Friday, January 28, 2011
Kellar's Demon Globe Trick
This is an exploration into a historical trick. The effect is known as the Golliwog Ball and is credited to David Devant. I knew Harry Kellar used it also and I assumed (and wrongly) that he took it from Devant.
Actually, it began as the invention of Harry Kellar. The effect is that a large ball is placed upon a board that is leaning at an angle upon a chair. By placing the ball at the top of the board it rolls down. But the magician, Kellar, could cause the ball to stop half way and go back up the board and obey his commands to start and stop and roll down and roll back upwards. I very rarely do this but I'm even going to divulge how Harry Kellar did the trick. He had electro-magnets in the board and metal pieces placed within the ball. The control of the ball was done backstage by turning the electromagnets off and on it caused the ball to roll down, stop or seemingly roll back upwards.
Kellar claimed the inspiration for the effect came from seeing a large ball roll around a stage at a circus. At the end of the routine the ball burst open and a clown came out. In magic history there was a previous trick called "The Obediant Ball" which was a ball with a hole in it that was placed upon a rod. The ball would rise or lower on the rod at the magicians command. Kellar's trick was called "The Demon Globe" and as you can see he took the idea of the "The Obediant Ball" and made it into a stage sized trick. There is another smaller trick also called 'The Obedient Ball' which was a ball with a string running through it. The ball was threaded on the string and held at the top and dropped and would stop whenever the magician commanded. But it could not go back up as in the other versions.
There was one problem with Kellar's version. This thing was a monster to set up and take down. It apparently had tons of wires and was just very difficult to operate. It also cost Kellar a lot to build which was why he was keeping it in his show. The effect in operation looked mechanical which was another drawback.
One day David Devant was visiting the United States and he saw Kellar's show. He particularly liked Kellar's Demon Globe trick but thought it was much too complicated. He spoke with Kellar about it and asked him if he could go back to England and come up with something less complicated. If he was able to do this he would give it to Kellar with the agreement that he would have Kellar's permission to use it in England. Sure enough a short time later Devant returned to the states and showed Kellar the new version (which I will not tell you how it's done). Kellar loved the new version and it stayed in his show. David Devant called his version "The Wolligog-Golliwog Ball".
Devant borrowed a piece from Kellar's presentation. During his introduction of the trick he mentioned the clown inside the ball from the circus. This he said was his inspiration for the trick and he added, “there is no clown inside the ball, the only clown here is outside the ball”.
The final bit of research was the name. I figured it was probably just a made up name that Devant created. To my surprise and shock, the name has a history. Apparently the name Golliwog was a character in a 19th century children's book and it referred to a rag doll. The rag doll was very dark skinned and basically looked like a minstrel character. The term 'golliwog' which later became 'wog' turned into a racist insult. There is nothing about Devant's routine that would suggest anything racist. Devant performed for families and had routines targeted for kids like the Eggs From the Hat. His slogan was “All Done By Kindness.” More than likely the term had a very innocent connotation when Devant adopted it for his routine and over time developed into the negative term it became.
The name has been used for other things including the original name for the band Creedance Clearwater Revival, a commercially sold biscuit in Australia and is the name of an all female band from Slovenia. Outside of the trick, I personally never heard the term used or said. Frankly if I had heard it I would associate it instantly with this particular trick. I had no idea that the name 'golliwog' had a controversial history attached to it or that it even existed outside of this trick. I thought it was a made up name but checked it anyway and was very surprised by what I found.
For the record, I included this in the story of the ball trick to give a broader historical context and in no way intended to insult the memory of Devant, Kellar or offend anyone.
I think this was a very interesting effect for the time. An animated object seemingly under the spell of the performer. There is a wonderful poster that Kellar used to promote the trick which can be seen on this link. I was actually thinking about it and came up with a much different method which could create the same effect today. But I'm not sure how it would play for modern audiences who see remote control cars and planes and such. Still, it must have been amazing to see back in it's day.