Showing posts with label Harry Kellar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Kellar. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Great Houdini Broadcasts -Behind the Curtain of Episode 97


The Great Houdini Broadcasts was written by Val Andrews, and published by Micky Hades International back in 1981. It is a booklet made up of two Scripts. One takes place in 1926 immediately following the death of Houdini. The other script takes place 50 years later in 1976. I have to be honest, I have no idea why Val Andrews wrote this or what his intended purpose was. Perhaps he was writing a big of fiction, a short story, but why did he write it in script form?

Well, I can tell you it was the PERFECT thing for someone like me. I read it and thought it should be made into an old style radio show, EXACTLY how it was written. Perhaps that was Val's intention, I do not know. It also had a copyright. A standard copyright that is found in most books. I honestly was not sure if this prevented me from using the script or not. But I took the high road and contacted Micky Hades and was able to get a non commercial license through his son Brian.

If you listened to podcast episode 97, you'll hear my rendition. Seven very different voices: Radio Announcer, Lawyer Kelson (fictional), Conan Doyle, Hardeen, Horace Goldin, Harry Jansen, and Jay Palmer. Only the lawyer was a fictional character. I almost used Bernard Ernst instead, who was Houdini's real lawyer, but in the last minute I held back. ALL the dialog is fictional, though, it's about 98% historically accurate. And it's because of the truth of the history that I wanted to recreate this. 

If you listen close, Conan Doyle's voice is a combination of James Mason and John Houseman. Hardee's voice is a form of Luka Bratzy from the Godfather movie, but is close to how he really sounded. I wanted to replace Jay Palmer with Dai Vernon. I had this great segment that I wrote AS Vernon, but then I realized that my announcer voice was similar to my Vernon. My Dai Vernon is identical to Johnny Thompson's.  So I couldn't use Vernon. And then I discovered that Jay Palmer was a real magician who actually DID work for Houdini. And on top of it he was born in Nashville TN, so I gave him a Southern accent. It worked fine. 

There are no special effects, other than the static radio sound that plays during the entire story. I would like to have included some 1920s music, but I wasn't finding the stuff I wanted. As it was, one track did make it on the episode, but it's very faint and very short. I meant to pull it and forgot, lol. I hope if you haven't already done so, you'll go listen to the episode. 

My previous 'old style radio drama' was episode 72 of my podcast. That one was called "The Devil and Harry Kellar" and I wrote the entire thing, and did all the voices. That one has a totally different feel to it as it's more dramatic and theatrical. It includes sound effects as well. That story is totally fictional, however if you know anything about Harry Kellar, you'll recognize that the story is filled with TRUE events from his life. The story idea came to me from looking through his posters and it dawned on me, there was a whole story there to be told. 

I have been encouraged to do more of these. But as you might imagine, it isn't like there is a huge amount of these scripts laying around. In other words, I have to write them!!! I already have one written, and there is part of another that I started to write years ago. I suppose I could use the future. For now, the podcast returns to straight magic history!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Amazing Zancigs First Couple of Telepathy

The Zancigs were probably the first mind reading couple to make a name for themselves internationally. Granted, Robert Heller and Haidee Heller did raise a few eyebrows in their day, but they didn't have the impact of the Zancigs, nor did they tour as much. 

Their Real names were Julius Jorgensen, born in Copenhagen, Denmark March 7th, 1857
His partner was born Agnes Clausen, also in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1849.
Julius moved to the US in 1882 and a short time after he arrived, he met up with Agnes at a social gathering of Danish people who had immigrated to the US. They had known each other in Denmark and here upon meeting, they struck up a new relationship which eventually led to marriage. 

When he was living in Denmark his father had him apprenticed in the iron smelting industry. So when he came to America, this was one of his first jobs. While still employed in the iron plant,  an unusual request came to the young couple to perform at a church function. Because they didnt play any sort of instrument, they decided to try their hand at telepathy. Yeah, that makes sense. I can’t play an insturment, so I’ll read minds instead, lol. I’m going to guess that at some point Julius may have had an interest in this subject or picked up some of the expose pamphlets on how this was done. They began with the work that Robert Heller had done with his Second Site Act and expanded upon it. At any rate, they gave their crude demonstration and were surprised at how well it went over. 

According to Will Goldston’s book, Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, Zancig had an accident at the smelting plant, he badly burned his hand and was out of work for a long while. During his recovery, he decided that he would leave the iron works plant and try his fate in the world of mind reading. 

According to numerous sources, Their career began in 1899, when they start to present their telepathy act at San Souci Amusement Park in Chicago IL. This is even confirmed by a short article about them in a Mahatma Magazine in 1902.  Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, has them at Coney Island and claims that Horace Goldin discovered them there and later introduced them to Oscar Hammerstein.  I have a feeling Coney Island is incorrect, but it’s possible Goldin saw them at San Souci Park. And the Oscar Hammerstein connection is correct. He brought them to NYC to play his Roof Garden at $400 a week. The couple also performed at countless private functions for the high society of NYC. LONG before Steve Cohen took up residency at The Waldorf Astoria, The Zancigs performed there for 12 weeks.

In 1903 they met H.B. Leavitt, a theatrical producer who organized a Globe trotting tour for them.  And indeed they did travel the Globe. Arriving in London at one point they soon became a sensation. 

In 1906, The Zancigs gave a command performance before King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace. After this they toured across England as they had done before and again, the sensation continued. In the book, Illusion Show by David Bamberg, he talks about his family running into the Zancigs on a train in Norway. Agnes asked Okito if the young son, David, was going to follow in his footsteps. Because if he wasn’t she could make a ‘mind reader’ out of him. Remember that anecdote…

Here is a write-up from The Sphinx Magazine in 1906 of their act. “The Mysterious Zancigs were a strong feature of the Orpheum the week of Nov 6th. Their act is certainly a great one in every sense. They work rapidly and accurately in all their tests and are never baffled by any of the attempts made by the audience to fool them. Their exhibition may be termed telepathy, mind-reading, second sight, or by any other name. It goes just the same. Mr. & Mrs. Zancig honored the Sphinx with their presence, and during their call favored us with a private exhibition of their extraordinary powers. While this gifted couple were visiting Mammoth Cave recently, they had one pleasure of giving an entertainment in the bridal chamber of that wonderful cave”

Mammoth Cave is a National Park and Cave in Kentucky. One of the areas is called the Bridal Alter or Bridal Chamber and it was here in 1906 that the Zancigs gave an impromptu performance. 

In a 1906 issue of The Conjurers Monthly magazine, Houdini writes about the Zancigs, “Their act is about the best of it’s kind that we have ever seen, and we have seen almost all!”

In 1907 they were hired to work at the Victoria Roof Garden. They had an extended run that went into 1908 with the amazing salary of $1500 per week, the most ever paid to a mind reading act at the time.  From there they went to the Alhambra for a seven month run, then off to the Wintergarten in Germany.  Then back to America before the year was up.

IN 1910, they were requested to return to England and Buckingham Palace to perform again, this time during the coronation of King George V. They remained in England until 1913, when they finally returned to the US. 

This is just the early part of their career. On The Magic Detective podcast Ep 21, I go over the entire life story of the couple and those performers who joined the show later. Here is the link to episode 21

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Grave of Olive Dot Robinson, Wife of Chung Ling Soo

Dot Robinson being floated by Harry Kellar
When it comes to one of the greatest magician's assistants in history, surely one of the early ones was also one of the best. Olive Robinson was the wife of William E. Robinson. She was born Olive Path and had been with William Robinson since the very beginning of his career. For a time she worked as Harry Kellar's chief assistant in his show. Her husband was stage manager, illusion designer, and even performed his Black Art Act in the show. Olive, or Dot as she was known because of her small size, presented The Cocoon Illusion in Harry Kellar's show. She also was featured in an amazing levitation that was co-created by her husband and several other magicians, the effect was known as Astarte.

Later, when the Robinson's were wooed away by Alexander Herrmann, she became an assistant in his show. Astarte was performed in Herrmann's show also, but it was retitled The Maid of the Moon, and again featured Dot Robinson.

Finally, when William Robinson decided to go out on his own, he presented a show as an Asian character named Chung Ling Soo. His wife Dot was renamed, Suee Seen, and became the chief assistant in her husband's show. So Dot Robinson got to perform with three of the most iconic magicians of their era.

After the tragic death of her husband, who was shot on stage at the Wood Green Empire Theatre in 1918, Dot Robinson quietly fades into the background. The book The Glorious Deception by Jim Steinmeyer, suggests that Dot had become embarrassed by the scandal and controversy involving her husbands death. In 1921, she leaves London without informing her friends there and relocates to New York. She moves not far from many well known magicians, including Houdini. But she never let anyone in America know of her move either. She remained in seclusion throughout the rest of her life. In 1933, Dot Robinson was diagnosed with cancer. She died the following year at the age of 71. Olive 'Dot' Robinson was buried in the Bronx in Woodlawn Cemetery in an unmarked grave. But that's not the end of the story.

In 2016, magic historian, Diego Domingo, started raising money to put a stone marketer on her grave. The dedication for the stone marker was Oct 24th, 2017. Olive Robinson is buried in the Robinson Family plot not far from Williams' brother, and apparently just down the path from one of her former employers Alexander Herrmann. And today she has a proper gravestone.
Photo courtesy Diego Domingo

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Notes on Episode 11 The Great Maro

Here is the cartoon that appeared in the Sphinx Magazine on Maro. I believe the reason he left the 'devilish imps' off his posters was due to his Christian faith. Maro was no evangelist, nor did he include Christian references in his show, but like many people of the time, he was being respectful of his faith by leaving off that particular imagery.

If you look closer at this particular poster, you'll see in place of the 'imps' Maro has garden gnomes. 

If you're curious about the Houdini-Maro Illusion I mentioned during the podcast, you can read about it and see the picture here. 

In regards to the Astarte Levitation. Below is the video of Doug Henning presenting Astarte on one of his specials. It was an unusual and very different illusion when I saw Doug do it, but not particularly a big mystery. The version that was presented at the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History is a much longer piece and the costuming and choreography are much better. That version you can see if you are a Genii Magazine subscriber. It's in the January 2014 issue on page 72. It's called The Maid of the Moon, which is the name that Herrmann used when he presented the illusion.

And now you can listen to the entire Episode 11 below, IF you haven't already done so. And please remember to LIKE-SHARE-and Subscribe to the podcast, PLEASE :)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep10 Notes on Harry Kellar in Retirement

Most people kind of fade out of the limelight when they retire. But this was not the case for Harry Kellar. Sure, he didn't spend all of his time on the road going from theatre to theatre but he still traveled a fair amount. He also visited his old friends quite a bit. And he kept up with magic.

Kellar retired in 1908 when he handed his Mantle of Magic over to Howard Thurston. But Thurston got a lot more than the Mantle. He also received Kellar's Manager, Keller's Touring Routes, Kellar's two chief assistants Frizt and Carl Bucha, as well as all the props and paraphernalia that went with the Kellar show. And to the surprise of many, Thurston only kept two of Kellar's illusions, the rest he sold.

The first thing he did after he retired was take a very long vacation in Atlantic City. Above is a photo of Kellar and Houdini in Atlantic City. According to the Ken Silverman bio on Houdini, this is where their friendship really began to take off. Over time they developed a father/son type of relationship and it's proven in the various letters they shared back and forth.

I mentioned on the podcast about a photo I had of an improved Kellar prop. His name was cast into the iron, and below is a photo of that prop. I'm only showing the part that has Kellar's name due to secrecy issues. The piece is now owned by David Haversat.

Here is a video of Kellar and Houdini. I'm not sure of the location, but I did learn that Houdini had some film footage taken of Kellar and himself while he was in Los Angeles, so that is possibly where this was taken.

One quick minor correction to the podcast also has to do with Kellar giving Psycho to Houdini in 1919. He didn't ship it to Houdini but rather gave it to him while Houdini was in California making movies. 

Finally, I wanted to give you the link to an article I wrote a few years back called 'Kellar's Last Mystery'.

I used the book, Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, The Sphinx Magazine, Ken Silverman's Bio on Houdini, and several other sources during my research for the entire three part series on Harry Kellar. I also used, to research newspaper articles on Harry Kellar.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep 9 -Notes

Episode 9 is up and ready to listen to. This is part 2 of the Amazing Life of Harry Kellar. It covers his years right after the tragic shipwreck, right up to his retirement in 1908.

Along the way I mentioned a few things and I wanted to share them below. First up was the Automaton Psycho that Harry Kellar ripped off from John Nevil Maskelyne. Below is a video of Kellar's Psycho in action.

Next I mentioned the Blue Room and also The Spectre Cabinet. After reading through the book Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, it appears that the video below is actually The Spectre Cabinet and not the Blue Room, IF I understood this correctly. It is referred to as The Blue Room, and I'm assuming the two effects are similar in operation. At least you get an idea of how magnificent this effect really was.
This next video has a clip of The Mascot Moth, but you have to wait till the very end of the video. It's in the last few seconds.
Finally, here is an image of the beautiful Golden Butterfly Poster.
Episode 10 will conclude the series on Kellar and will cover his retirement years.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Episode 8 Magic Detective Podcast Additional Notes

Episode 8 of The Magic Detective Podcast is about the Life of Harry Kellar. As I was recording the episode today I quickly realized that this would be a multi-part episode. So this first part only cover 1849-1875. I've covered this period of time on this blog before, so I'm going to give you links that you can check out about the various topics.

2. The Davenport Brothers & The Spirit Cabinet

4. The Shipwreck
Please note there is a small error on the podcast. I mentioned that following the shipwreck, Kellar wired for money from his father. In truth, Harry Kellar borrowed money, approx $1000 from Junius Spenser Morgan, a banker, and the father to J.P. Morgan. 

And if you'd like to listen to the podcast before you check out the above links. Here you go!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Houdini the Patriot

Today, Nov 11, 2018, marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War 1. The war which began in 1914. Coincidentally, the United States did not get into WWI until the day that Houdini celebrated as his birthday, April 6th, 1917.  And, despite the fact that the land in which Houdini was really born, Hungary, was involved on the opposing side in the war, Houdini stayed true to The United States.  He was a true blue American. Though Houdini appears to be mostly apolitical, he was certainly quite patriotic. And he was a big supporter of the War effort in WWI. Houdini actually enlisted but was too old to be considered. Instead, he got behind President Wilson and the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds and performed at military bases across the country to support the troops.

The S.S. Antilles, was a US Troop-Transport Ship that was sailing out of France on it's way to the United Stated on October 15, 1917. A German u-boat fired a torpedo at the Antilles the morning of Oct 17th sinking the ship. Sixty Seven sailors lost their lives.

Now Houdini steps into the picture. As a way to raise money for the families of the service members who died, Houdini put together a benefit show. His idea was to bring together theatrical artists and put on a huge show at the Hippodrome Theatre in NYC. The program was dubbed, 'Remember The Antilles' and was presented on November 11th, 1917. Among the artists in the 'Carnival of Wonders' portion of the show were: Charles Carter, Frederick E. Powell, Julius Zancig, Howard Thurston, Theo Hardeen, Adelaide Herrmann, Houdini, the biggest name of them all Harry Kellar.

Kellar's name was important, as he was coaxed out of retirement for the singular event. His appearance was billed as 'positively farewell performance by Harry Kellar, The Dean of Magicians.' He had retired from the stage in 1908, having handed his 'Mantle of Magic' over to Howard Thurston at Ford's Theatre in Baltimore MD. For his portion of the show he presented 'table lifting' and then his version of the Davenport Spirit Cabinet. An account in the Dec 1917 issue of The Sphinx magazine says that Kellar far outshined all the earlier performers. And they added this, "He is just as good as ever and works with the same rare skill that made him not only the dean of magicians, but one of the most finished performers we have ever known."

Houdini followed with his Metamorphosis routine and then the Water Torture Cell. I should also note, to promote the entire event he did his upside down strait jacket escape from a crane on Broadway.

When the event was over Houdini's benefits show raised $10,000.00. This would be a little over $212,000.00 in todays money. I'd say it was a huge success.  Speaking of money raised, The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman says that Houdini sold more than $1,000,000.00 in war bonds and gave away at least $7000 of his own money to soldiers during shows at military bases.

There is more to the Carnival of Magic Show at the Hippodrome, but I'd prefer to include that in an upcoming podcast. For now, I hope you enjoyed Houdini the Patriot!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Magician Who Met Abraham Lincoln

This story has intrigued me from the first time I heard of it. In fact, I even wrote about it before. A friend sent me an article from a 1920 LA newspaper and it rekindled my interest in the story. So I'm reprinting my original article below with a couple corrections. These corrections came about by reading an article in the Los Angeles Evening Herald Feb 12th, 1920 edition. In truth, they really fill in more of the blanks than truly correct things. I hope you enjoy the updated article.

The individual in question is Horatio Green Cooke, born 1844 in Norwich Connecticut. As a youth his family moved around a bit finally settling in Iowa. In 1861, Horatio was working as a teacher.  In 1862, Horatio, who would go by the name Harry, enlisted in the Union Army. He had excellent penmanship and was also a fine marksman. Before long he was writing correspondence for various Generals in the Union Army, among them General U.S. Grant.

Due to Cooke's ability as a penman, he soon came to the notice of various people in Washington DC. His ability as a marksman, also played a part in his change in career and in rank. 

He went from being a private in the Union Army to being selected to be as a Captain of Lincoln's Federal Scouts.  He always carried with him a letter autographed by the President Lincoln informing him that he had been selected to be one of his special scouts.  In 1863, he fell under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederate Army gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union Army, and basically split the Confederacy in half. This event, along with the Battle of Gettysburg, were the turning points in the war for the Union.

R. Ingersoll, Gen Hancock, E. Stanton, Gen Sherman, A. Lincoln
On May 1st, 1864, Harry Cooke was ordered to appear before Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War in Washington D.C.. When he arrived  he found that along with Stanton, was General William Tecumseh Sherman, General Hancock, Senator Robert Ingersoll and President Abraham Lincoln. They had heard of the young scouts unusual ability to free himself from restraints and were curious. So he was tied up with fifty feet of rope. After he was securely tied, Cooke asked Lincoln to walk ten feet away. Then he asked him to return and before Lincoln got back, Cooke had freed himself from the confinement! According to the Los Angeles Evening Express Newspaper, Lincoln was amazed and jubilated. Lincoln said to Cooke "Here my boy, keep this to remember Uncle Abe by" and Lincoln then handed Cooke a two dollar bill. Harry Cooke kept that two dollar bill his entire life.

John Singleton Mosby - The Grey Ghost
In the Fall of 1864, Harry was assigned to join General Sheridan in Winchester VA. On October 19th, Harry Cooke and six other scouts were captured by Mosby's Raiders under the command of  'The Grey Ghost', John Singleton Mosby*. Mosby was notorious for his stealth-like raids against Union forces. When his band of raiders captured Harry Cooke and his fellow scouts they took from them all their possessions. In Cooke's pocket was the personal letter from Lincoln appointing him to the position of Federal Scout, a cherished memento. In Mosby's eyes Cooke was a spy and was sentenced to be hanged along with his other scouts. They were to get an early morning hanging, but their final evening on earth would be spent tied to a tree. Being the escape artist that he was, Cooke quietly freed himself from the ropes, and then proceeded to free his fellow prisoners and return back to the Union side under the cover of darkness. Due to the fact that not all of his fellow scounts could swim, they had to split up. Three swam across the Potomac River and the others made their way through the woods. One of the scouts who was swimming later drowned when trying to cross Harpers Ferry Canal.  Cooke and his companion finally made it back to a Union camp. From there, he took some men back to try and find those scouts who chose to make their way through the woods because they couldn't swim. They were eventually discovered, hanged and full of bullet holes. In the end, only Cooke and his other fellow scout that he swam with made it to safety.

Fords Theatre /Library of Congress photo
Harry had always been bothered by the theft of his Lincoln Letter by Mosby's Raiders and decided to try and get a copy from the President himself. On April 14th 1865, Cooke went to the White House in Washington to see Mr. Lincoln. Upon arriving at the White House he was told that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had left for an evening at Fords Theatre. Harry Cooke went to Fords Theatre, where the President and First Lady were watching the play "Our American Cousin". A short time after Harry Cooke arrived a loud shot rang out, and well, the rest is history. Cooke was there, in the audience, as John Wilkes Booth shot the President and then jumped to the stage and out the back doors of Fords Theatre.

It's hard to say when Harry Cooke got his interest in magic or where he developed the ability to escape from ropes. One thing is certain, he had an ability to escape like no one before him, and few since.  After the Civil War ended Horatio Green Cooke became "Professor Harry Cooke" and worked as a professional magician and 'Celebrated King of the Spirit Exposers". Years later he would become President of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians and would obtain the new moniker 'The Oldest Living Magician'. His favorite trick throughout his life was the Linking Rings and apparently his routine was one to wonder over.

On May 1st 1924, at the young age of 80, Harry Cooke duplicated his feat of escaping from 50 feet of rope for the Los Angeles area magicians. During this exhibition, Harry Cooke wore his blue Union Army uniform, the same one he wore during the Civil War. The result was exactly as it had been 60 years earlier when he presented the stunt before President Lincoln and his cabinet, HE ESCAPED! A a little over a month later Horatio Green Cooke passed away on June 17, 1924.

I must make note of the fact that though Harry Cooke was well known during his day, and appeared often in magic periodicals of his time period, and was even one of the pallbearers at Harry Kellar's funeral, he had largely been forgotten in recent years. It was Mark Cannon, escape artist and magician who brought the wonderful stories of Harry Cooke back to life through a fantastic article he wrote for MUM Magazine in April 2006. Mark had actually been fortunate enough to meet one of Harry Cooke's daughters at one of his shows and was given Cooke's personal scrap book. And it was because of Mark's wonderful article and my interest in magic history that I first started to delve into the world of Harry Cooke. Eventually, I too got to meet one of Cooke's descendants. You gotta love magic history, you never know where it will take you or who you might encounter!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dot Robinson, Wife of Chung Ling Soo

Olive 'Dot' Robinson was the wife of William Ellsworth Robinson, known professionally as Chung Ling Soo. She was born Olive Path and had been with William Robinson since the very beginning of his career. She worked with him in his Black Art act. When he signed with Kellar, she was there and acted as assistant in the illusions. Later, when they switched over to work with Herrmann the Great, she continued on, performing the illusions as only she could. Her nickname was Dot, due to her small stature. And because of her size, it allowed for very deceptive illusions. Several sources, including Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre, mention that she was one of the greatest assistants to ever live. When William Robinson created the Chung Ling Soo character, he renamed his wife Suee Seen.

Her life was not all sunshine and roses however. Though everyone thought she was married to
Robinson, they actually did not marry until 1906.   Robinson had a reputation for being a womanizer and Dot overlooked it all those years. But after the marriage, his extramarital affairs strained their relationship.

In 1918, Chung Ling Soo/William Robinson was shot on stage of the Wood Green Empire Theatre in London while performing the Bullet Catching Illusion. He died as a result of his wound and was buried in London. Dot, remained in London until 1921 when she quietly returned to America. She moved to the Bronx and became a recluse, never again associating with her friends in the magic world.  She died November 13, 1934 from cancer.

Olive 'Dot' Robinson is buried in an unmarked grave in The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  Other notables in the magic world who are buried there include: Alexander and Adelaide Herrmann, Max Holden, and Black Hermann.

Fellow magic historian, Diego Domingo is now working to raise funds for a grave marker for Olive Robinson. I learned of this at this years Yankee Gathering, when Diego gave a brief talk about Olive and the unmarked grave. As you know, I am a believer in caring for these graves of our brethren, and have contributed to the fund and would like to give you an opportunity to as well, if you so choose.

If you would like to contribute to the fund Checks should be made out to:
Funds have been collected and a new gravestone is in place.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

More On Houdini and Kellar

More on Houdini & Kellar

Five years ago, I wrote an article about Harry Kellar and Harry Houdini, and then wrote a follow-up article on a different blog. I've decided to move that 'other' article over here for you to enjoy, but I'm also rewriting it a bit.  I am totally fascinated by these two performers. I can't get enough of Kellar and Houdini. The more I find out about each of them, the more interesting they become.

KELLAR of course was the first nationally famous magician born in America. Robert Heller and Herrmann the Great preceded him, but Heller was English and Herrmann was from France. If you want to go back further, you could make the case for Signor Blitz as he was quite famous as well, but again, he was from another country.  Kellar was born in Erie PA so he was a native born son. It's said that Harry Kellar was the inspiration for the character of the Wizard in the Wizard of OZ. Actually, I've only heard this said within the magic world. I have a biography of L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of OZ and there is no mention of Kellar in the book. Still, that doesn't mean he wasn't the inspiration.

Kellar was around before the modern media, before radio/TV/internet/movies, and certainly no Social Media. In fact, in Kellar's time, it was rare to see a photograph in the paper, as that technology was still in it's infancy. Instead, there were line drawings or fancy fonts in ads that were being used. So how did Kellar sell his show? POSTERS, newspaper ads and word of mouth! Kellar has some of the most beautiful and highly collectable posters in the history of the theatre.  If you examine Kellar's posters you'll receive a 19th Century lesson on Branding that is still valid today. His posters had a consistent look and theme. Whether they displayed young Kellar or older Kellar, they were still done in the same style. Some posters featured Kellar performing his signature effects, others showed only Kellar...and usually a few of his devilish imps appeared in the posters as well.

There are a number of effects in Kellar's show that have always intrigued me, probably because I saw posters for them when I was starting out in magic and the images stuck with me. Two in particular were Flyto and OH!. Flyto was an illusion invented by Charles Morritt and it consisted of two upright rectangular cabinets on the stage set several feet apart. A woman would go into one and a man into the other and instantly they would change places.

OH! was kind of a challenge vanish. There was a chair, with a curtain cabinet around it. A Steel plate went under the chair to prevent someone from dropping into a trap door. The assistant who sat in the chair put her hand through the curtain which was held by a spectator from the audience, and the other hand held a ring which was attached to a cord held by another spectator. And under these stringent conditions the person in the chair still vanished without a trace! 

HOUDINI was not born in the USA, but he always presented himself as if he was. In his mind he was a mid-westerner from a little town called Appleton. Now, where Heller and Herrmann were Kellar's rivals, they had a different connection to Houdini. Herrmann was a distant relative (maybe). Houdini enormous respect for Heller, even going so far to track down the old magi's grave. He said of Heller, "he was the most versatile magician to ever life."

Houdini was not the inspiration for any fictional characters that I'm aware of, however, he was such an iconic figure in history that he became the inspiration for many people inside and outside of magic. Even today, they still make movies and write books about this fellow, so still he has a hold on the public's imagination.

Houdini predated the internet/social media and TV. But he was right there when radio and movies were in their infancy, and he used them to the best of his ability. He did a number of radio interviews and as far as movies went, he starred in movies as well as opened his own movie studio to produce his own movies and his own film development company.  He also used newspapers in ways that others had not with his sometimes scandalous photos (think naked jail escapes).  Through his outdoor escapes he created his own sort of 'social media', back then it was called 'word of mouth' and it was extremely effective.

Like Kellar, Houdini used posters to their maximum effect. He even had one poster that had devils on it, but he eventually went his own way when it came to the images on the posters. He emphasised drama, fear and emotion in many of his posters. The Water Torture Cell posters and the Milk Can, 'Failure Means a Drowning Death' and the Water Torture cells often had the depiction of a green giant putting Houdini in the cell. Pure drama!

In regards to his performing material I've always been intrigued with the escapes but lately it's his magic that is pulling me in. I never in a million years considered doing the East Indian Needle Trick. The It's an effect that has danger (real danger) and suspense and it appears totally impossible. It's frankly brilliant and Houdini recognized the trick for how powerful it was. He would do it in newspaper offices, he even did it on the stage at the Hippodrome Theatre, one of the largest stages in the world! Watch for it in my act, because it's coming.

Houdini's Walking Through a Brick wall is another piece that is simply genius. Though I don't expect to Walk Through a Brick Wall anytime soon (it won't fit in my Van). And frankly, I have a new found respect for the Milk Can after having done a ton of research on it. The Milk Can restarted a stalled career for Houdini and then when he was ready to replace it with the Water Torture Cell, he found continual uses for the Milk Can.

It's ironic that Houdini and Kellar didn't really become friends until after Kellar retired. Houdini always looked up to Kellar. Houdini had a habit of looking up to 'father-figures'. Kellar fits this description, as does Harry Cooke & Oscar Teale.

The Houdini/Kellar relationship carries a valuable lesson.  No matter how famous you are, there are people out there that you can admire. These two performers, certainly both admired each other.

By the way, maybe the best photo of the two magicians together can be found online. I will post the link, because I don't know who owns this today and would not post it without the owners ok.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Harry Kellar Poster

Harry Kellar is definitely one of my favorite magicians. He was one of the most beloved magicians of his time, though I think the Maskelynes' might disagree. His posters are highly sought after and they are always gorgeous. I honestly, never imagined I'd own a Kellar poster, but the photo above is MY Kellar poster!

This is a three sheet Strobridge Lithograph poster (84x40). I'm uncertain of the true date of the poster however. I have seen it listed online and in books as 1900 and 1903. And yet there is another poster, very similar to this one, where he is clearly younger, and that poster has dates of 1900 and 1907. I think that this poster to the left is likely 1907 as it looks like Kellar much later in his career.

It's kind of funny, most of the Kellar posters are filled with devils and imps and I get one of the few that doesn't include that iconic imagery, lol. But I've decided to include the imps just the same. How you ask?  I have been quietly collecting little devil figurines which I'll put on display right next to this enormous poster. I've got to get it framed and I can only imagine what that will cost. But it's going to look so incredible.

I don't have a huge poster collection, but I do have a few. I have a Fu Manchu, a Levante poster, one or two Virgil posters, a Kassner poster, two KIO posters from Russia, two George posters, and a few others that I can't think of off the top of my head. I also have a ton of modern day posters, all but 2 of the Le Grand David posters, Doug Henning posters, Copperfield and the like. But it's the lithos that are the most desirable. This Kellar is just breathtaking in real life!

UPDATE: Just an interesting aside, today at the Potter & Potter Auction, a signed photo of Harry Kellar's wife sold for $4800 and a Kellar In the Woods Poster sold for $13,000. AND there are a bunch of Kellar Posters among the Nielsen Collection which gets auctioned off in June.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Harry Cooke's Grave

I've been doing some research on Horatio Cooke recently. He has quite the life story which I covered briefly in an earlier blog article. I was rereading the magazine article that Mark Cannon wrote for the MUM back in April 2006. The article was incredible and it ended with Mark discussing the difficulty he had trying to locate the grave of Harry Cooke. He eventually discovered it with the help of magic historian, Diego Domingo. There is a great photo in the magazine of Mark kneeling in front of the grave.

I realized that I never included Harry Cooke in my The DeadConjurers blog. So I went online and found another photo in The photo owner Don Lynch kindly gave me permission to use the photo that he took of the grave. Thanks Don!

But I also found something else of interest. I found the photo of a grave belonging to 'The Infants of HG Cooke and LM Cooke' in Illinois. I'm 99% sure this grave belongs to two children of Harry and Louisa. They lived in Illinois before moving out west to California. It's likely these two children died in childbirth.

Harry Cooke and his wife are buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, the same cemetery where Harry Kellar is buried. Incidentally, they were good friends.

Photo used with permission of Don Lynch

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Remembering Kellar

Harry Kellar passed away 93 years ago this week on March 10th 1922. I've written about Kellar a lot on this blog and recently over at my other blog. We are fortunate that in the past few years some new books have come out on Kellar. The enormous Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and William Miesel was the first to come out and it gives a very complete history of the life of Harry Kellar. A short time after another book was published called, The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow.

Kellar was the first Dean of the Society of American Magicians and really the first famous American born Illusionist. In his life he would have seen Robert-Heller, John Henry Anderson, Alexander Herrmann, John Nevil Maskelyne, David Devant, Harry Houdini and of course, Howard Thurston. That's an incredible span of time to be able to see the acts of some of the most iconic people in magic history, and yet Kellar was among these iconic performers.

Had it not been for Kellar, we might not have had the Vanishing Birdcage here in America. Had it not been for Kellar the Kellar Levitation might still be known as the Maskelyne Levitation, lol. Ok, not everything Kellar did was honest. He certainly lived a full life with many incredible adventures, including loosing his whole act in a shipwreck! Yet he came back from loosing everything and became the #1 Illusionist in America.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Remembering The Passing of the Mantle of Magic

Today marks the 106th Anniversary of the Passing of the Mantle of Magic from Harry Kellar to Howard Thurston at the Fords Theatre in Baltimore MD. May 16, 1908 in Howard Thurston's own words,
"Before the final curtain had fallen Kellar led me to the foot- lights and in a most touching speech briefly mentioned his own career of forty-five years as a public entertainer, and finished with a generous and affectionate prediction of my future. Kellar had played Ford's Opera House for many years. He handed his arm around my shoulders, while the orchestra played 'Auld Lang Syne'. As the ushers carried many floral offerings to the stage, the audience sang with the music. Finally, the musicians stood, then the entire audience was on its feet repeating the refrain. Leaning heavily on my shoulder as the curtain dropped for the last time, Kellar cried—so did I."
What was the Mantle of Magic? Essentially, it was nothing more than a business transaction between Kellar and Thurston. But that is too boring, so they put a theatrical spin to the whole affair and created this idea of passing Kellar's Mantle onto Thurston. For the 1907-08 Season, Kellar and Thurston toured the U.S. together.  All of the posters for the tour featured an image of Kellar's face in the upper corner and Thurston's face in the opposite corner. The final poster above, was the only one with a full sized image of both Thurston and Kellar, that I'm aware of.
I'm not sure how long Thurston continued using the Kellar endorsement after that iconic event. But it's clear he did continue to use "Kellar's Successor" for some time. 
Library of Congress Image
Today, all parties associated with the event are long gone. Thurston and Kellar have low since passed away. Even the Ford's Theatre in Baltimore is gone. But we have the posters, playbills and history to look back upon and fondly remember an important event in the annals of magic.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Golden Age of Magic - In Bronze

I have posted many statues, sculptures, carvings, figurines and busts of magicians. But now it's time for the finest renditions of them all. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you 'The Masters of Magic's Golden Age!

This series of museum quality, limited edition bronze busts are the creation of Mike and Mary Elizalde. This whole project came about because Mike wanted some museum quality busts for his own magic collection. Mike funded the entire project and they were produced through Spectral Motion, the company that he and his wife own and operate. Spectral Motion is among the world's leading creature and makeup effects studios with over 50 films to its credit. Headed up by Academy Award Nominee Mike Elizalde and his wife Mary, Spectral Motion is known for its astounding cinematic effects and an unblemished record of reliability, believability and superb quality. Let's take a closer look at these incredible bronze busts. I'll post them in historical order. 

Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (b.Dec 7,1805 d. June 13, 1871) Known to all of us as the Father of Modern Magic. He was the great French Conjurer who we still revere today. Inventor of many incredible automaton like Antonio Diavolo and the Fantastic Blooming Orange Bush.  Also, creator of incredible magic like the Ethereal Suspension, which in updated forms is still presented today. 

Another of his iconic creations was the Light & Heavy Chest, which was used not only to amaze and impress but also to stop a tribal uprising in French Algeria.  

A full size statue of Robert Houdin resides in front of the Maison de la Magie in Blois France.

Alexander Herrmann (b. Feb 10,1844 d. Dec 17, 1896)
The GREAT Herrmann is considered by many to be the first in the line of the famed Mantle of Magic. He was also a Frenchman, like Houdin, but made his fame here in America. Originally, he worked with his brother Compars, until he went out on his own. Compars Herrmann was equally as famous in Europe as his younger brother was in America. The Herrmann's had a Mephistopholean appearance that added to their mystery and intrigue.

Though he had a very mysterious appearance, his magic and performance was filled with comedy. He was also known to do magic off-stage in public places. Perhaps we should credit Alexander Herrmann with being the creator of 'Street Magic'!

Herrmann died suddenly on a train in 1896. His wife Adelaide took over the show and was joined by her nephew Leon, who also bore a striking resemblance to Alexander.

Harry Kellar (b. July 11, 1849 d. March 10,1922) Here we have the Dean of Magicians. So called, because he was the first 'Dean' of the Society of American Magicians. Harry Kellar was the first nationally famous American born magician. The second in line for the Mantle of Magic, though technically, it really started with him, though some do put Herrmann first.

Kellar began his career as an apprentice to the Fakir of Ava. He went out on his own for a short time and eventually went to work for the Davenport Brothers. When he had a falling out with one of the brothers, he left them and took another employee, William Fay, with him. They toured North and South America and were heading to Europe when a ship wreck ended their tour.

Kellar found his way back to the U.S. and rebuilt his show and went on to  have a flourishing career. He and Herrmann, though not friends, shared a secret that I will reveal a bit later in this article.

HOUDINI (b March 24,1874 d. Oct 31, 1926) The most famous magician in the world, who wanted to be known as an 'escape artist' for much of his life, and then as an actor, producer and later as an author and scientific investigator. Eventually, he would return to magic in a grand way with his Three In One Show of Magic, Escapes and Spiritualist Exposures. Houdini is likely responsible for inspiring more people into magic than anyone alive. I know my own push into magic came from discovering Houdini. 

The creation of the Magic Detective Blog, really has a lot to do with Houdini. There are 172 articles on the blog that are either about or that refer to Harry. The next closest is Harry Kellar with 32. He is an icon, a legend and the bust of Houdini created by Spectral Motion captures Houdini in all his splendor. He looks confident, proud and defiant. It's a fantastic image of the Master Mystifier.

Howard Thurston (b. July 20, 1869 d. April 13, 1936) 
If we talk of the Mantle of Magic, Howard received the Mantle of Magic from Harry Kellar in a ceremony at Ford's Theatre in Baltimore on May 16th, 1908. In all truth, it had more to do with Kellar selling his show to Thurston, but it sure made a great publicity campaign and a tradition that has continued up until present time.

I always thought Thurston was a great performer. But I never quite knew the whole story until Jim Steinmeyer published an incredible biography on Thurston called, The Last Greatest Magician In The World. It is a must read for anyone interested in magic or magic history.

Thurston had been making plans to pass the Mantle of Magic onto one of his associates, Harry Jansen, known professionally as Dante. There was never an official ceremony however because Thurston died suddenly.

Chung Ling Soo (b. April 2, 1861 d. March 23, 1918) 
I must admit when I first looked over the list
of people who were selected for bronzes, the one odd one was Chung Ling Soo, at least to me. He was born William Ellsworth Robinson and in all truth, his inclusion in this list is well deserved. Robinson worked for Alexander Herrmann. Later, he worked for Harry Kellar. Robinson was the 'secret' that I referred to earlier. He worked for the rival magicians before his own rise to fame. He was known as the most knowledgeable man in magic during his time. He played an important part in the success of both. 

Robinson also has a connection to Thurston. He allowed Thurston to show Leon Herrmann his version of the Rising Cards, and when it amazed Herrmann, Thurston publicized himself as 'The Man Who Fooled Herrmann'. The meeting would never have happened without Robinson however.

When Robinson went out on his own, he failed miserably. It wasn't until he came up with the idea of doing an Chinese after seeing Ching Ling Foo, that things really took off for him. So convincing was he in his performance that the public was unaware that Soo was really an American. They truly bought into the idea that he was Chinese. He even used an interpreter when he gave interviews. He is the only real life magician who gets a spot in the movie 'The Prestige'. He also had one of the most tragic deaths in the history of magic having been killed while performing the dangerous Bullet Catching Feat.

All of these busts are a little over 12 inches tall. They are made of bronze and are available for purchase. They were produced in limited quantities of 40, so there isn't a huge supply, but there are some that remain. They are all on display at the Magic Castle if you are interested in seeing them in person. If you want to purchase one of these wonderful works of art, realize you are not buying a mass produced bust from Target or Walmart. These are museum quality and exceptional pieces. If you are interested in purchasing one, and I really encourage you to consider this investment because once they are gone, they will be gone for good. Below is the flyer which has all the information for purchasing. You can reach them at (818)956-6080 or by email at

Special thanks for Mike and Mary Elizalde for providing all the wonderful photographs and for your great contribution to magic.