Showing posts with label Classic Tricks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classic Tricks. Show all posts

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Linking Rings, A Tricks Whose Time Has Come and Gone and Come Again!

I would love to blame my sudden fascination with the Linking Ring trick on Frederick Eugene Powell, but he is only partly to blame. I was already researching this ancient mystery when I saw his video 2  weekends ago. In his routine, at the 5:50 mark on the video, he does a remarkable move where all the rings fall and cascade off of one ring onto the floor. I had read about this move before but never saw it in action. Having seen it, all I can say is WHOA! That is awesome!!!

Just so you know, I will not be revealing the methodology of this trick. I know that 90% of the people who read my blog are magicians, but I do get lay people who read it from time to time and I am from the old school, a keeper of secrets.

The trick known as the Chinese Linking Rings is said to be 2000 years old, possibly older. I am not certain of it's origins, though I have read it can be traced to Egypt and other areas of the Middle East as far back as the first century. The Annals of Conjuring mentions that it could possibly be from Ancient Rome, but it also says that evidence is slight.  And still other sources point towards India and China as the place of origin for the Linking Rings.

The trick was introduced to the European magic world via a troupe of Chinese Jugglers and Acrobats in 1830 and thus I suspect the reason the effect is known as the 'Chinese' Linking Rings.  According to the book The Annals of Conjuring, 'they were from the Court of Pekin and performed at the Savile House, #1, Leicester Square.' A number of online sources list the French conjurer Phillipe as the first magician in Europe to do the Rings after the Chinese troupe came through, but apparently, an English magician by the name of Jacobs was doing the Rings two years earlier than Phillipe. That information also comes from Annals of Conjuring.

I think it's probably safe to say we'll never know the true origin . But at least we have a good idea of when they gained popularity, in the 1800s. The early routines presented by Europeans were done with a lot of rings, 8, 10, 11, 12 and more. I'm not sure there is anyone today doing routines with large numbers of rings. About the most you'll see are six or eight, as most sets sold in magic shops come in eights. Levant, in the book Roy Benson by Starlight speculates that the reason shops started selling sets of eight rings was because Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann contained a routine with eight and twelve. Eight was easier and less expensive to produce and thus cheaper to sell a set of eight. However, Levant says on his DVD Levent's Ultimate Guide To The Linking Rings, that magic shops probably always sold a variety of rings, from 8-12. Today however, the set seems to stay at 8 or less.

From my research on Edward Maro earlier this year I learned that he too presented the Linking Rings but he used very large rings. I suspect he was doing either Robert-Houdin's routine or one of the routines featured in Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann.

I first learned the Rings when I was a kid. But from the research I've done over the past week, I apparently never really learned the Rings, lol. I learned a routine, but to my delight there is so much more to this little effect than meets the eye. I was surprised by the amount of magic literature that covers the rings. For example: The Robert-Houdin routine can be found in The Essential Robert-Houdin by Miracle Factory, Tarbell #4 contains a couple sweet routines, one of which was the routine of Eugene Laurant, Greater Magic by John Northern Hilliard contains several different routines, Roy Benson by Starlight by Levent has the best possible recreation of the Benson Liking Ring routine available, and there are many other sources as well.

I've recently watched over a dozen routines on video including: Chris Capehart's brilliant routine, Pop Haydn's stellar 4 ring routine, Dai Vernon's Classic Symphony, Richard Ross's 3 Ring and 4 Ring award winning routines, Cellini's Silent but deadly two ring routine and many others. One of the best variations was Mike Caveney's Linking Coat Hangers.  I have watched videos by pros and by some not so pro but still well done. And I've seen a couple routines that I did not like at all. Two that I didn't like come to mind because I could tell, both performers knew how to do the rings, both had skill with the rings, but they chose to add dance and fast movements and it got difficult to follow the magic. Confusion is not magic and speed is not needed when performing the rings, in fact, the slower you go the more mysterious the illusion. 

I believe my first real exposure to the rings was watching Doug Henning present them. Actually, my first true exposure was a theme park magician in Kentucky just a few months before the first Doug Henning Special. I desperately wanted to know how the trick worked so I bought a copy of The Amatuer Magician's Handbook by Henry Hay and found the secret, or so I thought. That's the great thing about magic, there is never one secret to any trick. A good effect has layers of secrets along with psychology and misdirection. Then there is the  magician who must interpret all those elements and bring something of himself/herself to the mix. One of the most beautiful routines I've seen with the rings is done by Tina Lenert. Her routine is so mysterious and magical and fun. Her's is done to music and she just captivates with her presence.

Having watched so many ring routines over the past week, I have a far better knowledge of the
different routines. I know that David Copperfield for example was doing Richard Ross's routine on one of his old TV specials. I know that Doug Henning and my friend Cesareo Pelaez from Le Grand David both were doing Dai Vernon's Symphony of the Rings. OH, and Dai Vernon's routine seems to have been based on Cardini's routine. I can see similarities in Chris Capehart's routine to those in the smaller Ninja Ring by Shoot Ogawa.  I would surmise that Chris developed his through the school of hard work and repetition. His routine, uses only three rings and features a repetitive link that simply looks impossible. He does the link over and over, right under people's noses and still it's impossible to see how he does it. The Capehart routine has a different feel from others, almost a more direct in your face sort of approach, and I like it.

Who has the best routine? I don't think there is a definitive answer. John Northern Hillard says in Greater Magic that Chung Ling Soo's routine was the best he'd ever seen. Many magicians point to Vernon's Symphony or Pop Haydn's 4 Ring routine as their favorites. In the 1970's, I would have to say that Richard Ross dominated the field with his beautiful Linking Ring routine. There are just so many great ring routines, it's impossible to choose a 'best'. One thing is for sure, a Linking Ring routine, well constructed and well performed is just as strong today as it was in the 1830s.

On the DVD, Levent's Ultimate Guild To The Linking Rings, Levent share's Robert-Houdin's routine with 12 rings, Chung Ling Soo's 12 Ring routine, Claudius Odin's 8 Ring routine, Cardini's 6 Ring routine, Dai Vernon's 4 ring and 6 ring routines, Paul Potassy's 8 ring routine, Jack Miller's 5 ring routine, Roy Benson's 11 ring routine, Richard Ross's 4 ring routine, and several of Levent's own ring routines that he created. He does these routines perfectly and they are all a pleasure to watch. If you want to learn the Linking Rings, Levent's DVD is a must have, but it's expensive, so the merely curious will stay away. His 4 DVDs are a college course in mastering the Linking Rings. One thing that sort of surprised me was that among all the various ring moves and sleights he displays, none of the four I created are among the bunch. Now, I did not reveal mine to Levent, but I had always kind of assumed that I was likely reinventing something someone else did, but apparently that isn't the case. So, it's nice to know I've got four Linking Ring sleights that are unique! One more think on Levent's DVD, it's FANTASTIC. I found the historical information and the recreations to be just as great as the teaching segments. He always does a stellar job.

Oh, and I was surprised to find that Houdini has a contribution to the Linking Rings. Though, it appears that Houdini's contribution may have come from Adrian Plate's notebooks that Houdini owned. The contribution appears in the book Houdini's Magic by Walter Gibson. The sequence is a very unorthodox linking of two rings that is brilliant and deceptive. I don't know if Houdini ever actually performed the Linking Rings in his show, but I'm guessing he probably did not (if I'm wrong, let me know).

UPDATE:  I had to mention this, I just watched Jonathan Pendragon's Linking Ring routine on video. I had seen it before but forgot about it. After watching so many ring routines over the past couple weeks and watching 7 hours of rings this weekend, I must say that Jonathan's routine is among the best there is. His routine is very well constructed. It's a combination of patter and music, part of the routine he interacts with the audience, part of the routine he is on stage performing to music. And his choice of music is the perfect fit for the routine as the rings act as almost a musical instrument interacting with the music. As with anything Jonathan does, it's a very physical routine and it goes to show how a performer takes a routine and makes it their own. Just great stuff.

UPDATE2: I forgot to mention I have two friends who do the rings. But they don't really 'do the rings' They make music with their rings. They're routines are a thing of beauty and you can sense the years of dedication and practice and love in every movement. They both do similar routines but yet the end results are different. My two friends are Glenn Gary and Keith Pass, two maestros with the rings.

The reason I did not personally continue with the rings many years ago was because I shifted to the Linking Hula Hoops, which is a variation of the Linking Rings. I have been doing the Hoops for 30 years and it's become my signature trick. Originally created by Dick Zimmerman in the 1960s. I took the original routine and added my own additional moves and figures. The only flaw, if there is one, to the Linking Hula Hoops is that it's a stage trick only. So now, I'm considering a return to the Linking Rings for smaller venues. I'd like to venture into one of the 11 or 12 ring routines because those are so rarely done.  For now however, I'd like to share my variation of the Linking Rings, done with Hula Hoops. This is actually a ten year old video, so my current routine is slightly different, but you get the general idea. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you liked my history of the Linking Rings!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Spirit Handkerchief and It's History

There is a wonderful effect in magic that has found it's way into the acts of many performers called The Dancing Handkerchief. Probably the most iconic performer to present the effect was Harry Blackstone Sr., and then later his son Blackstone Jr.. Even David Copperfield made a hit out of this little wonder.  But you might be surprised just how many well known performers and hundreds of lesser knowns performed this effect.

I tried to track down the origins of the mystery, originally known as The Spirit Handkerchief. Magicpedia lists Nevil Maskelyene as the creator. I can find no reference in magic literature to Nevil Maskelyne having been the creator of the trick.
Anna Eva Fay
thought I had the answer but then a second source listed a different name. Originally, I thought that Anna Eva Fay created this mystery. She began her career as a fake spirit medium and this type of effect would have been ideal for her 'Light Seance' segment.

However, here is what I do know. In the 1870s, Anna Eva Fay was in England presenting her seances. She had encountered John Nevil Maskelyne, who was busy exposing all spirit mediums. There is a brief account of their altercation in White Magic by Jasper Maskelyne. Shortly after this Anna Eva Fay returned to America and for a time was thought to be English, though she was actually from Ohio.

So who created the Spirit Dancing Hank? Looks like the winner is Anna Eva Fay*. But I think I know why Maskelyne's name is connected to it. The Dancing Hank was often presented in conjunction with another effect which was sort of a mini-Spirit Cabinet. Two chairs were placed on stage. A sheet of glass was balanced upon the two chairs and then a small cabinet was placed upon the glass. Inside was a bell and a slate. This effect was the creation of Maskelyne.  And it may have been Frederick Eugene Powell who first presented these two together in the United States. This information comes from Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers In The Theatre by David Price.

I do know that Harry Kellar began presenting these two effects together in 1894. He called it The
Cassadaga Propaganda. And from several different accounts, his Dancing Hank routine was a big hit. It's hard to say where he got it from, though he may have seen Maskelyne present it as he was known for stealing material from the Maskelyne show.

I found an interesting article in The Linking Ring Vol 40 #8, on a lesser known magician, John Grdina. In the article it says that Grdina taught none other than Harry Blackstone Sr. the Dancing Hank and whenever Blackstone was in Cleveland, he would mention it to his audiences. Grdina, as a youth apparently saw Harry Kellar first present the effect. He later would create some kind of version of his own.

Blackstone Sr. presented the Dancing Hank so well, that he is associated with the effect. His son, Harry Jr. also made a showpiece out of the routine. Others have presented the original version including Harry Willard, John Calvert and Howard Thurston. But no one made as big a mark with it as did Harry Blackstone Sr.. Below is the video of Harry Jr. presenting the hank, exactly as his father before him had presented it. (The person who uploaded the video fast-forwards through a bit of the early section, so just ignore that.)

In the 1950s, along came Ralph Adams. He created a more elaborate version of the Dancing Hank that was different from the Blackstone version. Doug Henning later used the Ralph Adam's version in his shows for many years. Though it was still a piece of cloth becoming animated, it was a different routine from the earlier versions. Below is a shorter version of the Henning routine. Usually, Doug presented it onstage with one of his dancers.

Then in the late 1970s David Copperfield debuted a new take on this classic effect. His version was the creation of Don Wayne and it combined aspects of the original with a sort of animated 'zombie' like effect. The Don Wayne version became all the rage for a number of years. Incidentally, the Don Wayne version may have been an updated version of the Joe Karson version known as Voodoo. One reason I think the Copperfield routine became so iconic was that he created a story based routine or a vignette. The magic was an important aspect of telling the overall story.

And speaking of updating versions, the latest and most advanced version of the effect started with the Don Wayne method and flew out to the stratosphere thanks to magic creator Sean Bogunia. Sean has taken the basic effect, added multiple methods and truly brought the animated handkerchief to life in ways that no one ever thought possible. Because of his innovations, many performers present the Dancing Hank in their shows today.

I'm not certain that anyone has really gotten the notoriety with the effect that the Blackstone's did. Though Sean is sure known as Mr. Hanky these days. This is by far a complete history of the effect but it does give you a good overview of the dancing hank through the years. Others have had innovations along the way as well, like Karrel Fox and Steve Dusheck. And a multitude of performers have presented this great effect. One thing is for certain,  over 100 years later the effect of causing a bit of cloth or handkerchief to come to life and animate and dance is still an amazing and popular illusion.

*Barry Wiley, author of The Indescribable Phenomenon, a biography of Anna Eva Fay, believes that in fact it was Maskelyne who created the Dancing Hank effect. His book is extremely well researched so now I'm leaning towards Maskelyne over Anna Eva Fay.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Flags of All Nations

The Magic Detective is up to his old tricks, actually NEW old tricks. Over these past several months you may have noticed my absence from the blog. This is mainly due to my performing schedule. It's great to be busy! But along the way I luckily and happily stumbled upon a great opportunity. I'm currently working to recreate part of the act of a magician from the past and I'll be presenting it in the Fall.

The act I'm working on is a silk/flag/ribbon act. The key feature of the act is something known as The Flags of All Nations. This was apparently the creation of Johann Hofzinser. Yes, he created more than just card tricks. From what I've found his version was called 'The Patriot'.

It's been a lot of fun digging up information on this old gem. I have also found it in the book, The Modern Conjurer by C. Lang Neil, simply called The Flag Trick, but this book also mentions it was known by other names such as 'The Congress of Nations' and 'The Multiplying Flags'. It was a popular routine in the Victorian era and early 20th Century. And it evolved over time into a very elaborate series of productions.

In it's simplest form it began as several small flags that vanished or transformed into colored ribbons. From the ribbons larger flags would be produced and eventually a giant flag and flagpole! It seems that each performer added his own touches to the routine.

Who performed this trick?  Hofzinser, Eugene Laurant. Edward Maro, David Devant, Karl Germain, LeRoy, Talma and Bosco, J.B. Bobo, and even Harry Blackstone Sr. had a unique twist on the concept. It must have been an extremely popular effect because the trick is featured on a number of stock magic posters.

The Flags of All Nations isn't really made anymore. There have been some small reproductions of parts of the routines in the past, but I've not found the whole thing anywhere. Thankfully, by combing through my large library of historical magic books, I've been able to figure out where to find 'some' of the items required. My most recent acquisition were two Silk Fans which are spring loaded. In the photo above I'm holding the silk fans. These aren't flags, but they will do for what I need. I may end up having larger versions of this item made for the routine.

If you're wondering why this was such a popular routine well there are multiple reasons. People were flocking to the United States in droves during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. They came here to become Americans, but had their roots in other lands. So when a magician produced a flag from the country of their origin it was exciting for them to see. And then when it concluded with the Stars and Stripes, well who would not be proud of that? The wonderful thing about the routine was it was easily adapted to whatever country you were in. For example, if you were in England, the final flag would not be the US Flag but the Union Jack. All the other components of the routine could remain the same but the final flag production would change to the country you were in.

Some performers had to learn the hard way about this. One magician was performing in Canada and finished with the US Flag. It actually got boos from the audience because at the time Canada and the US were involved in a trade dispute. So this magician changed the final flag to that of the Canadian National Flag and had much better results.

I venture to say that once I've finished all the research and found or built all the items, I'll be the only 21st Century magician performing this classic from yesteryear. I'll have more news on my 'recreation' of the act later in the Summer as well as info on whose act I'm recreating. For now, enjoy this image below of a magician who featured The Flags of All Nations (his was called The Flags of The World) prominently in his show.
In addition, check out the incredible Friedlander Stock Image here, and a small image of an incredible LeRoy, Talma and Bosco poster here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Fawkes Egg Bag

Magicians are quite familiar with the effect known as The Egg Bag. Most magicians today know the Malini Egg bag, made popular by Max Malini, Charlie Miller and Johnny Thompson. There are other egg bags all of which bring about the same results with only a slight modification in method. But there is an egg bag lost to time which seems to rear it's head every hundred years or so. THE BIG EGG BAG or what I'd like to call The Fawkes Egg Bag.

Sir Isaac Fawkes was a 18th Century Magician from England. I wrote about him once before on this blog, the article can be found here.

The highlight of his act, or the centerpiece of his act was a large egg bag routine. The modern day egg bag is made from 2 squares of fabric about 8 inches by 8 inches sewn on three sides. The bag that Fawkes used was much larger. The modern day bag produces and vanishes a single egg. The Fawkes bag was more involved. Here is a description of his bag routine from The Annals of Conjuring by Sidney W. Clarke.

"He takes an empty bag, lays it upon the table and turns it several times inside out, then commands 100 Eggs out of it, and several showers  of real Gold and silver coins, then the bag begins to swell, several sorts of wild fowl run out of it upon the table."

THAT is a killer piece of magic! The Malini Bag can't do that!!! The Malini bag which is the modern version, is also a stage or platform trick. By all accounts, Fawkes might have been doing this platform or possibly close-up. I'm sure other magicians copied the Fawkes Bag routine and overtime it fell out of fashion. The Fawkes Bag is revealed in the book HOCUS POCUS The Whole Art of Legerdermain by H.Dean 1727. Oddly, the method described only shows producing less than a dozen eggs, so either Fawkes version was different, or he exaggerated a little in his advertisements.

In 1786, David Leendert Bamberg was born. He was the third in the line of the Bamberg Magical Dynasty. According to Harlan Tarbell in Tarbell #5 pg 345, it was David Leendert Bamberg who invented the large type of egg bag.  As Bamberg was born 50 years after Fawkes had died, I'd say that he either 'reinvented' an old favorite with a slightly new way of performing the effect. His son, David Tobias Bamberg also used the large egg bag to great effect in his shows. David Tobias Bamberg was known as Papa Bamberg and was the father of OKITO, Theodore Bamberg.

The Bamberg Egg Bag can be found in Tarbell #5. The method is interesting and after producing 15 eggs it is then followed with the production of a chicken.

Del Adelphia, known as the Cowboy Magician, also performed the large egg bag in the late 1800s. His routine is described in the new book by Mike Caveney called The Conference Illusions, which is book 2 of a set called Mike Caveney Wonders. Del Adelphia was using the Bamberg Bag. The difference in his routine he apparently only produced 8 eggs and then 2 live chickens.  Mike Caveney set about to recreate the effect developed by Del Adelphia but Mike's methodology was quite different from what Del used.

I have always been intrigued with this 'large egg bag' premise. Ever since I first saw the images of Sir Isaac Fawkes in an old magic book, I have wanted to perform this piece. The Tarbell Course kept my interest cooking and then in 2010, I saw Mike Caveney present his version LIVE on the Essential Magic Conference. I say LIVE because I watched the streaming version online before it came out on DVD. IT was indeed fantastic and in addition, I was fooled by the routine.

Well, fast forward to 2014. I am now working on a version of the Large Egg Bag. Mine will hopefully have elements of the all the different versions and with any luck a completely different ending. Below is a photo of the Fawkes Bag created by a master seamstress, my MOM! She has sewn a number of things for me that are all amazing pieces. I'm hoping this particular creation lives up to the skill and artistry she used in making this incredible bag. MY version of the Fawkes Egg Bag will appear in an upcoming episode of The Magic Detective Youtube Show.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Floating Ball Illusion History

The Floating Ball was the creation of David P. Abbott. Well, actually, the original version was the creation of Harrison Davies and appeared in the September issue of The Sphinx in 1905. This information was uncovered by Teller and written up in his Prologue to The Floating Ball Illusion Chapter in the House of Mystery-Volume 2 by Teller and Todd Karr and David Abbott. This book, House of Mystery is basically an expanded edition of David P. Abbott's Book of Mysteries. It's a MUST READ for anyone interested in magic history. But within it's pages is contained the full explanation and step by step instructions for the Abbott Floating Ball routine. His routine was unique in that it was a one person version that he only performed in his home, so he had control of all conditions.

David P. Abbott taught the routine to Howard Thurston and Theo Bamberg. Thurston included it in his show and Okito would use the Floating Ball in his own show and develop a routine that set a new standard for the time.

The Thurston version of the Abbott routine was part of his Spirit Cabinet routine. Interestingly, the Thurston routine has a slightly different method to the Abbott version. Thurston routine begins with the ball floating forth from the Spirit Cabinet. It moves and floats about the stage and at one point is hovering above the stage. It's at this point that Thurston walks away from the ball while it is hovering in mid-air. The ball eventually floats back to the cabinet.

Theo Bamberg, known as Okito, used the Abbott version as the starting point but worked to develop his own moves and sequences. In his book, OKITO ON MAGIC, there is a 5 page chapter where Okito discusses the history of his routine. Interestingly, he never divulges his routine but he does divulge that his routine was ten minutes long.

Okito passed his routine onto his son, David, known professionally as FuManchu. In the book, ILLUSION BUILDER TO FU-MANCHU by Robert Olsen, a section on the Floating Ball is included. The chapter is mostly written by Edmund Spreer, who learned the Floating Ball from Okito and even hand made the Floating Ball for David Bamberg. The chapter gives a lot of details to the Fu-Manchu routine, which we can assume was identical or at least very close to his father's routine. The photo to the right is yours truly holding the Spreer made Fu-Manchu Floating Ball and below that the plexiglass box that mysteriously opened on it's own to allow the ball to float out or float back in.

Moving to the later part of the 20th Century we have Doug Henning's Floating Ball routine. The Doug Henning version came from Charles Reynolds who got the routine from a source I won't reveal. Well, it's not that I can't, it's that I have no idea what Gaeton Bloom said on the Luis Dematos Floating Ball DVD! And frankly, I so enjoyed the talk that Luis and Gaeton had about the ball, that I don't wish to spoil it. (You can read more about the DeMatos Floating Ball and DVD below.)  I can say that the Henning version always thrilled me but it seems the actually working of the routine was very different from what I thought it was. Let's just say the routine was 'All Doug'. Now, you take a moment to watch the following video of the The Henning Floating Ball.

That was part 1 of the Henning Floating Ball. Part 2 was something he only included on his TV Special. He would walk over to a large empty box and place the ball inside. Suddenly, the ball would emerge from the top of the box, but this time it was enormous. As it began to float up and down, it would begin to illuminate and the figure of a person could be seen inside. As the ball lowered it split in half revealing actress/dancer Joey Heatherton. This was really two different Floating Balls combined into one routine.

After Doug Henning, the next person to really bring the Floating Ball to the forefront was David Copperfield and Don Wayne, his magic consultant. The Copperfield version of the Floating Ball appeared on one of his early specials and featured the floating of a large disco mirror ball. The method for the Copperfield routine was the idea of Don Wayne. Following the TV special, Don Wayne sold a smaller version of the ball to magicians, along with a booklet on this Don Wayne method. His method, a two person version, opened the door to some amazing moves and sequences with the ball that were previously more difficult to do. The Copperfield routine was probably the most theatrical routine of all the versions combined. Like the Henning routine, Copperfield cleverly mixed different methods into a longer sequence. The Copperfield ball was covered at the end, floated upwards and then vanished as in an asrah levitation. You can enjoy that video now.

Peter Loughran put out a version not that long ago that was the creation of Steven and Michael Pignataro, it was called Voyager and was the first Floating Ball to include a lot of the 'hidden stuff' needed to create the full illusion.  

Next we have the TELLER Floating Ball. I have sadly, never seen the routine in person. I believe he calls his version 'The Red Ball'. The Teller inspiration came from the Abbott routine. Whether or not he uses the Abbott method or has developed something of his own, I really don't know. I'm not even sure the ball floats! From what I've read, it's more along the illusion of it 'coming to life'. But I do know that the 'secret' is told to the audience just before the routine is done and it still retains a very magical quality. Though with Penn and Teller, can you really be sure they've told you the secret????

The last Floating Ball belongs to Luis DeMatos.  The performance of the Floating Ball by Luis DeMatos is as close to real magic as you're likely to ever get. Having worked with the Floating Ball before, I was stunned at what he was able to achieve. I really was not sure what method he was using to accomplish his feat.

Luis has put out a DVD on the Floating Ball and his method as well as a history of the ball. He covers a number of historical things that I do not mention here.   As far as the Luis DeMatos Floating Ball DVD is concerned, I absolutely loved it. I've actually gone back and watched the performance part about a dozen times.

Luis DeMatos is not only selling a DVD but he is also selling his Mirror Ball, complete with DVD and all the necessary items needed to do his routine. I think that the Luis DeMatos version is not only the best routine of it's kind I've ever seen, it is also the biggest advancement in Floating Ball technology since the Don Wayne version. His routine might not be as theatrical as the Copperfield version, but it has a purity and elegance all it's own. For those interested, below is a somewhat edited version of his routine and you can start to get an idea that this is not your father's Floating Ball!
THE FLOATING BALL by Luis de Matos from Essential Magic Collection on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Vanishing Bird Cage - History

La Cage Volente, La Cage Eclipse, The Flying Cage or as we know it today, The Vanishing Birdcage was the invention of one man Joseph Buatier. In 1873 French magician Buatier (who would later add deKolta to his name and become Buatier DeKolta) created the first hand held cage that could vanish. The first model, possibly a prototype was made of highly polished wood. The bars were possibly string or elastic. It appears the original shape of the cage was square or rectangular but at some point he created a longer cylindrical cage with a round top and bottom.

The Vanishing Birdcage was a sensation and was also quickly ripped off. In the Summer of 1875 Harry Kellar is said to have purchased a cage from DeKolta's cousin for $750. Of course this was unauthorized because Buatier never sold cages to anyone.  This cage was probably the very first one outside of DeKolta's act, but it wouldn't be the last. In fact, Harry Kellar can probably be credited for the deluge of Vanishing Birdcages in America because he sold the secret to a magic dealer in exchange for props. In Europe a letter from Robert Heller to Charles DeVere the french magic dealer shows that the cages were already for sale in December 1875.

Harry Kellar stirred up a bit of controversy while in Australia over his presentation of "The Flying Cage" as he called it. Harry Kellar's routine was simple and direct, he counted to three and the cage with a live canary inside would vanish! A rumor circulated that Kellar was killing a canary every time he presented the effect. An inquiry took place and Kellar proved that was not the case. He showed that he had one bird and one bird only that he had been using for a long while. But this same controversy would come to haunt other magicians across the globe. In fact, this controversy was used as a minor plot point in the movie "The Prestige" in which they give a rather fictitious explanation on how the cage works.

Magicians worldwide began using the Vanishing Birdcage. A few included; Carl Hertz, Harry Blackstone, FuManchu, Fred Keating, Arnold DeBiere, Servais LeRoy, John Booth, Frakson and many more. In recent times the Vanishing Birdcage could be found in the acts of Walter 'Zaney' Blaney, Harry Blackstone Jr, Lance Burton, Billy McComb, Jonathan Pendragon, Tommy Wonder and James Dimmare.

A description of the DeKolta's routine says that he made the cage vanish with a tossing motion. Then he would remove his jacket so that the audience could examine it. After putting the jacket back on DeKolta would make the cage reappear once again.

Harry Blackstone Sr and Jr. used the idea of repeating the effect successfully. After making the cage vanish once, Blackstone would walk offstage to get a second cage and this time invite children up to place their hands on the cage. While attempting to cover the cage with their hands the vanish would occur and their hands would all collapse together.

John Booth had an interesting twist. His cage is what we call a Blackstone cage, meaning it had red ribbon around the outer edges of the cage. He had a second cage with green ribbon so that when he would repeat the trick, it was clear that he wasn't using the same cage but instead a different one.

But my favorite routine comes from Servais LeRoy. He had been doing the cage vanish for years and according to the book "The Elusive Canary" by Mystic Craig,  Servais LeRoy was the first to do the 'repeat' of the vanish with a member of the audience putting their hands upon the cage.  After the cage vanished LeRoy would have the spectators check to see if the cage was on his body. So Blackstone's routine seems to have been inspired by Servais LeRoy.

In 1933 the Camel Cigarette Company 'exposed' the trick in a marketing campaign they called "It's Fun To Be Fooled". Not to be outdone, Servais LeRoy altered his routine. He would stand on a raised platform and had two spectators on stage with him. He would make the cage vanish and then immediately began to disrobe. He took of all of his clothes except for his under garments! He stood on stage in his underwear while the audience checked out his clothes for any sign of the cage. What a sight that must have been, amazing and hysterical.

It's still a wonderful effect today just as it was back in 1873 when Joseph Buatier invented it.
Now just as a treat, I have one more video, but you'll need to move up to 16:30 on the video to see the Vanishing Cage routine. This is the late Billy McComb who does a comedy version and does it in slow motion. Enjoy!