Tuesday, May 29, 2012
One of the features of Robert Heller's act was his presentation of Second Sight. He claimed to have invented the illusion, though that is not exactly correct. Robert-Houdin had been performing it long before Heller, in fact the first time Robert Heller had seen it was when Houdin came to London to perform. And Chevalier Pinnetti was performing Second Sight long before Robert-Houdin. So Heller's claim to have invented the effect was more bragging for promotional purposes than truth. The above poster shows Heller performing Second Sight with his assistant, the image is in the top center section of the poster.
Robert Heller did contribute to the act in a significant way however. His assistant Haidee Heller, sat upon a sofa while Heller held up hidden objects and Haidee correctly divined what they were. Most of the performers of the time who presented this type of act used a similar method. Newspapers often printed exposures claiming an elaborate code words were used. But it was when there was no dialog that audiences and magicians alike were dumbfounded. Even though, they did not speak a word, still Haidee Heller knew the answers to various questions or revealed hidden objects and so forth.
The method that Heller used in the 1800s was the piece of furniture that his assistant was sitting on! The sofa was filled with wires and a battery which ran off the stage to a hidden assistant. A secret assistant in the audience, had a electric button underneath his seat and could tap the button using a type of code to signal the person on the couch. It was diabolical for the time and is yet another example of how magicians often used the latest advances in science to create their illusions.
The reason we even know about this Sofa is because of Henry Ridgely Evans the author of The Old And The New Magic. He wrote about visiting Francis Martinka at his home in NYC and while waiting on Mr. Martinka sat upon this odd piece of furniture. Martinka revealed to him it was Heller's Magic Sofa which he acquired after Heller's death.
I should note here that Heller had originally requested his props and paraphernalia be destroyed upon his death, but upon his deathbed he changed his mind and requested they be sent to Hartz the Magic Dealer to be sold. There is some debate though on what happened following his death. The props were apparently held by creditors in a warehouse. They obviously made it out of that warehouse somehow, whether they were sold off privately or sent to Hartz Magic Shop I don't know. Francis Martinka wound up with several of Heller's props, but this is the only one I know of specifically. I wish I knew what the others were.
Martinka later sold this sofa to a budding young mentalist by the name of Joseph Dunninger. I can't help but wonder where it is today. I will say this, if you know, contact me because I'd like to purchase this piece of furniture. It may still be in the possession of the Dunninger family or it may have been sold off. I don't know but I'd like to find out where it is and again, I'm interested in acquiring it. If nothing else, I'd love to have a color photo of this wonderful piece of magic history.
UPDATE: I just read in Houdini's book "The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin" that he believes Heller's sofa was copied after Robert-Houdin's. But I don't think the Houdin sofa is still around today and I'm not sure if Houdin left details as to the methods he used for his Second Sight routine. If it is true, then the Heller Sofa was built in England originally.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Their shop was frequented by amateurs and professionals alike. The top names of the day, Robert Heller, Alexander Herrmann, William Robinson, Carter the Great, Harry Houdini and Harry Kellar purchased items from Martinkas. By 1902 it became the hang out for regular NY magicians and that's when Dr. W. Golden Mortimer and Dr. Saram Ellison proposed establishing an official organization for magicians. May 10, 1902 The Society of American Magicians was born in the back room of Martinkas Magic Shop.
By 1917, the Martinka brothers decided retirement was in order. They had been running this shop and a previous one in Germany for more than 50 years. They chose to sell the shop and it was purchased by a young up and coming magician by the name of Charles Carter. Known professionally as Carter the Great, he had become a great customer to the Martinkas. Practically his entire touring illusion show was built in the back rooms of the Martinka shop. Charles Carter had been touring for ten years and was feeling the need to settle down. Purchasing the magic shop would be the ideal thing for him.
Charles Carter had grand plans for Martinkas. According to the Carter the Great book by Mike Caveney, Carter planned to open Martinka Magic Shops all across the country. He even had plans to open a large theatre next to Martinkas to feature acts on the weekends and showcase illusions during the week. But none of it was to be and within a year Carter was looking for a buyer. He was loosing money in the magic shop business. Carter also had pulled in a partner after his initial purchase of the company, Alf Wilton. Mr. Wilton would eventually buy Carter out and get involved with a new group of people, John Collins, Frances Martinka, Theo Hardeen and Harry Houdini. The year was 1919.
What did Houdini do with Martinka's you might wonder. He purchased Hornmanns Magic Company from Otto Hornmann, and merged the two businesses together. Beyond that he did precious little. He was busy with his Film Company and history shows what a debacle that was. He sold his 51 percent controlling stock to Alf Wilton after only nine months as President of Martinka & Co..
Frank Ducrot died of a heart attack in 1938 and the shop was purchased by Al Flosso, and the name changed to The Flosso-Hornmann Magic Shop. Al Flosso was an old time vaudeville and popular Coney Island performer. He knew everyone in magic and he kept the shop bustling right up until his death in 1976 at the age of 80. His son Jack Flosso eventually took over the shop and just as his father had done, kept the spirit of magic alive and kicking in NYC.
The Flosso-Hornmann Magic Shop was a landmark that was visited by professional and amatuer magicians as well as famous Hollywood celebrities and other famous personalities. In 2000, Jackie Flosso sold the shop to Ted Bogusta in the hopes of retiring. In late Sept 2003, Jackie Flosso went to be with Francis & Antonio Martinka, Frank Ducrot, Charles Carter, Daisy White, Harry Houdini and Al Flosso. He was 77 when he died.
Today, Martinka's Magic Shop is an online magic shop and auction house. And I just found out that they have an actual shop in Midland Park NJ, the address is listed on the website. I think they are most famous today for their online auctions of antique magic, which I must admit have had some incredible items offered! You can see them at www.martinka.com
*I understand there is some debate as to Martinkas Magic Shop being the 'oldest'. It certainly has to be the longest running magic shop in America.