Showing posts with label Maskelyne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maskelyne. Show all posts

Thursday, February 22, 2018

David Devant's Anniversary

David Devant was born 150 years ago Feb 22, 1868. He was known as England's Greatest Magician. For some reason, his name is not as well known in the United States. I think a certain segment of magicians know him, mostly the illusionists, and magic historians. But other branches of the art aren't  so familiar with his name.

I first became familiar with the name by seeing his magic posters. The one at the top of the page is probably the most iconic Devant poster. And does this poster ever speak volumes.  In a single poster, the artist has captured, people of all ages laughing. There are children in the image, women, men of all shapes and sizes, even a wounded soldier is depicted. I should point out, there are a couple people in the audience with a scowl on their face, that's pretty typical too. And Devant's catchphrase, "All Done By Kindness." Wow, does that speak volumes. Today, in our super cynical society, kindness seems to be a thing of the past. But Devant clearly had command of this group of people.

David Devant was born in 1868, as David Wighton in Holloway, London. He became interested in magic as a boy after seeing a traveling magician.  It's said that his choice of the name 'Devant' came about during a visit to an art gallery with his father. There was a painting with the title "David devants Goliath. Right then and there he chose that name, Devant. Devant was a triple threat,  he was an inventor of illusions, a performer of magic, and one of the early demonstrators of film. In the invention department, there are many. For example, The Artists Dream Illusion(1893), The Inexhaustible TeaKettle, Biff-The Vanishing Motorcycle(1913), The Golliwog Ball, and his crowning achievement, The Mascot Moth(1905). In regards to The Golliwog Ball, this was his interpretation of Harry Kellar's Demon Globe trick. Kellar's version was very complicated and difficult to perform. Devant worked out a deal with Kellar that if he could find a simpler method, he would share it with Kellar on the grounds he had Kellar's blessing to perform it. Needless to say, the Devant method was far easier and far more mystifying. I wonder if Teller's Red Ball illusion is his version of the Devant trick?

In the performing department, well he was already a successful entertainer by the time he partnered with J.N. Maskelyene. It doesn't hurt having your own magic theatre to present magic and in Devant's case, magic plays. The Artist's Dream is an perfect example. I can't recall where I first heard or read about The Artist's Dream, but it captivated my attention from the start. I've seen several modern day recreations of the illusion, some are quite good, some are not. In the effect, the magician plays the part of a painter. He has just painted his recently deceased wife on canvas. He covers the magic in order to step down and nap. As he sleeps, the image comes to life and steps from from the canvas.

I mentioned that Devant was an early demonstrator of films. David Devant was in the audience when the Lumiere Brothers first presented the Cinematograph in London. Being a showman, he instantly recognized the value of this new medium and wanted to get onboard. He was unable to acquire a Cinemtagraph, but soon was able to get a film projector from another gentleman. Immediately thereafter,  David Devant was showing movies to his LIVE audiences. Other magicians would follow suit and show films, but Devant was the first magician in England to do so. Devant also is captured a couple times on film. Below is an example of Devant performing actual magic and then camera tricks....(wow, even back then they used camera tricks)

Devant was a prolific author and on occasion co-author. For example, he cowrote the excellent book, OUR MAGIC with Nevil Maskelyne. On his own he wrote: Lessons in Conjuring, The Woes of a Wizard, Secrets of My Magic, My Magic Life, Magic Made Easy, and more. Apparently, The Secrets of My Magic, got Devant expelled from The Magic Circle for exposing methods. Kind of ironic, considering Devant had been the very first president of The Magic Castle. He was actually expelled twice for exposing methods.

In 1919, at the height of his career, David Devant received some dreadful news. He had acquired some sort of debilitating disease that forced him to be institutionalized for the remainder of his life. What a tragic ending to a gifted and talented individual. He passed away October 13th, 1941 at the age of 73.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More Forgotten Illusions-The Decapitation

The Decapitation is an old illusion and I'm not 100% sure of the creator. I know the origin of the illusion dates back hundreds of years. In fact, it might be the very first illusion. It was known as the John the Baptist effect for a long time. The historical John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod. By 1584, the beheaded John the Baptist was turned into an illusion. It appears in The Discovery of Witchcraft by Reginal Scot as 'The Decollation of John the Baptist". In the illustration there is a long table which splits down the middle. Two holes in the table allow one actor to lay upon the table and put their head through, thus looking like the beheaded body, and a second act sitting underneath the table and inserting his head through upwards, so as to look like the head. It was usually set upon a platter or plate that also split in half to allow it to surround the persons head. It was a crude illusion and probably used for church dramas.

If we move forward in time to the mid to late 1800s, we come upon The Decapitation Illusion of
which I'm referring. I know of at least two performers who presented it and given these two were big names in the art, there were likely others performing it as well. The two names are Alexander Herrmann and the other is J.N. Maskelyne. The version of the decapitation illusion they used involved a chair and a cabinet. Both items were made to look like ordinary furniture. The cabinet had glass doors in the front and was filled with bottles and plates. The chair just looked like an apolstered chair. In the effect, a person reclining in the chair would have their head removed and the severed head would be set upon the top of the cabinet. The beheaded body could still move its arms and legs with no problem. The head could smile and talk. I imagine for the Victorian Era audiences this was quite a remarkable and yet grisly illusion.

I saw one at the Salon deMagie, which is Ken Klosterman's wonderful collection of magic artifacts. I think the chair may have belonged to Alexander Herrmann to be honest. I also have a feeling this same chair and cabinet combo may have also been on display at the now burnt down Houdini Museum in Niagra Falls.

The method is really quite remarkable and the workmanship that went into building these things is stellar. Below are two photos from my visit to the Salon de Magie and you can see the Chair and the Cabinet used in The Decapitation Illusion. If you're wondering if the skull is part of the trick, I'm afraid I really don't know for sure.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Forgotten Illusion-OH!

I am always astonished at the creativity of the old time magicians. Today when we think of illusions the first notion is some big box, which is usually correct. But the Victorian Magicians did not restrict themselves to mere boxes. In fact, the following is an example of very modern thinking, the props involved all look ordinary.

The illusion is called 'Mahatmas Outdone' and it was also known as 'OH!'. The basic effect is vanishing a person in a chair under challenge conditions. This was the co-creation of Charles Morrit and Nevil Maskelyne. According to two sources*, the effect first appeared at Egyptian Hall on September 29th, 1891. Oddly, the British Museum lists the date for the above poster as 1877. I think the date is incorrect on the part of the British Museum actually. Morrit would have been 17 years old in 1877 and as far as I can see, he didn't make his stage debut until 1878.

Interestingly, the Kellars Wonders book listed Harry Kellar as adding this trick to his act in three months after the Egyptian Hall debut. The book presumes that Kellar purchased the rights to the act as well as the rights to another routine he would add to his show.

Oh! is a remarkable illusion which requires the assistance of at least three people from the audience. The magicians assistant sits on a chair and places one wrist through a ring which is attached to a cord. The end of the cord is held by one of the audience helpers. The assistants other wrist is tied or buckled to the arm of the chair and then the curtain is lowered and the assistant can put their wrist through a hole in the curtain, thus allowing yet another audience helper to verify that the assistant within in still there. A sheet of metal was slid under the chair to prevent the person from going through some trapdoor.

When the magician gives the word, the volunteers raise the curtain, at the same time the hand that was being held is yanked inside the cabinet, but the second the curtain passes the height of the chair it's evident that the assistant is gone! Moments later the assistant reappears in the back of the audience! What an interesting trick. I love all these little convincers to prove that the person is still inside the curtained cabinet and then a second later, GONE!

The effect was presented by a number of different magicians at Egyptian Hall and later St. George's Hall. And of course, Harry Kellar used the effect to great success in the United States. There is a very cool poster of the Kellar OH! chair in the Kellars Wonders book. In addition, Howard Thurston also performed the OH! Chair Illusion.

I hate when I send these things out before I've done all the work! I forgot to check one source and now I'm kicking myself because this source was full of information. You see, I knew that one of the OH! Chairs was in the possession of Mike Caveney. I remember seeing a photo of it in MAGIC Magazine. It might even have been accompanied by an article, I don't recall completely. At any rate, Mike's newest book,Wonders and The Conference Illusions has an incredible amount of information.

I forgot to mention, and thankfully Mike does in his chapter on the OH! Chair, that the Morrit OH! Chair was likely an answer to the popular DeKolta Vanishing Lady. The DeKolta Chair had been exposed in the press and in magic circles by the time the OH! Chair came along. Though they both used a similar method of vanish, the OH! Chair's convicers made it seem more impossible.

In 2003, Mike Caveney recreated a presentation of the OH! Chair for the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. He used Thurston's original chair. The chair by the way, had been restored by John Gaughan and the platform/curtain used in the recreation of the illusion was built by Craig Dickens.

There is a video of famed British Magician Paul Daniels recreating the OH! Illusion for his TV show
which can be seen here

*The two sources were Kellars Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, and St. Georges Hall by Anne Davenport and John Salisse

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!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery-Magic Style

In today's magic world we have enormous amounts of imitation, which is often more akin to theft and copying than imitation. One recent example was the fellow who stole Piff The Magic Dragon's act and presented it on TV as if it were his own. I've also seen a video on Youtube of a fellow performing Lance Burton's Dove Act copying every detail down to the costume and music. This stuff sadly has been going on forever and happens in other areas of entertainment as well. It's one thing to be inspired by another performer, it's another to steal their act. If the originator has passed on then it's a different issue. Though unless one is presenting a tribute act, it's probably best to still change the act somewhat. I thought I'd share some examples from a bygone era to show how far back this goes.

The Pastry Chef of the Palais Royal
We'll start with Robert Houdin the great french magician. Many performers ripped off the routines of Robert-Houdin. But if you read Harry Houdini's book "The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin" you'd think that everything Robert-Houdin did was stolen also. I find this book to have some interesting historical facts, but I don't always agree with Houdini's conclusions. There is a wonderful routine called The Pastry Chef of the Palais Royal which Robert-Houdin presented. In his routine, a miniature model of a bakery sits upon a table. It appears to be mechanical in nature, as Robert-Houdin must wind it up in the manner of a music box. Out comes a pastry chef holding a tray to take the order. The magician tells the chef what an audience member has selected off a menu of pastries, and the chef turns and goes back inside. The audience can see other mechanical men rolling the pastries and working in the kitchen. A few moments later the mechanical chef figure comes back out with the exact item the person from the audience requested. A marvel of the time. But was it original?

Ernest Basch
If we are to believe Houdini, no way was it original. In fact, Houdini does a fine job of proving that a routine of this nature existed before Robert-Houdin. In his book he says "the trick appears first, not as a confectioners shop with small figures at work, but as a fruitery, then again as a Dutch Coffee house, then as a Russian Inn, from which ten sorts of liquor were served. Finally in 1823, it is featured under the name that made it famous, The Confectioners Shop." So the effect did seem to exist prior to Robert-Houdin. But I tend to think Robert-Houdin was presenting his version of an already existing routine.

The image on the right is that of french magician Ernest Basch, and he is standing near what he claimed was Robert-Houdin's original Pastry Chef automaton. However, if you look at the picture above, you'll see it is clearly not the same. This black and white image was from Houdini's book. It does show that there were other automaton's of this nature out there and it also shows that Robert-Houdin's actual automaton was different. So I think this was more a case of imitation not theft.

Now let's look at William Henry Palmer. He first saw Robert-Houdin perform in London and became interested in magic. When he decided to perform magic himself he changed his name to Robert Heller. It's said that he chose the name 'Robert' from Robert-Houdin, the name Heller from pianist Stephan Heller. Ok, he was inspired by Robert-Houdin, but read on.

Robert Heller took his imitation a step further and even performed with a french accent initially.  There is no denying he copied Robert-Houdin's act. In the book 'The Annals of Conjuring' by Sidney W. Clarke, there is a list of 15 routines presented by Heller and the exact same 15 in the same order presented by Robert-Houdin. Heller did give the routines 'slightly' different names, as if that made a difference. Worse yet, he claimed to have created the magic in his show. This bit of bragging was common among many magicians.  Eventually Heller dropped the accent and found his own style.  He met with real success  when he stopped trying to be Houdin and instead performed as HELLER.

John Henry Anderson, The Great Wizard of the North, claimed to have invented a trick that he called "Suspension Chloroforeene" which was amazingly similar to Robert-Houdin's invention called "The Ethereal Suspension".  In the Houdin version, his son was placed between upright walking sticks and a bottle of ether was held below his nose briefly. Backstage, an assistant with a hand held fan made sure the smell of ether made it's way into the audience as well so as to increase the theatricality of the effect. The boy passed out from the ether and apparently became as light as a feather. To prove this, Robert-Houdin removed one of the walking sticks and lifted his son up and showed that he could actually rest easily upon the other. In the John Henry Anderson routine, Chloroform was used instead of ether, other than that the routine was exactly the same.

Anderson, also presented the Magic Scrapbook, known as the Artist's Portfolio in Houdin's act and the Second Sight routine, which went by the same name in Robert-Houdin's show.

Let's take a look at Harry Kellar.  Notice the side by side photos below. Robert Heller is on the left and a young Harry Kellar is on the right. They look very much alike. Today we most often think of Kellar as the older, clean shaven, balding gentleman, but in his younger days he sported a rather large mustache. As best I can tell, he shaved it off around 1894 because the first Kellar posters without the mustache appeared that year. I wondered if he wore this mustache to look more like Heller. However, I think it was more the fashion of the time.
Robert Heller (left) Harry Kellar (right)
Though the two gentleman do look very much alike, Kellar actually tried to distance himself from Robert Heller. Harry's last name was actually spelled KELLER, but he altered the spelling because it looked too much like HELLER.  His act was fairly different from that of Robert Heller with the exception of the spirit manifestations that many performers of the day were doing. Harry Kellar had worked for the Davenport Brothers, the creator of the Spirit Cabinet act and he left their employment somewhat disgruntled. Upon his exit he took with him another Davenport employee, William Fay. Kellar and Fay teamed up and began to present their version of the Spirit Cabinet.

Harry Kellar did get something from Robert Heller though, but it was after Heller had died. When Robert Heller presented his Second Sight Act it was always with his 'so-called' sister Ms. Haidee Heller. Well, now that Robert Heller had passed on, Haidee, who was no relation, was off presenting the act with a new partner. In 1880, Kellar met her while he was working in Scotland and hired her and her partner to present their act in his show. A few years later, Kellar and his wife Eva began presenting a Second Sight Act. I wonder where he learned that from?

Kellar's most frequent target was John Nevil Maskylene of Egyptian Hall Fame. In fact, it was at Egyptian Hall that Kellar saw Dekolta present his Vanishing Bird Cage Trick. Kellar purchased a copy of the cage from a relative of DeKolta's, though apparently DeKolta himself was unaware of this transaction. A somewhat shady deal.

Maskelyne & PSYCHO
A short time later Kellar hired a mechanic to make a copy of John Nevil Maskelyene's popular  automaton PSYCHO. Kellar even called his version PSYCHO as well, though when he played England, he changed the name temporarily to Arno. Kellar continued to go back to the 'Maskelyne Magic Well' and steal not just automaton but illusions as well. At one point he tried to get permission to do Maskelyne's new Floating Lady illusion. When Maskelyne turned him down, Kellar figured out another way of getting the illusion. He offered a job to Paul Valadon, who had been working at Egyptian Hall. Paul moved to America to become part of Kellar's show.  Together, Valadon and Kellar would build a version of the Maskelyne levitation. Theirs was actually an improvement over the original levitation because it was portable. Maskelyne's original was not made to travel.

It just goes to show, if you've got a popular trick, act or persona, there are people out there who will copy it. I mentioned at the start that this sort of thing happens in other forms of entertainment as well. Comedians are a great example. There are some performers who have no problem with stealing jokes and routines from other comedians. Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook have both been accused of stealing jokes and routines. I've noticed in the movie industry sometimes very similar  projects  come out from competing studios. An example would be the movie Tombstone and then Wyatt Earp. Same story basically, same characters, two different studios. When the movie Capote came out, it was followed quickly by a movie called Infamous, which was the same story about author Truman Capote. Very recently, the movie Battleship came out at the box office and an oddly similar movie which at first had the title American Battleships appeared on the Syfy Channel. The producers of Battleship sued the producers of the other movie over the title so the second movies title was changed to American Warships. So call it what you will, copying, imitation or whatever, it existed 100 years ago and is still going strong today.