demote men.

Accordingly, some group members have urged artist Bruria Finkel, a caucus member, to run for office. Finkel will likely get the support of the group, but so may Planning Commissioner Pam O'Connor, not a regular caucus-goer, who has asked for the group's blessing.

Newman concedes that Olsen's performance in office has gotten mixed reviews from the women in the caucus.

On the other hand, the larger group, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, has always endorsed the incumbents it has helped elect. There are two of them running this year, both men: Olsen and Councilman Tony Vazquez.

The caucus is set to vote on its candidates Aug. 6, the eve of SMRR'S nominating convention.

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O.J. UPDATE: Now drawing attention in the front window of a music store on the Santa Monica Promenade is a black, director-style chair with "O.J. Simpson" written on the backrest.

It's the real thing, according to a handwritten sign that says Simpson used it when he performed in "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult." Cost? "Make an offer."

"Most people say, 'Wow, look at this chair,' and they ask if it's real," said Varujan Kaloustian, manager of the store, Mayhem. "But there have been no serious offers, yet."

The chair has, however, drawn shoppers into the store, where for a minimum bid of $20,000 you can purchase the jail booking card for multiple murderer Charles Manson. Kaloustian said his boss picked up the odd objects at auctions.

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