Showing posts with label Devant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Devant. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our Magic and More!

OUR MAGIC is a book by Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant originally published in 1911. I first heard about the book through an article that Jonathan Pendragon wrote for Genii Magazine which he gave a list of his top 20 magic books related to illusions. Among the list was OUR MAGIC and unlike some of the other books he listed, it was easy to obtain a copy.

Here was an eye opening book! Probably the first book to discuss magic theory and certainly the first book to really help define whether or not magic was art. My favorite chapter is called The Three Degrees of Art and it breaks down into: High Art, Normal Art and False Art. It's an intriguing chapter to say the least and it's followed by 300 other pages of incredible theory, ideas and secrets. It's certainly a must read for anyone involved in the performance of magic. Sadly, the few magicians I know who own a copy have felt the book is best preserved in the shrink wrap they purchased it in. In other words, they haven't read it. I'm sure there is plenty of room for debate on 100 year old theories discussed within the book. It's still worth a read and a great deal is still quite applicable today.

The NEXT Our Magic
I don't know if I'm asleep at the wheel, or if Facebook is just not allowing me to see posts by friends as often as it used to, but I've now missed two opportunities to contribute to film projects. One was by a fellow magician who has moved into movie making. I found out about his project just after the funding had been raised.

The next is a documentary film project by Dan & Dave Buck, Jason England and Paul Wilson. I had seen the mini-documentaries that they had posted on the internet and was enthralled with what I had seen. I only wished I had been among the folks giving their thoughts on magic because I certainly am filled with my opinions on why I think magic is art and why it often falls short. Their new project was up on to raise funds and ended on May 27th. I think I had heard about this back in April but was not aware of the timeline and the fundraising ended over a week ago.

But the good news is they raised the nessassary funds and are now moving forward with this new documentary which will be aptly called OUR MAGIC. Please watch the video below to get an idea of how these film makers are putting their hearts into this project. If it's anything like their other videos, this will be something we can all be proud of! Best wishes to all involved!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The MAGIC used by Civil War Magicians

After I completed my series on Magicians of the Civil War era, I noticed that many of them did the same tricks. I wanted to give you some highlights of the types of things that could be found in many of the acts of the Civil War era magicians.

The Spirit Cabinet
There is an interesting similarity among the magicians from the Civil War period. A commonality of effects if you will. In other words, they stole from each other back then as much as today. In fact, I noticed a trend among magicians to purposely steal certain routines and then 'expose them'. Specifically, the routines presented by the Davenport Brothers. Their creation, The Spirit Cabinet, along with their spirit manifestations, or fake spirit manifestations showed up in the acts of; John Henry Anderson, Samri Baldwin, Prof. Harry Cooke and many others. Interestingly, the Spirit Cabinet would continue in the years past the Civil War and become a popular feature with Thurston, Kellar, Carter, Willard, Blackstone, Calvert and many others. Today it is being revived once again by Michael Ammar and his wife Hannah, who is the daughter of Frances Willard, the daughter of magician Harry Willard.

Second Sight
Here is an effect from the repertoire of Robert Houdin. He presented this trick with his son. While blindfolded, his son Emile could identify objects that his father held up which were in full view of the audience but unseen by his son. This same routine somehow, mysteriously ended up in the show of Compars Herrmann, who presented it along with his younger brother Alexander. Other magicians took the same trick and began to alter and adapt it. Chief among them was probably Robert Heller.

Today, second sight demonstrations are a regular part of a mentalists performance and sometimes seen in magic acts. The Evanson's come to mind as an excellent example of a modern couple presenting the Second Sight Blindfold act.

The Gun Trick
A very popular effect was notorious The Gun Trick or Bullet Catching Trick. This effect was used by John Henry Anderson with great success until he sold it to Wyman the Wizard who also had a lot of luck with it. Signor Blitz used it, but he was not always so lucky.  In one particular instance an audience volunteer loaded a button in the hole of the rifle and when it was shot the button ripped through the skin of Blitz's hand. Several close calls like this were enough for him to eventually remove it from his act. After the Civil War Alexander Herrmann added the effect to his show, as did William Ellsworth Robinson. Mr. Robinson was better known as Chung Ling Soo and was also one of the many individuals who was killed on stage presenting the Bullet Catching Feat. Today, in the 21st Century the effect lives on in the act of Penn & Teller.

The Suspended Lady
This is Robert-Houdin's Ethereal Suspension. I believe the first pirated version shows up in the act of John Henry Anderson who called it 'The Suspension Chloriforeen'. He picked up his copy of the trick from a former mechanic who had worked for Robert Houdin. Compars Herrmann was also using the Suspension Illusion as well. For those newbies to magic, though the effect might seem like a levitation, it is not. In a levitation a person apparently rises in the air. In a suspension, they are held or suspended in space. Levitations and suspensions are similar enough and generally fall in the same category in magic.

The Suspended Lady illusion actually dates back to at least the 13th Century and possibly further. Today it's commonly known as the Broom Suspension and has been used by countless performers (including me). This effect appears in the Tony Curtis Houdini movie, however I am not sure if Houdini actually ever presented the effect in his show. Richiardi Jr. had one of the most incredible presentations of the trick. It also is a highlight of the Le Grand David Show in Beverly Mass.

The Inexhaustible Bottle
Now here is a fantastic trick. Actually, all of the things I've mentioned so far are great and you'll note that they all are still used in some fashion today. Thankfully, modern artists have altered them to fit the times, but why throw out a perfectly good trick? The Inexhaustible Bottle is an illusion where a glass bottle is filled with water and rinsed out. Then any liquid called for can be poured from the bottle, typically alcoholic drinks. According to Houdini, the trick dates back to 1635 and an effect called the Inexhaustible Barrel. Basically it's the same effect but using a wooden whiskey barrel. Robert-Houdin claimed to have invented it and as has been seen before this effect showed up in the acts of many other performers. One in particular Compars Herrmann who used it during his show at the White House before President and Mrs. Lincoln and their guests.

David Devant, the great English conjurer updated the effect by using a tea kettle rather than a bottle. Later, Charles Hoffmann created an entire act around the effect and he became known as "Think A Drink Hoffmann". Today, the effect, in it's Tea Kettle form, lives on in the act of Steve Cohen, The Millionaire's Magician.

Other Staples
It will come as no surprise that the following effects could be found within the repertiore of Civil War magicians: The Cups and Balls, The Sucker Die Box, The Devils Hank/Napkin, Passe Passe Bottles, Flower Productions/Botania, The Genii Tube/Cornucopia, Early Versions of the Misers Dream in various forms, Rising Cards, Handkerchief productions/vanishes, Flag productions and more.

Ventriloquism & other variety arts & acts
While not magic, ventriloquism was a popular addition to many magicians acts from the Civil War era. Among the practitioners of this craft were Signor Blitz, Wyman the Wizard, Fred Bearns and others. Robert Heller added Punch and Judy shows to his repertoire. Blitz had trained birds. Robert Heller was a trained pianist and he added musical numbers in his show which gave it an elegance and sophistication that other acts lacked. Adding variety and skill sets beyond that of magic gave the Civil War era performers broader appeal. The tradition of adding other variety art forms to ones act continues today, though ventriloquism is rarely found in the acts of well known magicians. Rather, good ventriloquists have established their own shows minus any connection to magic.

Basically, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, in magic, they don't seem to change too much. Another way of looking at it is good magicians recognize quality effects and keep them! But I can't help but wonder, how many effects have fallen out of favor over the years which could be brought back, updated and still fool modern audiences?

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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Great David Devant

Devant's home in Homestead, London
It's David Devant Day over here at the Magic Detective Blog. Actually, My painting blog has an image of Devant and my new Dead Conjurers site has a picture of Devant's grave. Follow the links on the different pages to find out more about Devant. The photo above is of Devant's residence in London. The blue circular commemorative plaque denotes exactly where Devant lived.

David Devant was born David Wighton in London on Feb 22, 1868. He is considered England's Greatest Magician. He also was involved in the early days of cinema both filming his magic and running his films all across England. As great as he was and as well known, it did not stop him from getting kicked out of the Magic Circle, an organization which he helped create. He was expelled for revealing magic secrets. Devant's defense was that he only exposed his own effects and did not think he did anything wrong. I'm sure that the Magic Circle made up for this decision in later years as they now have a Devant Room at the Magic Circle Headquarters.

Devant was not just a performer but an inventor. Among his creations were: The Magic Tea Kettle, The Golliwog Ball, The Artists Dream, BIFF-The Vanishing Motorcycle, The Chocolate Soldier and the Mascot Moth. Many of Devant's effects would end up in the repertoires of other performers including Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, Doug Henning, The Pendragons, Lance Burton, Steve Cohen and more.

During the height of his career David Devant started having health problems. He was forced into retirement in the 1920s due to some form of paralysis. He was committed to a home to care for him. He died October 13, 1941.