Monday, August 27, 2012

Magician Statues

The recent article I did on Tommy Cooper got me wondering about what other magicians might have statues. So far what I have found is pretty bleak. My criteria for this is for outdoor life-size or larger than life statues. I am not including busts, as there are a number of these around and I plan to cover those in another upcoming article.

Siegfried & Roy
First up we have The Masters of the Impossible, Siegfried & Roy. Their massive bronze statue is outside the The Mirage Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. I believe it was erected in 1993 but I don't know who the artist was who created the work. I also am not sure it's actually a bronze statue or just a fiberglass statue with a bronze finish. I hope it's actually bronze.

Sadly, S&R have been off the strip so long and some only remember them for the accident. But at their peak they were wonderful performers and entertainment icons. I hope their statue remains for many many years to come.

In front of the Maison de la Magie in Blois France is this wonderful statue dedicated to The Father of Modern Magic, Jean Eugene Robert Houdin. He certainly deserves a statue and I'm glad to see that one was erected in his honor. However, I do not know the cost of the statue nor who sculpted it.

The museum behind the statue is said to be the 'house' of Robert Houdin, but I'm not sure that is the case. I don't recall the Houdin house being that large.

One thing is certain, the descendants of Robert-Houdin did donate the house to the town of Blois to be used as a museum to the great French Magician.
Tommy Cooper
Tommy Cooper, the fez wearing British comedy magician has a statue in his honor that stands in his home town of Caerphilly, Wales. Tommy Cooper died while doing a show LIVE on TV in 1984. Like all the performers in this article, he transcended the magic world and was considered an entertainer for the masses. His statue is made of bronze and stands 9ft tall. It was created by sculptor James Done at a cost of £45,000 which was raised by The Tommy Cooper Society in 2008.

Harry Collins
Harry Collins was a magician and spokesman for the Frito Lay Corp. He was also one of the first magicians to inspire Lance Burton and I believe he was also Lance's first magic mentor.

The statue stands over Harry Collins grave in the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. The statue appears to be a bronze casting and no idea who the artist was or the cost.

David Copperfield
The latest edition to the statues is one that was recently unveiled in August 2012 at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. This bronze statue is dedicated to the 'King of Magic' David Copperfield.

This is the most unusual statue of the group because at first glance it might appear to be a giant bust of the magician. However, the lower part of the statue features sculpted images from some of David's most popular illusions, including Flying, Walking Through The Great Wall of China, Making the Statue of Liberty Vanish, The Lear Jet Vanish and Tornado of Fire.

It sits in front of the the theater where David Copperfield regularly performs in Las Vegas.

The big question I have is, "Where is the Statue of Houdini?" The sad answer to that is, there is NO statue of Houdini. The closest thing we have is his grave with the bust, but by the criteria I set above, that isn't quite enough. Let's face it Houdini deserves a life size statue! I know at one time the SAM led a concerted effort to the get a Houdini Postage Stamp which eventually paid off. Perhaps it's time to work on the creation of a Houdini statue.

There actually is/was a statue dedicated to the memory of Houdini, but it was of his Metamorphosis Trick which at one time was on display in Appleton Wisconsin. That statue is currently in storage while the city finds a new place to display it.

IF you happen to know of a magician statue that I missed, please let me know. I'm looking for more statues, NOT busts. I have a list of magic related busts that I'll be doing soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tommy Cooper - Just Like That!

I love being able to re-introduce entertainers from yesteryear. The gentleman whose life I'm going to share with you today is someone I didn't really know much about until a couple of years ago. I had heard the name but had no idea who he was.  His name is Tommy Cooper, and if your from England then you no doubt know of him. But here in the U.S. he is not as well known, which is unfortunate.

Tommy Cooper was a comedy magician, kind of in the style of Carl Balantine where none of the tricks he presented worked. In real life Tommy could present magic but for whatever reason he decided to use do more of a lampoon act rather than a regular magic act. Good thing he did too because in the 1960s-80s Tommy Cooper was a big name in show business.

He was born in 1921 in South Wales. When he was 8 years old young Tommy received the gift of a magic set from a relative. A few years later while serving in the military Tommy was chosen to work with a group entertaining the troops. His act began as a comedy magic act. While in Egypt he acquired his trademark 'Fez' cap when he forgot the hat that he usually used in his act. The Fez got so many laughs he continued to use it throughout his career.

In the 60s he broke into television with his own weekly show and would remain a staple on english television right up until his death. His final performance was on LIVE TV on the show Live From Her Majesty's. Tommy died of a heart attack while doing his last performance.

One of the great things about the Internet is that Tommy Copper's performances can be viewed on Youtube for new generations to enjoy. The first time I watched Tommy Copper I couldn't help but love his approach. He had a way about him that was so entertaining and refreshing. I didn't care that his magic didn't work, it was funny. And he didn't demean the magic, which I often see when I watch comedy magicians. He just enjoyed the folly. Many consider him a comedian first and a magician second, and I think that's a pretty fair assessment. Many of his jokes and lines were corny but somehow he could deliver them and make you laugh. He was incredibly funny, but he would also occasionally have a trick work correctly which I'm sure would surprise his audiences as much as it surprised him!

The main reason I decided to look up Tommy Copper and find out more about him was because I had seen an interview with Anthony Hopkins, the actor, and he was telling a story about Tommy Cooper and just raving about him. Then a later, Mr. Hopkins was present at the unveiling of a statue dedicated to Tommy Cooper. If Anthony Hopkins thought he was great, then I figured there had to be something to this guy. Sure enough, Mr. Cooper made me laugh as well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 The Inconsistent Summer-Update

First off, my apologies for the very sporadic updates to this blog lately. It's been a somewhat trying summer. It began of course with what looked to be a busy run of shows but then spiraled down into a bunch of health related issues. The latest, which I thought was a blood clot, has left me having difficulty walking. As it turns out, the blood clot was a secondary issue but was not the cause of my leg pain. The good news, I'm on the mend, and though I have probably two more weeks left of limping around, I should be as good as new before too long.

As for the blog, well I do have big plans coming up, it's just been really hard to work on it in this state. I've got a Magic History Contest which I'm going to put up soon, which comes complete with prizes, or a prize, I haven't decided. And there is also the first few episodes of The Magic Detective YOUTUBE Show which has been delayed and delayed. I hope to have that project up and running in September.

 Rest assured, I haven't vanished into the night. I'm still working on the site, researching obscure historical magic related events and gearing up for Fall!

Slight Update: A few days after writing this I was diagnosed with a Deep Vein Blood Clot (DVT) so things went from being on the mend to more serious. Then, I had two unexpected trips to the E.R. this past weekend. But as of yesterday, August 21, I got the OK from my doctor to go back to work, which for me means going back to performing. August 2012 will definitely not be remembered as a good month for me, but as I mentioned before, I am doing everything I can to get back on track. Hopefully, I'll be walking like normal again in a week or so. And I also hope to be back to updating this blog on a regular basis as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Maid of the Moon Illusion

I have always been intrigued by the poster above, but was never quite sure what the actual effect of this illusion was. 'Maid of the Moon' was a creation of three people William Robinson,  Benjamin B. Keyes of Boston and Will B. Wood. The original idea belonged to Wood who filed for a patent in 1889, but both Keyes and Robinson added things to the concept to take it from a novelty to an amazing act. The original name for the illusion was 'Astarte'.

The illusion first appeared in Harry Kellar's show, as William Robinson and his wife Dot were both working for Kellar at the time. It was a revolutionary illusion for the time. The effect is a levitation where a woman floats upwards and can move up and down, left or right and even spin her body around and turn somersaults. The method was exposed in an article in the Chicago Herald newspaper, but it didn't stop Kellar from performing it. He would eventually alter the name of the illusion to Astarte-Maid of the Moon.

Astarte. A new aerial illusion... Digital ID: 1697168. New York Public LibraryIn 1892, William Robinson and his wife Dot left the employment of Harry Kellar and went to work for Alexander Herrmann. It's obvious by the poster, that Robinson either built the Astarte illusion for Herrmann or took it with him when he left the employment of Harry Kellar as it was included in Herrmann's touring show under the title 'Maid of the Moon'. I could not find a Kellar poster advertising Astarte, though he did advertise other levitations over the years. The Herrmann poster for the illusion is breathtaking, and honestly, more beautiful than the effect really is, but I'm judging it by modern standards and perhaps for it's time it too was incredible.

In Kellars Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Meisel, there is a picture from the original patent papers showing the elaborate mechanics of the trick.

Astarte was dropped from Kellar's show during his never ending quest for the ideal levitation. It was likely dropped from the Herrmann show after Alexander's death. As better and more realistic levitations were created, Astarte was soon forgotten. That is until 1980, when Doug Henning added Astarte to one of his World of Magic TV Specials. In this special he used Loreen Yarnell as his floating subject. The video below shows Doug Henning presenting Astarte. Enjoy!

By the way, the above poster is also on the latest issue of Magicol Magazine.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Almost the Houdini Course in Magic

In the 1920s, an advertising man named Walter Jordan had an idea of creating a correspondence course on magic for the general public. He spoke with a friend who ran a correspondence school on Applied Science. The two agreed that a magic course would be a good idea and began to try and find someone to help them put together the course.

The first person they approached was a Chicago magician named Jim Sherman. Mr. Sherman drew up an outline of the course but wanted too much money for the finished project. Cooke and Jordan moved on to find a new person to help them and they came upon magician Walter Baker. Mr. Baker put together a few tricks for the proposed course but they weren't up to the standards that Jordan was looking for so they passed on Baker. However, Baker did give them the name of an illustrator if they were interested.

The third person approached was Harry Houdini. The year was 1926 and we know how busy Houdini was in that year. He liked the idea of a course in magic, but writing it himself would be out of the question. Houdini's idea was to get Harlan Tarbell to write and illustrate the course. This might have worked out but Jordan and Cooke had already heard about Tarbell from Walter Baker. So they decided to drop Houdini from the picture and just go with Harlan Tarbell for the entire project! The rest as they say is history. But for a brief moment in time it was almost the Houdini Course in Magic rather than Tarbell.

The 8 volumes of the printed version of the Tarbell Course in Magic still make up one of the finest resources for magic effects ever produced!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Adelaide Herrmann and the 1926 Fire

Warehouse on 46St NYC
This is a story I had read about in different books over the years, but always in snippets. I never quite knew the whole story and now thanks to the publication of Adelaide Herrmann's Memoirs, I've got more information. But I'm also going back to other sources to pull out the various discussions of the event because other historical figures get involved.

Adelaide Herrmann was the widow of Alexander Herrmann, known as Herrmann The Great. After Alexander died in their traincar in December of 1896, Adelaide decided to take a version of their show out. She chose Alexander's nephew Leon to fill the male role and she sent for him in Europe.
They toured together for three seasons until personality clashes caused them to part ways.

Adelaide had inherited all of the properties from the original Herrmann the Great show and these were stored in a warehouse near 37th St in New York City.  However, Mrs. Herrmann had been notified that the warehouse building that held all her equipment was due to be demolished and she would need to find a new location. The new warehouse was at 611 46th Street NYC.  Along with all the props, costumes, scenery, and illusions were also all of Adelaide's animals that she used during her 'Noah's Ark' routine.

On the morning of September 7th, 1926, an explosion occurred at the warehouse and the building was engulfed in flames. All 200 animals perished in the fire, along with an animal trainer and the majority of the Herrmann props. Apparently, one crate remained unharmed but was later broken into by thieves so nothing remained of the Herrmann legacy.

What caused the fire? The New York Times reported that an alcohol still, or several stills, hidden on the roof of the warehouse had exploded causing the fire.

It would seem that Adelaide Herrmann's show business career was over. However, a number of professional performers came to her aid. Among them was the President of the Society of American Magicians, Harry Houdini, who donated a Noah's Ark Illusion to replace the one that had been destroyed by fire. Harry Blackstone Sr. also helped Mrs. Herrmann by donating equipment. She quickly put together a new act and was up and running by October 1926.

Though the majority of the props owned and used by the Herrmann's had been destroyed in the Sept 7th warehouse fire, some props still remain today in private collections. Among the props that still exist are a Pistol used by Alexander Herrmann to vanish rings and a pair of Rapping Hands, both in the collection of Ray Goulet. Also Ken Klosterman has a center table that belonged to Herrmann, and the magic wand that used by Alexander Herrmann, which once was owned by Houdini, is now in the Copperfield collection. There may be other props scattered among collectors but those are a few I'm aware of.

Below is a photo of the location of the 611 46th Street warehouse. You'll see today it still remains a shell of it's former self. However, at the top of the page is a photo of 609 46th Street,  a warehouse that has been there since 1879 and this is very likely exactly what Adelaide Herrmann's warehouse once looked like. One other note, this location is walking distance from the pier where the USS Intrepid is docked and also where one of the NASA Space Shuttles now sits on display.
Location of Adelaide Herrmann's Warehouse & Fire

Milbourne Christopher, The Illustrated History of Magic
M-U-M Magazine, March 1981, article 'Ladies of the Hall of Fame' by Colette Cozean
Genii Magazine August 2000, article 'Adelaide Herrmann' by James Hamilton
M-U-M Magazine, May 2011, article 'Adelaide Herrmann & The SAM' by Margaret Steele
Frank Dudgeon with Ann Goulet, RAY GOULET Recollections of a Renaissance Man
Adelaide Herrmann & Margaret Steele, Adelaide Herrmann Queen of Magic, Memoirs

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Queen of Magic - Book Review

A while ago I mentioned that Margaret Steele had published the recently discovered memoirs of Adelaide Herrmann. But at the time I had not read the book. I was unaware that the book would be released not only in a hardbound edition but also in trade paperback version. This is exciting news because the book is much more affordable and easily accessible.

The bulk of this book (30 chapters) was written by Adelaide Herrmann. These were the Memoirs of her life with Alexander Herrmann and then her own career after he passed on. Sadly, she did not quite finish the book. She did complete the section on her life with Alexander but the part about her own career stops at a particular part which I plan to cover in a separate blog later.

Margarete Steele edited the book and then gathered additional information, such as all the articles that Adelaide ever wrote on magic and reprints of newspaper articles and similar articles of interest. There were no corrections in the language of the times, so there are occasions when Mrs. Herrmann was not politically correct by modern standards.

As to the content of the book, it is simply amazing. I've always enjoyed the brief biographies of the Herrmann's that appear in various magic books, but always yearned to know more. In this book, we learn that there was a rivalry between the two brothers Compars and Alexander and that they didn't speak for a period of time. I'm not sure still if they reconciled their differences. Adelaide implies they did but it's really tough to say.

One of the things I love about Alexander Herrmann was that he chose to a magician both on and off the stage. He was 'street magic' 100+ years before David Blaine and others were even born. He would cut open fruit to find coins inside while at a market. He would often produce a diamond ring from a biscuit or piece of bread, which had backfired on him on one occasion. A waitress took the ring and did not want to give it back! Alexander had to plead with the restaurant owner to retrieve his ring.

I was fascinated to learn that Alexander Herrmann was doing the 'muscle pass' with a coin as far back as the 1890s. For some reason I thought this effect was a bit more modern, but Adelaide properly describes his method for causing a coin to apparently float up from one hand to the other through the use of muscle control.

Adelaide doesn't go into specifics on the amount of money that Alexander made over the course of his lifetime but it had to be millions. He invested in theatres long before that kind of thing was popular. The Herrmanns you see were on the scene before Vaudeville came about. Herrmann's idea of buying theatrical properties and putting shows in them was just ahead of it's time.

Herrmann was also very generous and on more than one occasion took it upon himself to help pay expenses for other performing troupes. His generosity and his excessive spending had left them with very little money at the time that Herrmann passed away. It's clear that the hope was the restore their money by the end of their tour, however Alexander died midway.

In the book, The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher, there is a wonderful photo of Herrmann's house, known as Whitestone Manor on Long Island Sound. There is an even better photo of it in the book. It's a beautiful property but apparently, Herrmann only leased the property he did not actually own it.

Herrmann loved purchasing extravagent items like his  Herrmann Railcar. This train car was originally owned by actress Lily Langtry and Herrmann purchased it from her. The book contains photos of the interior and the exterior of the train car. As it turns out, Alexander Herrmann would die upon this train car in December 1896. They also owned a yacht which they called Fra Diavolo.

After her husband died, she went out on her own, first with her nephew Leon and then as a solo act. Apparently, she never spoke on stage, all of her work was done silently. She also incorporated special dances into her act as well. Her husband was known as an excellent sleight of hand artist and while he was alive Adelaide never ventured into that part of performing. But after he died, she began to learn and develop her own Billiard Ball Manipulation act, which takes a great deal of skill.

Adelaide and Alexander were remarkable people from a unique time in history. They were performing during the days of the Wild West right up until just before Vaudeville started. Eventually, Adelaide became a popular Vaudeville attraction in her own right.

This book is a must have for any magic historian or magic enthusiast. Margaret Steele has done a fine job which really feels like a labor of love from all parties involved. I saw the book listed on the Barnes & Noble website so it's even available to the general public which is exciting. For the price, you just can't beat it!