Showing posts with label Servais LeRoy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Servais LeRoy. Show all posts

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Magic Detective Podcast Season 1 Complete

With the addition of episode 31, I've decided to wrap up season 1 of my podcast. I am NOT stopping the podcast. It will be back in October. I just realized I was coming up fast on the 1 year anniversary and with all that is going on in my life, now would be a good time to stop. One of the major things is a move to another state. So right now, my library of research material is split between two locations and it would make doing the podcast somewhat difficult.

Year In Review

When I first decided to do the podcast, I was unsure if I would even find any listeners. Though I figured if a few of my blog readers went to the podcast, I'd be ok. The blog has traditionally had a LOT of readers, though that has declined since my focus has been the podcast. As of right now, I have over 4200 downloads of the podcast. Those are not huge numbers by popular podcast standards, but for a niche topic like magic history, I'd say those are pretty good. And the best part, they continue to increase each month as more and more people find out about the show.

I took the approach to just jump in with both feet knowing I'd figure out how to do the podcast along the way. I did enough preliminary research to know what I needed to do on the backend. The most important thing was sound quality, as I noticed that was one thing that could make or break a podcast. As far as topics, I didn't really think that would be an issue. I had an early list of some 30 potential stories to cover. That list then grew to 100. And now the list stands at over 150. So there are several years of episodes planned.

My first thought was to do the show kind of like popular talk radio shows, with segments, a main topic and then shorter segments. But I don't think I was quite pulling that off the way I had wanted. Then a friend of mine contacted me and said, 'why not try one topic'. So I did, and by episode 4 (Servais LeRoy) I was onto the one topic concept and that worked out better. Another listener contacted me and asked if I could include the references of where the information was coming from, so I soon added the book/magazine references as well. I love the fact that my listeners, YOU, have helped shape the way the show has grown.  One other thing I've attempted to do is link episodes. So if there is a reference to a certain magician in one podcast, and I've covered them already, I can tell the listener to go to Episode such and such, to learn more. IF I were a listener, I would LOVE this particular service.

I think one of the biggest surprises was that it took 3 Episodes to cover Harry Kellar's life. I really covered a lot of ground in those podcasts. The only person who has taken more is Houdini because frankly, I could have just done the entire podcast on his life. In truth, I contemplated that originally, and you'll notice that Houdini's name comes up in almost every podcast. I think there might be 3 podcasts that his name is not even mentioned. But other than that he is a fixture of the podcast. And in Season 2 you can expect considerably more Houdini.

Wyman The Wizard
I love the fact that I covered so many obscure magicians like Wyman the Wizard, Brush, Minerva, and Ablini. They all had incredible stories to tell and deserve their place in the history of magic. As I researched each of them, I contemplated how they would feel, all these many years later to hear their name being spoken of. I try to give everyone a fair shake and if there is a lot of 'negative' stuff to their life, to not focus on it, or at least approach it delicately. I hope I've been successful there. The one person who comes to mind is The Great Raymond. He had a difficult life. He was a great performer, but not the kindest person offstage. Albini was another, he was an alcoholic and chose to insult his audiences during his shows. I believe this was his style, kind of like an early Don Rickles. However, some audiences 'got' him and others did not. And sometimes he was sloshed when he was performing which didn't help.

I think one of my favorite episodes was the one of T.Nelson Downs. I was amazed at the amount of information I discovered on Downs. I continued to find info even after the podcast was completed. I did an extra article on Downs here on the blog to cover something I missed. I could probably do another episode on him easily if I really dug deeper.

My least favorite podcast was Frederick Bancroft, but not for the reason you might think. I did a great deal of research and was happy with what I uncovered. Then as I was scripting out the podcast, I learned that Gary Hunt had written an article on Bancroft in Magicol Magazine, and I didn't have access to it. I just KNEW that some of the stuff I had would potentially be wrong. Sure enough, AFTER, I put up the episode, I found the article and Gary had discovered details that corrected the history. Bravo for him! But not so happy for me. I did mention the corrections in the following podcast. Oh well, win some, loose some.

Daisy White
Another favorite podcast was Daisy White. She has always been a bit of a pet-project. She is an enigmatic figure in magic. Finding details has not been easy, but I did uncover some things a few years ago and wrote about them in the blog. I was always determined to find MORE. And this time around I did. But not only did I find more, I found photos of a young Daisy White!!! I am certain these photos have not been seen in over 100 years. So it was quite fulfilling to include those on the blog at the same time as I did the podcast episode.

About half way into the season I had this idea to start doing short podcasts, which would run no longer than 15 minutes. It was a big experiment really, and it turned out to be successful and I'd received a lot of positive comments on the short episodes. Some performers of old, just don't have enough information out there to cover a 30-45 minute podcast, but I can usually get at least 10 minutes worth. So the short episodes fit the need. The short episodes include: Frederick Bancroft, Litzka Raymond, Houdini & Anna Eva Fay, Minerva, Albini, and finally Talma Queen of Coins.

Oh and the two Doug Henning episodes were personal favorites because Henning was someone I saw in person and looked up to very much.  I was also happy to start including females into the mix, and though I've only covered a few so far, there are many more to come. The episodes featuring females include: Litzka Raymond Gibson, Minerva, Anna Eva Fay, Daisy White & Mercedes Talma.

I think the biggest revelation I had doing this podcast was finding out how inaccurate the David Price book, A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre is. Don't get me wrong, its a fantastic book. And it gets so much correct. But since the book was published, many details of various magicians lives have come to the surface and they are different from what is in his book. I still use it in every episode. I just try and double check the information. I do know a lot of his information came from Mahatma and The Sphinx.


As I have mentioned on the podcast, I would like to include some interviews with other magic historians and collectors during Season 2. I do not intend to do the entire season that way. But it would be nice to give the spotlight to some other folks so they can share their passion for magic history here. I am also considering having on some guest narrators.

There will be some changes coming to the blog too. About 80% of the Season 1 podcasts were scripted. So I plan to take those and put them up as blog articles, and include photos and images that I obviously cannot do on an audio podcast. It will help with SEO and will help future researchers. Because this platform is owned by Google, it tends to rank fairly high. So for those people who like to read, you can enjoy the blog. For those that like to listen, you've got the podcast. And for those who like both, hey, it's going to be awesome for you.

Some of the episodes planned for Season 2 include: Adelaide Herrmann, Anna Eva Fay, The Fox Sisters, Dr.Lynn, Signor Blitz, Dr. Walford Bodie, Henry Ridgely Evans, Frederick Eugene Powell, Richard Potter, Ching Ling Foo, and many MORE!!!! Oh, and the occasional episode on HOUDINI.

Right now I plan to have Season 2 start some time in October 2019. I am contemplating doing something special for the first couple episodes, but that I'm keeping to myself for now.  I do know I'm going to have more contests throughout the year. With any luck, I may even have some swag for fans of the podcast. I also intend to do more outreach to pick up a larger audience. So expect great things for Season 2! Until then, why not go back and re-listen to some of the podcasts, or check out the ones you missed. October will be here soon enough!

Thanks for being a listener and reader of The Magic Detective!

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Rostrum Mystery

(This article is the first part of Episode 4 of the Magic Detective Podcast. It's the first time I've written an article for the podcast. There is MORE to Episode 4 than just this, so I encourage you to listen by going to

Recently, I was staring at a poster a friend had put  up in his theater. It's the beautiful poster above, by Servais LeRoy featuring an effect called ROSTRUM-The Last Word in Magic. What an amazing image. But I was curious as to this 'Rostrum' illusion. I was not family with it. So I figured, I'd go right to the source, Servais LeRoy Monarch of Magic book by Mike Caveney & William Rauscher. A cursory look showed no sign of a Rostrum illusion, even though the poster itself was featured in the full color section of the book.

I looked up online to see if anyone had a clue as to what Rostrum was, some speculated it was the Asrah illusion, others were unsure exactly what illusion it might be.  The Asrah Illusion was a levitation that began with a woman laying down on a table; she would be covered with a cloth, and then float into the air. The magician would pass a hoop over her, and then she would raise higher above stage. At the height of the illusion, the magician would step towards the floating figure, grab the cloth and whisk it away, the girl having vanished instantly while floating.  I found A french website, that even used the term 'Rostrum' to describe the Asrah, but again, why?   Time to dig deeper...

In regards to Asrah, I was surprised to see that it began with a different name. Originally it was called, The Mystery of L'hasa. It appears to have been invented in 1902, though there are conflicting reports. LeRoy indicated that it may have been the 1890s. The poster to the right depicts a levitation, and the poster dates to 1905, but it is not the Asrah that is being used. Apparently, Le Roy was not confident in his illusion and scrapped it for a number of years before trying it again.

The Rostrum poster, at the top of the page, dates to 1920, and it was in 1920 that LeRoy was doing a show called The Unseen World. From the book Servais Le Roy Monarch of Magic by Mike Caveney and William Rauscher, comes this statement, "First the audience was apprised that it was impossible to guarantee a real ghost at every performance but they would do their very best. Then, claiming no spiritual abilities, they proceeded with a full blown seance." The they, in this instance, was Servais Le Roy and Julius Zancig.

There is a review of the show in the Sphinx Feb 1921 edition, where they mention an illusion called,
The Transmission of Souls. This sparked my interest as the poster could depict that very effect! So what on earth was this illusion. The Servais LeRoy book gives zero details. scouring through AskAlexander turned up little other than the fact that George LaFollette also presented the routine. I was not about to give up the search. Finally, I discovered a description of the routine from the May 1904 edition of Stanyon's Magic!
"Curtained cabinet on turntable in center of stage, front curtain drawn to show empty; Le Roy holds up black sheet in front of cabinet and produces black draped figure (a) who is stood at front of stage, another black sheet and another figure (b) produced; Talma then enters cabinet with a black sheet and produces another draped figure (c); Le Roy then ran through cabinet front to back and out again (?) holds up sheet in front of cabinet and produces fourth draped figure (d); Le Roy and Talma then enter cabinet which is turned to show all sides, cabinet shown empty, sheets cast off draped figures, showing Le Roy and Talma (c & d) between two assistants."
So, The Transmission of Souls, or as it was called in this article, 'The Transmorgrification Of Souls',  is an adaptation of The Three Graces, an early routine of LeRoys. For those interested, there is a version of the routine included in the Tarbell Course Volume 8, under the title The Mystery of The Three Ghosts. For the modern performer, you will recognize this by it's popular name, Things That Go Bump In The Night, though using different methodology. And also a different method from what Le Roy used in The Three Graces routine.

A Strange Disappearance from Magical Monthly by LeRoy
I did come across an intriguing image in my search to uncover the answer to this mystery, and it involves an illusion called A Strange Disappearance. This clearly has similarities to The Asrah. A person lays down on a lo table. They're covered with a cloth, and the magicians picks them up off the table while still wrapped in the cloth, and then whisks the cloth away as the person vanishes into thin air. Many thoughts came to mind here, and this led me on another tangent. In the book, Conjuror's Mechanical Secrets, S.H. Sharpe mentions that this trick was used by Devant and called Beau Brocade. That didn't sound exactly right to me, and I remembered an article by Jim Steinmeyer in MAGIC Magazine, December 2002,  about Devant and Beau Brocade. Sure enough, Mr. Steinmeyer discovered that this was a mistake on the part of Sharpe, and Devant's illusion was quite different. He pointed out that Le Roy's illusion came after Beau Brocade. Thankfully, Mr. Steinmeyer discovered this 16 years before I began my trek, so I didn't have to spend a lot of time trying to decide whether Sharpe was wrong or not.

Diving further into the review from the Sphinx Feb 1921, there is no mention of The Asrah being performed, though they do mention The Hindu Rope, The Bird Cage, and Transmission of Souls as being classic LeRoy illusions that were presented. And no mention of A Strange Disappearance either.

Going back to the Servais Le Roy Monarch of Magic book, on page 208, I find this line, "The Unseen World opened with Le Roy presenting a number of original effects with included his now familiar family of ducks." I think this line, and the one above about the ghost, may tip off what this Rostrum Illusion was, it may have been an original piece designed specifically for this show. Again, though it also could have been an adaptation of The Asrah or Le Roy's A Strange Disappearance. But I think it's supposed to be some sort of ghostly effect used during their Seance.

I was hoping to come up with a letter or something that mentions what Rostrum refers to, but I've not seen anything yet. I did, however,  see something that could potentially reveal ALL.  Lot 209 from the Summer 2018 Auction by Potter & Potter contained something called Servias Le Roy & Company Illusion Instruction Archive. It's possible ROSTRUM is mentioned in there. It's possible it's not, lol. I don't know who purchased it, but if you were the happy winner and are willing to let me know if ROSTRUM is listed and whether it's a unique illusion, an adaptation of Asrah, or IS the Asrah, that would be so much appreciated. Imagine, if Rostrum is actually just referring to a raised platform, a stage, and the words, "Rostrum- The Last Word In Magic" are actually just referring to theatrical stage magic, lol. We may never know. If I hear back from the owner of the Le Roy archive we might get a clue or even the answer, but it's a long shot. We are still left with a mystery, but one that I've enjoyed looking in to.

During the podcast I mentioned the book The Houdini Code by William Rauscher. I mentioned the short blurb in the book which describes LeRoy's thoughts on Houdini. I think they're accurate, after all, LeRoy did say them. But they're not complete. LeRoy said much more about Houdini. There was a time when LeRoy was even quite angry with Houdini over a court case, but in the end, that was all water under the bridge for friends. Listen to the podcast to see what else, LeRoy said about Houdini. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Servais LeRoy the Final Chapter

In my previous blog I mentioned how Harry Kellar came out of retirement for one show and rocked the Hippodrome theatre. That was a positive example of a retired performer coming back and successfully giving a great show. However on Feb 5, I shared with you a blog called 'When Heroes Fall' and it described a very tragic and unsuccessful return for Servais LeRoy. I also said that wasn't the end of the story nor was it the worst part.

Now for the later part of the story. That sad show that ended Servais LeRoy's performing career was in 1940. He never performed again. All of his props were in storage, some in different locations. One day LeRoy went to one of the locations where his props were stored, and with an ax, destroyed everything there. Later, the props that were stored in a garage in Keansburg NJ, were taken and put on the curb side in order to be picked up and hauled off by the trash men. I don't know if costumes survived, but my guess is probably not.

The Lions cage that was such an important part of his show rusted away outside the house. It reminded me of how Thurston's levitation rusted away in the front yard of his house, becoming an unrecognized pile of wire and metal. Here is a photo of the Lions illusion years before it rusted away.

LeRoy turned his back on his magic life after the terrible final performance in 1940. He did have the occasional magician who visited him. But it must have been difficult for him. LeRoy lived until 1953. He outlived Talma and most of his friends. Reading his last days reminded me of when Dai Vernon would talk about all his many friends being dead.

Today, there is precious little in regards to LeRoy's apparatus. Many of his posters survive thankfully. And his legacy lives on with the 'asrah' table design. His life ended in such a sad way. Our magic history is filled with these kinds of stories and it's important to remember them. It also serves as a reminder to us to cherish those among us that came before and celebrate the lives of those we are still fortunate to have with us today. It's a good idea to say thank you to those who contributed so much to the art. It's nice to know you are still appreciated. And it's hard to say thank you once they are gone.

Now do yourself a favor. Go read the entire life story of the great Servais LeRoy. His life ended roughly, but he had a tremendous career. It's covered beautifully in the Servais LeRoy Book by Mike Caveney and William Rausher, plus the photos are wonderful and poster reproductions are just inspiring. To purchase this fantastic book Just click the link.

I'm not 100% sure the book is available, so you may need to email Mike to be sure. If you can't get it there, try some of the magic dealers or ebay. It's worth the investment.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

When Heroes Fall

The history of magic is filled with incredible stories of success and failure, triumph and disaster, luck and misfortune. I love history, period, but especially magic history. This next story is tragic. Those who are knowledgeable in our arts past will no doubt know this story or at least be familiar with it. I had heard about it maybe 15 years ago for the first time. All I knew really was a mighty hero of magic experienced an earth shattering event that killed the magic that once burned bright within him.

It would be good to give you some back story to begin with. Our hero is none other than Jean Henri Servais LeRoy. He was born May 4th, 1865 in Spa Belgium. To give you an idea of the time frame, in America the Civil War had just ended and Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated only weeks before. This young man would grow up to Servais LeRoy and would be part of the troupe known as The Monarchs of Magic. This troupe of performers was LeRoy, his wife Mercedes Talma and a comic character known as Bosco who was played by a number of different performers over the years.

LeRoy had a very devilish appearance on stage. He came out wearing a top hat, a long coat and a cane. First he would cause the cane to vanish, followed by the hat, then his trousers would seem to vanish leaving him with what were called 'knee britches'. He transformed into this mephistophelean like character and at that point the show would begin!

Servais LeRoy is someone that anyone involved in illusion magic should closely study. His inventions and twists on existing effects were incredible. One of his inventions, 'The Asrah Levitation' would change the way illusion magic was done from that time up until today! Some of his other creations included; The Costume Trunk, The Palanquin, The Three Graces, The Red Hat, The Strange Disappearance and many more. Many of his illusions are still presented today though I'd venture to say that most modern illusionists are unaware of who created them.

LeRoy, Talma and Bosco were a hit wherever they went, and they went everywhere! They traveled the world and continued to invent and create and change the show as the years went by. Eventually, time and age caught up with LeRoy and he settled in the town of Keansburg NJ.

On October 19th, 1930, while returning from a trip to NYC, LeRoy was walking across the street and was hit by a car. He was rushed to the hospital with multiple injuries and remained there for nine days.
It's safe to say he was never the same after this. But though this was a terrible occurance, this is not the tragic event that I spoke of at the start. LeRoy eventually recovered and continued to invent and create and occasionally perform.

In 1940, Sam Margules was putting together the annual S.A.M. show and he wanted to really give this show a distinctive stamp. His idea was to let Servais LeRoy (now 75 years old) present his full evening show! Keep in mind, Servais LeRoy was a product of the Victorian Age and his style of dress and presentation were ideal for his time. But now it's 1940 and he has to perform for people accustomed to movies, radio a much faster pace of life.

The Heckscher Theatre Today
On June 6th, 1940 the show billed as "NEVER BEFORE SUCH A MAGIC SHOW" would take place at the Heckscher Theatre in NYC. Servais LeRoy would perform his full evening show for the first time in years. However, his trusted assistants who had been with him throughout his life would not be part of the show. Instead, LeRoy 'trained' a new set of assistants. Actually, he only had a single rehearsal with the new crew and he seemed unsure what to do many times during the rehearsal.

The evening of the show the curtain was almost an hour late to open because LeRoy knew full well he was in no condition to do the show. But somehow he summoned up the courage and walked out on stage. The seventy five year old veteran of thousands of shows suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory. He struggled from the moment he went out on stage. Worse yet, the assistants who had barely one rehearsal, could not follow along with what LeRoy wanted or expected them to do. It was a train wreck and the only thing that stopped it was an intermission.

As you might imagine, a great deal of the audience got up and left during the very long intermission. I can't even begin to imagine the feelings they must have felt. Here was this icon of magic, one of the real greats who was unraveling before their eyes. Then again, some of them may have been unfamiliar with LeRoy and were just angry at seeing such a terrible magic show. Sadly, Servais LeRoy returned to do the second half of the show and it was worse than the first. Sam Margules, the producer of the show eventually stepped in and drew the curtain on LeRoy. The show was stopped before LeRoy was finished, but it truly was over before it began.

That singular night killed the magic that lived in Servais LeRoy's heart. He would never again perform or step onto a stage. A career filled with triumph and success ended in excruciating humiliation. He was now a broken and defeated man.

The first time I read the full account of the event, I had tears in my eyes and my heart ached for a performer who I never knew in person. I tried to imagine the heartache that he must have felt, but what I imagined probably paled in comparison to what LeRoy felt.

In the book "Servais LeRoy-Monarch of Mystery" by Mike Caveney and William Rauscher there is a much more detailed description of the evening. The book is out of print but shows up from time to time on eBay. Find a copy if you can it's worth it, though you too may find  yourself in tears over the sad ending of such a beloved performer.

Today LeRoy is mostly forgotten. Yet performers are still doing his tricks. The recent appearance of Ali Cook on "Penn and Tellers FOOL US" is a perfect example. The trick where the heads of a chicken and a duck are removed and then switched so that the duck has a chicken head and the chicken has a ducks head is right out of Servais LeRoy's act. Though it was David Copperfield who first brought it back to modern audiences in the 1980s (this link has the routine at 5:17). Anyone doing 'Things That Go Bump In The Night' is really presenting LeRoy's Three Graces Illusion. And any illusionist using the 'asrah furniture' owes a debt of thanks to Servais LeRoy.

That night at the Heckscher Theatre in NY is a heart wrenching story. There may only be a handful of people still alive who saw the show. Most would probably rather forget it, including Sam Margules who never even wrote about it but chose to forget it ever took place. It's sad but it's part of our magic history now.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Recreations of Historical Magic Routines

This is interesting. Apparently it was a TV show at one time, though I'm not sure when. The performers have recreated a number of 'historical magic routines'. I have to say it's not 100% historically accurate, but it is interesting to watch. The first is Houdini's Milk Can Escape.

Next we have Servais LeRoy's Levitation as presented by this troupe of performers on the TV show "Illusions". Again, not 100% accurate historically but it gives you an idea of the style and what it may have been like.

Next up is DeKolta's Vanishing Lady. Interestingly, the performer does lay down a sheet of newspaper beforehand, which Dekolta did. But DeKolta also did something that no other performer has done since and that is make the entire cloth that covers the girl vanish as well.

The final video is a recreation of Kalanag's Sub Trunk Vignette. I don't know quite enough about Kalanag's actual performance pieces to know how close this is. I'm guessing it's like the others, it's meant to give the viewer an idea of what it was like but probably not an exact recreation.