Showing posts with label William Robinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Robinson. Show all posts

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Chung Ling Soo Model Plane Maker

One of my favorite things about this blog are the readers who contact me with various bits of information. Earlier in the year I received an email from a reader about a magazine he had in his possession, called The Model Engineer from June 1949. Within the magazine is an article written by Donald Stevenson, who worked with Soo, and it's about Soo's interest in model aeroplanes.

There are some interesting facts that come out in the article. First thing that jumps out at me is the list of machinery in Soo's workshop: "One treadle fretsaw, one treadle circular saw, a 4.5 inch screwcutting lathe, and a pillar drill and emery wheels, also treadle-driven, a wood bench with vice, metal bench with vice, large assembly bench, a small forge and a good supply of wood and metal hand tools. All the small tools were hung on the walls in their own places, and there were also shelves all around the workshop". That complete description came from The Model Engineer Magazine.

Another interesting fact was that besides magic books and periodicals, it would seem that Soo's favorite magazine was The Model Engineer, in which this article appeared.  Stevenson goes on to describe how Soo would often come to the workshop with an idea and spend hours and hours working it out. Soo's illusion ideas were built from cardboard and wire first before they would be build from wood and metal.

Soo had an interest in model aeroplanes and would build working models from time to time. In 1911, he was approached by a company that was interested in having him build model planes. After showing the company samples of his work, Soo received an order for a weekly supply of model aeroplanes. Soo hired several new employees to help with the increased workload. This made his shop one of the very first in England to produce model planes. The work continued until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.

Soo continued to tinker with the models even after 1914. According to Donald Stevenson, Soo's favorite place was in his workshop.  Below is an image of a model plane that William Robinson/Chung Ling Soo built.

Thanks to Martin Griffiths, for making me aware of this and for mailing the magazine to me!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Grave of Chung Ling Soo

(photo provided by Tom Atkinson)
This is very exciting. One of my readers, Tom Atkinson, sent several photos over of the Chung Ling Soo Grave. I've never seen photos of the grave in such detail. You can even view a close-up of the inscription on the side of the headstone (bottom of the page)

I would point out that the figure standing on top of the stone is missing a hand. An earlier photo I had seen shows the hand which was holding something. But that has either been broken off by vandels or had fallen off due to age.

Of course, Chung Ling Soo was none other than American born William Ellsworth Robinson. One of the most knowledgable men on the subject of magic while he was alive. He worked for The Great Alexander Herrmann and also Harry Kellar. Eventually, he went out on his own and he found success with an Chinese character he called 'Chung Ling Soo'.

To read more about Soo and see another photo of the grave, go to

(photo used with permission of Tom Atkinson)

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.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chung Ling Soo's Warehouse

Back in 2010, I wrote a short piece about Chung Ling Soo's House in London and I mentioned that he had a warehouse in the back but that I had no photo of it. Well now I do! Thank to Jon Becker, who brought this to my attention.

The photo is of the warehouse and apparently in recent years there were attempts to demolish the site which did not happen and now there is an application in to see if the developer can convert it into a residential dwelling.

Mr. Becker is researching Donald Stevenson, who worked for Soo and was also the person who took possession of Harry Houdini's airplane. How amazing it would be to one day locate this priceless gem...if it still exists. At least it would be nice to know what eventually happened to it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chung Ling Soo's House

According to the The Glorious Deception, by Jim Steinmeyer, he gives an address for the house that William Ellsworth Robinson owned when he lived in London. In the back yard is his workshop. I have no photo of the workshop, but I do have a picture of the house and WOW what a house it is! I'm really glad it's this house too because most of the houses on this street are obstructed from view by the many trees and shrubs. Not to say that this house has a clear view but you can make it out, many of the other homes can't be seen at all due to the trees. The book says that he lived in a 3 story mansion and indeed that is exactly what we have here, at the exact address from the book.

As you may know, William Ellsworth Robinson was the real name for the Chinese Conjurer Chung Ling Soo. He was American, not Chinese. On March 23rd, 1918 while performing the dangerous Bullet Catching Feat on the stage at the Wood Green Empire Theatre in London, Soo was shot to death. There was a great deal of controversy following the death, some people thought it was murder, others thought it might be a clever method of suicide. But in the end, a faulty gimmicked rifle seemed to reveal the truth, it was an accident. Houdini at one time wanted to perform the Bullet Catching Feat and was persuaded not to by the beloved Dean of Magicians Harry Kellar. Houdini listened to Kellar and decided not to attempt the stunt. The Bullet Catch has a history of killing it's performers. Some 12 people have died presenting this stunt and so far only Penn & Teller have presented it on a continuous basis without being harmed.

Here is a photo of the Wood Green Empire Theatre in London. Sadly, the only thing that remains of the theatre is the facade. The theatre itself was turned into a Television studio in the 1950s and then in the 60s it was demolished to make way for a parking garage and stores. There must be a law in England that says if you have an old theatre it must be torn down to make way for a freaking parking garage! That's frustrating to hear and to continually find out. The building that says 'Halifax' on it is the site of the Wood Green Empire.

I will say that for a magician any books on Chung Ling Soo are required reading. He worked for both Alexander Herrmann and Harry Kellar. He was such an iconic performer that he is the only REAL magician mentioned in the movie 'The Prestige' with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. His posters today are some of the most highly prized. I'll be focusing on one of his illusion creations in a later blog to show you his creativity.

Soo/Robinson is buried in East Sheen Cemetery, Section B, grave number 219/220/221 London. Here is a photo of the cemetery entrance. Here is a picture of the grave from Genii Magazine courtesy of
IF you have a color photo of the grave, would you please send it to me so that I can post it on the blog. Thanks!