Showing posts with label Carter The Great. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carter The Great. Show all posts

Sunday, July 15, 2012

George-Supreme Master of Magic

I received an email the other day from a reader who made the suggestion that I cover GEORGE-The Supreme Master of Magic in a future column. As I have never mentioned George in the past I thought it was a wonderful idea. The very first vintage magic poster I ever purchased was a George so I have an interest in finding out more. There is not a lot written about George in magic literature, but I was able to dig up a few things. Here is what I discovered...


Grover G. George was born in Zanesville Ohio on August 18 1887. His parents were Arthur Alexander and Margaret Elizabeth George. He had one younger brother Emerson, and two younger sisters Flossie and Mary. His father was an Attorney for the firm George & Leasure. His interest in magic began at a young age and when he was 10 years old he presented his first magic show at the Old South Zanesville School in his home town.

His career started slowly, like many performers of the time. He learned his craft by doing a lot of shows in small towns. Along the way, Grover married Ruth Cornell and in 1910 they had their first child together, Mildred. He continued to work small time venues and then in the 1920s he started to expand his business. He wanted to take his show to the bigger theatres.  In 1922 he purchased the equipment and rights to Doc Nixon's 'Hong Kong Mysteries' and started a venture called "The Mysteries Production Company." A review of the show that appeared in the Sphinx Magazine in October 1922 says "George is very clever and has arranged an entertaining program in four parts and dressed with beautiful & costly settings." The review also goes on to say "George ranks among the best manipulators," in referring to his card and billiard ball manipulations. In 1923 George hired a young Paul Rosini to work as one of his assistants.

Grover George had one problem, Howard Thurston.* Howard was the preeminent illusionist in the United States and he did not want George moving into what he felt was his territory. At first, Thurston contacted theatres and told them if they booked George then he would cancel his contracts with them.

George ended up loosing a great deal of work because of this stunt. Then Thurston sent his lawyers after George and he also sent Harry Jansen (Dante) after George. The idea was that Jansen would persuade George to drop all the Thurston tricks and routines and eventually leave show business.

The lawsuits had no merit as Thurston didn't own the rights to any of the material that George had been doing. All of it  had been printed up in books or was available through magic dealers. George however didn't have the money to fight Thurston and eventually was forced to stop his 'Triumphant American Tour.' I think this was also about the time his marriage with Ruth ended in divorce.

But all was not lost. In 1924, Grover George teamed up with entertainment manager Felix Blei and turned his attention from the United States to a tour which began in Cuba and moved to Central and South America. There is a mention in the Sept 1927 issue of The Sphinx Magazine that George had won a lottery and this money enabled him to take the South American Tour. This is an unusual statement and makes me wonder if perhaps George was paid off by Thurston to leave. I have no proof of that, I'm only speculating. The article goes on to say that the tour did not start well because he did not speak the language and training assistants in that region of the world was very difficult due to the language barrier.

The Tour began in Cuba and covered many of the major Central and South American Cities. At one point, George and his company had to sail up the Amazon River to get to a location. His destination was Manaus Brazil which turned out to be a very contemporary city. One humorous note, Thurston sent Dante to South America in 1927 and Dante had a hard time with business there because George had such a strong hold on the territory.

In 1929 the tour was over, Grover George had a new wife Anita Sosa, and he returned to the sad news that his mother passed away after an illness that lasted 8 years. He was back in the U.S. and working but not the best venues.  He eventually gave up his hopes of America and returned to South America. Because he was out of the country there isn't a lot of mention of George in the magic periodicals of the time.

He left the magic business and went into Brazilian TV. He also started a business manufacturing projection machines for theatres. He had a ranch in Sao Paulo Brazil and was doing quite well. But the call of the road was always lingering and in the 1950s he returned to performing briefly.

In 1955, Robert Patterson of Zanesville Ohio, George's hometown, purchased George's Sword Box Illusion. By 1956, Grover George was retired from the magic business for good. He died in 1958 and was buried in Sao Paulo Brazil.

But the story is not quite finished. Let me get back to 1924 for a moment**. Charles Carter, another globe trotting illusionist was interested in purchasing a series of lithographs from the Otis Lithograph Company. They told Carter that they had a huge stock of posters that were printed for George the Magician but he never picked them up and they were available. Carter passed on them and had his own posters designed and created. That huge lot of posters was purchased by magic dealer Gerald Heaney and he stored them in his barn in Wisconsin.

Fast forward to the 1980s when those posters were rediscovered! Thousands of pristine, never used George posters in all shapes and sizes. So if you are wondering how so many of them survived for so long, now you know!

*There seems to be some dispute in magic literature as to when this clash with Howard Thurston  took place. David Price's book MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre lists it as happening after George's 1929 return from South America. Similarly and article which appeared in Genii Magazine in May 1996 by Gary R. Brown, also lists his South American Tour beginning in 1924 and then upon his return in 1929 George had problems with Thurston at that point.

However, in the book The Complete Life of Howard Franklin Thurston by Robert Olsen, he shows in chapter 29 that the problem between Thurston and George took place in 1922 and he sites court documents as his proof.

** This part about the George Lithographs being pitched to Charles Carter in 1924 appears in The CARTER Book by Mike Caveney, pages 207-208. It's clear that Otis Litho Company had all the George Posters for an American Tour, NOT a South American Tour, yet in 1924 George left to go on a South American Tour after a failed tour in American, thanks to Howard Thurston.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Oldest Magic Shop in America

The Oldest Magic Shop in the United States* opened it's doors in 1873. Located at 493 Sixth Avenue NYC, NY, it was started by two brothers, Francis and Antonio Martinka. Their original shop had 5000 square feet of room with a showroom in the front and a small theatre and workshop in the back. Martinka & Co. was different from many modern magic shops though. They not only sold magic, they built magic. Everything from small props of wood, glass and metal to large stage illusions were crafted in their shop. They possessed a skill that is rarely seen today.

Their shop was frequented by amateurs and professionals alike. The top names of the day, Robert Heller, Alexander Herrmann, William Robinson, Carter the Great, Harry Houdini and Harry Kellar purchased items from Martinkas. By 1902 it became the hang out for regular NY magicians and that's when Dr. W. Golden Mortimer and Dr. Saram Ellison proposed establishing an official organization for magicians. May 10, 1902 The Society of American Magicians was born in the back room of Martinkas Magic Shop.

By 1917, the Martinka brothers decided retirement was in order. They had been running this shop and a previous one in Germany for more than 50 years. They chose to sell the shop and it was purchased by a young up and coming magician by the name of Charles Carter. Known professionally as Carter the Great, he had become a great customer to the Martinkas. Practically his entire touring illusion show was built in the back rooms of the Martinka shop. Charles Carter had been touring for ten years and was feeling the need to settle down. Purchasing the magic shop would be the ideal thing for him.

Charles Carter had grand plans for Martinkas. According to the Carter the Great book by Mike Caveney, Carter planned to open Martinka Magic Shops all across the country. He even had plans to open a large theatre next to Martinkas to feature acts on the weekends and showcase illusions during the week. But none of it was to be and within a year Carter was looking for a buyer. He was loosing money in the magic shop business. Carter also had pulled in a partner after his initial purchase of the company, Alf Wilton. Mr. Wilton would eventually buy Carter out and get involved with a new group of people, John Collins, Frances Martinka, Theo Hardeen and Harry Houdini. The year was 1919.

What did Houdini do with Martinka's you might wonder. He purchased Hornmanns Magic Company from Otto Hornmann, and merged the two businesses together. Beyond that he did precious little. He was busy with his Film Company and history shows what a debacle that was. He sold his 51 percent controlling stock to Alf Wilton after only nine months as President of Martinka & Co..

Frank Ducrot
In 1920, the business moved to 304 West 34th St. in NYC, where it would remain for many years. The next owner, was Frank Ducrot, a popular New York magician. He hired Daisy White to work the front counter and to act as secretary and sometimes as his magic assistant.

Frank Ducrot died of a heart attack in 1938 and the shop was purchased by Al Flosso, and the name changed to The Flosso-Hornmann Magic Shop. Al Flosso was an old time vaudeville and popular Coney Island performer. He knew everyone in magic and he kept the shop bustling right up until his death in 1976 at the age of 80. His son Jack Flosso eventually took over the shop and just as his father had done, kept the spirit of magic alive and kicking in NYC.

The Flosso-Hornmann Magic Shop was a landmark that was visited by professional and amatuer magicians as well as famous Hollywood celebrities and other famous personalities. In 2000, Jackie Flosso sold the shop to Ted Bogusta in the hopes of retiring. In late Sept 2003, Jackie Flosso went to be with Francis & Antonio Martinka, Frank Ducrot, Charles Carter, Daisy White, Harry Houdini and Al Flosso. He was 77 when he died.

Today, Martinka's Magic Shop is an online magic shop and auction house. And I just found out that they have an actual shop in Midland Park NJ, the address is listed on the website. I think they are most famous today for their online auctions of antique magic, which I must admit have had some incredible items offered! You can see them at

*I understand there is some debate as to Martinkas Magic Shop being the 'oldest'. It certainly has to be the longest running magic shop in America.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Carter Beats The Devil, Again

Glen David Gold wrote a fictional book in 2002 about touring illusionist Charles Carter called "Carter Beats The Devil". It was an interesting book in that he took many true stories from the world of magic and weaved them into his book. It made quite the splash in the magic circles and an even bigger splash with the general public. So much so that Tom Cruise purchased the rights to make the book into a movie. This was very exciting for magicians as well, but then nothing happened.

It appears now that the Carter Beats The Devil is back and getting a green light by Hollywood. Let's hope it makes it through this time. The talk in regards to the movie is that Johnny Depp is being looked at as the lead. It's a shame this wasn't made 25-30 years ago, as my vote would go to Charlton Heston, whose real name was John Charles Carter!

As much as I enjoyed the Glen David Gold book, I must be fair and say that the OTHER Carter Book is far better from a historical point of view. That would be the Carter Book by Mike Caveney. When I first read this book I could hardly put it down. Before reading it the only thing I knew about Carter was that he had some really cool posters, like the one above, and the Carter on a Camel poster (see below) and the Vanishing Elephant poster. But his life story is so much more interesting than his posters.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Homes of Mystery 1

Please keep in mind that all of these homes are private residences today. They were ONCE owned by famous magicians, but no longer. Enjoy them here, but don't go knocking on doors!


First up, Carter Manor. This was the home of illusionist Charles Carter. It's located in San Francisco and at one time overlooked San Fransisco Bay. There are lots of other homes in the area now. Though I don't know for sure if you can see the Bay or the Ocean from the house itself, possibly you still can. The property was purchased in 1929 and the house was built the following year. Not long after, Carter tried to sell it for $90,000, but had no takers. According to the Carter Book by Mike Caveney, the house contained: "A Magic Theatre w 150 seats, vanishing bars, moving pictures (on the wall), hidden chambers, closets, passages, and the dinning room table came up from the floor below via a trap door". What it's like now on the inside is anyone's guess. This might be the most amazing house owned by a magician.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vanishing Elephant Anniversary

Happy Anniversary!!! Ninety Three Years ago today, Houdini presented the largest illusion known to man, the Vanishing Elephant! He did this on stage at the New York Hippodrome. No Camera Tricks, No video editing, no post production special effects and no sleight of hand either. Houdini made the Elephant Vanish! Or well, as some would have you believe he HID the elephant in a grand manner.

The elephant that Houdini used was said to have been the daughter of the famous P.T. Barnum elephant JUMBO. Houdini capitalized on this at every opportunity. He called the elephant JENNY, and had her wear a big blue ribbon around her neck as she came out. Houdini let the audience know that JENNY weighed over 10,000 lbs and then to prove her gentleness he gave her a kiss every show before making her vanish. Along with the kiss was a block of sugar!

This was a spectacular achievement and one Houdini needed to thank Charles Morritt* for, as Mr. Morritt actually came up with the method that Houdini used.

After a month of performing the effect Billboard Magazine reported that Houdini would soon make six elephants vanish, though this never came about. As with most things in magic, copyists sprung up and Houdini tried his best to stop them with lawsuits.  Magician Jean Hugard said that he actually created the Vanishing Elephant five years before Houdini and could prove it with newspaper clippings. Harry Blackstone Sr. also claimed the Vanishing Elephant as HIS original creation, not Houdini's.  I don't think either of them was involved in the lawsuit that Houdini brought however.

Houdini could have taken the trick on the road but he turned down all offers outside of NYC. Maybe because he was borrowing the elephant and didn't have one to travel with. Also, the idea of vanishing an elephant may have been a bit stronger than the actual illusion itself.

Yesterday I was commenting on John Cox's site about another Houdini topic and I mentioned I wondered why Houdini never had a poster for the Vanishing Elephant. It's a good question. And John said, 'well maybe he did and we just haven't found one yet'.

That got me thinking, what IF Houdini had a poster for the Vanishing Elephant. It stands to reason he would, afterall, he promoted other things like the Buried Alive that he rarely ever did. Given that this was the biggest illusion in the world, at that time, it makes sense that Houdini would have had a poster created.

The Vanishing Elephant was only performed in NYC. It was performed in 1918 at the Hippodrome for four months as part of a larger program called "Cheer Up". Then later it was presented at the Times Square Theatre in 1922 to promote one of his movies. Because the illusion was only presented in NYC, any posters that existed would have only been seen in NYC. Although, it would be a great poster to put in one of his theatre displays when he was doing his Three In One Show, so again, it's hard to say.

Despite Houdini's attempts to prevent others from doing the illusion, other magicians did and continue to.  Carter the Great presented a Vanishing Elephant Illusion and promoted it with a very beautiful poster. Kassner from Germany also presented a Vanishing Elephant Illusion and had a couple very striking elephant posters to promote his  illusion.

Milbourne Christopher, Mark Wilson, Doug Henning, Lance Burton, Harry Blackstone Jr., Siegfried and Roy and others have all presented the Vanishing Elephant Illusion, using a lot of different methods. As a publicity gathering stunt the Vanishing Elephant is quite good. As an actual trick, well that depends upon the method, some of which leave a lot to be desired.

Many years after Houdini had passed on another performer took the idea of making the largest thing ever disappear and he promoted it with posters and even a TV Special. That would be David Copperfield's Vanish of the Statue of Liberty. He performed it only once, but used it in his promotion for years (and probably still does)!

My burning question, have you ever HEARD anything about a Houdini Vanishing Elephant Poster? If so, please comment below. As John Cox pointed out to me, other unknown Houdini posters have shown up, so who knows, perhaps someone is sitting on a super rare one of a kind Houdini-Vanishing Elephant poster!? Well, we can hope at least.

*To learn more about Charles Morrit, click HERE