Thursday, May 23, 2024

Houdini's Grave Upkeep and More


This next piece, I found on the SAMMagicians Instagram Page and I'm basically reprinting it here.

After his sudden and untimely passing in 1926, the funeral for Past National President Harry Houdini featured over 2,000 mourners and presented the very first Broken Wand Ceremony. His remains were then interred at Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, NY, featuring many unique elements designed by Houdini himself. 

After nearly 100 years, today the gravesite needs repair and maintenance, as well as a plan to consider its perpetual care and upkeep.

Having given so much to the Society of American Magicians and establishing it as a global force in the community of magicians, we wish to honor Houdini's legacy and commitment by taking on some of the burden of care for this site.

Please consider donating any amount you can spare, and know that generations of magicians will be able to benefit from your contribution.

To read more about the history of the Houdini Grave, click below for an article I wrote quite a while ago. And check out the comments in the comments section, as they are also rather revealing.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Great Rameses - The Egyptian Mystic


Born Albert Marchinski 1876 in Poland. He immigrated to the UK in the 1880s with his parents and siblings. He had three brothers, Lesser, Abe and Izzy. And he also had 5 sisters, Lily, Sara, Rachel, Pearl and Katie. His parents names were Eva and Philip. They first lived in Whitechapel, the area famous for the Jack the Ripper murders. They had moved to a different area of London by the time of the murders.

Albert’s inspiration for being a magician came when he was 14 years old and saw a magician at the Old Aquarium in London. A couple sources, make this claim, the Rameses bio by Chris Woodward, and a couple magazine articles. I decided to look up more and turns out this ‘old Aquarium in London, was originally the Royal Aquarium built in 1876. It had everything from indoor attractions, music, artwork, sculptures, exotic trees, fountains, and a collection of circus acts. In addition, next door was the Royal Aquarium Theater! I’m guessing this is where young Albert Marchinsky saw his first magician. The theater hosted many magicians over the years, in it’s first year, Dr. Lynn performed there. But in 1890, when Albert was 14, we have a 25 year old Servais LeRoy performing at the Royal Aquarium Theater. This by the way is where LeRoy would meet Mary Ann Ford. She would later become a performing partner and his wife and would be known as Mercedes Talma. I’m guessing, that Albert Marchinski saw Servais LeRoy at the Royal Aquarium Theater. I know that would have been enough to sell me on magic!

Albert took to magic immediately, purchasing his first props from Joseph Bland’s London Magic Shop. He was soon doing shows in and around London. He wasn’t doing brand new magic, but tried and true effects, and wrapping them in original presentations or building them up with theatrical elements like costuming and ornate scenery. 

Young Albert was clearly a student of magic and must have seen every magician in London. The one who seems to have made the biggest mark on him was Chung Ling Soo, William Robinson. Albert understood that unless he wanted to fall into the rank and file of other conjurers, he needed to do something special to make his mark. Chung Ling Soo had his asian character and presentation. Then there was Linga Singh who performed as an Indian magician. 

What direction would Albert choose to go? Time would tell.

He continued to perform, and by all accounts also became an actor. Now we need to step outside of the Marchinsky life story and talk for a moment about another magician from the time. His name was Professor Fred Harcourt. In 1901 he was a popular performer at the time presenting illusions. His big claim to fame was an illusion called LILITH. This was a unique floating lady effect. Here is the description of the effect from an article by Edwin Dawes in the pages of the Magic Circular Aug 2015, “A young lady is introduced to the audience, and then placed in a hypnotic trance. Whilst in this condition, she walks, dances, turns somersaults, etc in mid-air. She assumes various attitudes and performs marvelous gyrations in space, defying all laws of gravitation. To prove Lilith is unsupported in any way, a sword is passed all about her, and to further demonstrate that no magnets, wires or any mechanical contrivances are used, a hoop is passed over the young lady.”

This sounds strangely like Astarte, an illusion presented by Harry Kellar and later Hermmann the Great as Maid of the Moon. In any event, it proved quite popular. Harcourt went on a tour of Australia with his show. In 1906 he passed away. 

Now, in steps Albert Marchinsky, who purchases the Harcourt show from Fred’s widow. 

Remember that earlier question about what direction Albert would take with his show. Well now he had a big illusion show to go with his existing material . Albert chose to perform as an Egyptian, and chose the name Rameses. He wasn’t the first to choose an Egyptian personality, there was another conjurer going by the name Amasis, and even P.T. Selbit orginally went by the name Joad Hetab. But for Albert Marchinski, he would become RAMESES The Eastern Mystic.

His first recorded show is October 5th 1908, and he is performing at the Islington Hippodrome in London. The Lilith Floating lady, acquired from Harcourt is not part of the line-up, but there is one thing that truly stood out. His version of the ‘Cremation’ illusion. He called it, The Fire Goddess, and here it is described in David Price’s book, MAGIC A pictorial history of conjurers in the Theater. “Rameses presented an illusion called The Fire Goddess, which was the peak of his performance. It was a cremation illusion with additions that greatly enhanced the trick. A girl was apparently cremated in a standing position. Rameses took the ashes with him into a cabinet and almost instantly reappeared in the back of the auditorium. His place in the cabinet was taken by the cremated girl completely restored.”

Rameses continued to perform throughout 1909, even performing a month in Paris at their Alhambra. Shortly, thereafter, Rameses has a bit of a HOUDINI-Moment, or at least one that Harry could totally relate to. In February of 1910, while Rameses was performing at the biggest theater in London, the London Colosseum, he caught the eye of Martin Beck, the famous American Theater Impresario . Rameses knew what Beck had done for Houdini and to a lesser extent what he did for OKITO. They were soon setting up a tour of the Orpheum Circuit in America for Rameses.

From the pages of Stanyon’s Magic, June 1910, we get a run down of the show at this point. It’s a performance from 1910, the act is slightly over 12 minutes long. The stage setting is gorgeous making the stage look like an Egyptian Temple. There are steps in the middle leading to a large portico. It sounds reminiscent of the Asian themed background from the Le Grand David Show with the staircase that protruded from the center. Except here the scenery is all Egyptian. 

A large cabinet is wheeled out, shown empty and people are produced from it, including Rameses himself. The next effect made me smile. It’s listed as Handkerchief from Glass Tube to Decanter. In the simplest description, this is the Crystal Silk Cylinder, made famous by MakMagic. But this is obviously an earliy version before it was mass marketed. And it’s used as a transposition. Very clever.

Next we have Confetti to Water. This begins with a large brass bowl that is shown empty and then dipped into a box full of confetti. The confetti is poured out and then the bowl is refilled. The excess confetti is leveled off and suddenly the bowl no longer has confetti but now is filled with WATER! This is the Okito Gobi Bowl.

The same cabinet from the beginning of the act, is rolled back out and now a woman along with a goose appears. Next we have a small cauldron illusion. This sets on a table. Performer fills cauldron with water. He lights a fire under the cauldron and removes the lid and out fly three doves.

Next we have some sort of flower production with a cone and real flowers which are handed out to the audience. Finale is the Cremation Illusion which I mentioned previously.

A fast paced 12 minutes, which is also colorful and a bit of a spectacle with the gorgeous backdrops and costumes.

Let’s hear from Rameses himself. This from The Magical World Magazine, Vol1, No 17 in 1910, a short column titled, Rameses Talks, “I do not believe in the supernatural. To me there is no such power. Certainly there is none of it in the practice of magic, for magic is practical— a matter of study, science, careful practice, and judicious application. Being a magician does not mean that you have been endowed with a gift. It means rather, that you have interested yourself in the study of the forces productive of mystifying effects, and that, by practice, you have come to be able to apply them towards some particular goal.”  Further down the article we learn that in addition to being a magician, Rameses is a hypnotist. And he also claims to be a spiritualist to some extent. 

In July of 1910, Rameses and company were onboard the Lusitania, traveling from England to the United States. They landed on Ellis Island NY and from there they traveled 2600 miles to Denver Colorado to open at the Orpheum on July 31st. The US tour had began and they were receiving great reviews.  Here is another description of the Fire Goddess, this time from Variety, 

“The feature is The Fire Goddess. A young woman is placed upon an elevated table and a hood is dropped about her, surrounded by flames. The removal of the hood discloses a pile of ashes in which are placed inside a large cabinet along with Rameses. The curtains are drawn and his almost immediate reappearance from the rear of the audience, with the girl in his place in the cabinet. The curtains are drawn again, her reappearance from the back of the audience and replacing her in the cabinet is an old man!”  

One sad note, In November 1910, Albert’s father died. This was a crushing moment for the company, as it affected Albert, and his two brothers who were also on the tour, Lesser and Abe. Even though they performed a silent show, the typical joy in performing was difficult to bring about due to their grief.

The US tour had him going to: Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Omaha, Memphis, Sioux City, Duluth, Kansas City, Memphis, Minneapolis, Evansville, Des Moines, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Lincoln, Denver, St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and finally New Orleans. By March 1911, Rameses and company were back in England. 

Incidentally, closing out 1910, in December, Rameses was featured on the cover of The Sphinx, given the name of the magazine and the cover design, no one was more deserving the cover than a man named Rameses!

By April 1911, Rameses is at the London Palladium, and by some accounts he is including new material. He hypnotizes the goose that he has been using since the start, this is a new thing. And he adds fire eating to his act.  He also has a new illusion that He himself can appear from, a palanquin. 

In May 1911, The Magical World Vol 2, No 3 features a review of Rameses act, which frankly reads just like the earlier piece from Stanyon’s Magic.

In 1912, Rameses engages on a tour of South Africa for 17 weeks. Once again, his act is a hit wherever he takes it. Though on the South African trip, he was unable to use his elaborate staging in some locations due to their size.

The August 1912 issue of the Sphinx mentions that Rameses has just returned from a successful tour of South Africa and that he will be opening with an entirely NEW ACT next week at the Palladium. 

In searching for new material and it seems for a while at least, Rameses, is still doing his tried and true show. But then an article in The Magician Mostly, Vol 10, has this….”The piece de resistance is the remarkable effect which is obtained by the application of electricity to a figure dressed as a clown. And the effect is too weird and unusual for any mere description to do it justice. One is left wondering and guessing, for whether the figure is human, or in very truth what it seems to be, merely a lay figure, the difficulty of causing it to bend back from the knees until the body is at right angles, supported in no way whatever, is obvious enough, whether one regards it as human or not…but when we are faced with the next problem, that of Rameses standing on the breast of the unsupported figure, well, speaking for ourselves, we frankly gave it up!”  OK, did you follow that? In case you didn’t let me give you another illustration. Imagine you are laying on a bed with your legs hanging down off the side. THEN, you pulled the bed away but you remained in that lying position, with your legs touching the floor. It’s the exact pose that NEO uses in the first Matrix movie when bullets are shot at him, he bends completely over backwards in an impossible manner. But here with Rameses, he steps it up a notch by standing on the person in this reclining position. And it appears the clown figure moves in a mechanical way so as to confuse the spectators on whether it is truly an automaton or a real person. Either way, it sounds fantastic and it’s featured one of Rameses posters.

There is a funny story in the pages of the Rameses book by Chris Woodward. The story originally appeared in a periodical called Tit-bits. It’s about the portion of his show where he hypnotizes a goose. The goose first appears inside a cabinet with another cast member. Then Rameses picks up the goose and proceeds to put it into a hypnotic state.  Well during this interview with Tit-bits periodical, Rameses told a story about a show during December where he offered a challenge to anyone to bring a goose to the theater and he would hypnotize it, or forfeit 100 pounds. Well, on this particular night, 70+ people brought their, still living Christmas geese with them, to be hypnotized, and actually hopefully NOT be hypnotized so they could collect a little extra holiday cash.

Well, one by one Rameses, true to his word, hypnotized the geese until the stage was covered with these feathery creatures all sleeping soundly. The more he did it, the funnier it became. Then it was time to wake up the ducks. And One by one, they awoke and were returned to their owners. That is except for two of them. Nothing Rameses could do would wake the ducks!!! He gave the sleeping ducks to the owners and said, “come see me after the show”. Well, they did just that, except now it was time to find out the truth. Apparently the two people had seen Rameses before and in an attempt to help him out, they drugged the ducks so they’d sleep. And THAT was why he couldn’t wake them! Crazy.

Another new piece in the show was an obedient ball type of effect. I believe this is Devan’t Golliwog Ball, that he got from Harry Kellar. Kellar’s was called The Demon Globe. Devant streamlined the working of the effect. The basic idea is a large ball is placed at the bottom of a plank of wood that leans up against a chair at a slight angle. The ball then, on it’s own apparently, rolls up and down the board and eventually rolls itself right to the top and then jumps off. Rameses claimed he could hand the ball out for examination any time during the presentation. A modern version of this would be Teller’s RED BALL mystery.

In 1913, Rameses and company toured South America, winning over audiences everywhere, Here was an ideal act for them as theirs was a silent act, so no problems with language. By September they were back in the United States with another tour of the Orpheum Theaters thanks to Martin Beck.

When the company arrived in St. Paul in 1913, Rameses debuted another new effect, The Talking Tea Kettle. Now, on his previous trip to the States to tour, he stopped on Omaha to visit with David P. Abbott, the creator of The Talking Tea Kettle. I can only assume he acquired on of these from Mr. Abbott. Suffice to say, he was now performing it, claiming to hold an ancient egyptian spirit inside the kettle. And, as with the standard routine, you could ask a question, and put the spout up to your ear and you could HEAR someone inside talking and answering your questions.

In 1914, they were top of the bill at a Royal Variety Performance attended by the King and Queen. By all accounts, Rameses pleased the Royals greatly. King George was a huge fan of magic, having had Devant and Charles Bertram perform for the Royal family.

By 1916-17 Rameses finally added the Prof Harcourt Floating Lady Illusion, originally titled Lilith, but now it’s called Ayesha. The effect, a woman standing upright, begins to float vertically in the air, then she stops and walks in mid-air, spins around, and does all sorts of things, even having a hoop passed over here. Finally, a cloth is placed over her and whisked away and she is GONE!

Success had come to Albert Marchinsky. In his years playing Rameses he was a huge success, only rarely every having an off night. It had been a confidence building run. 

This is just when a strange new opportunity came up. He chose, on whose advice I do not know. to invest in the Empire Theater, Southend on Sea. He took over the lease and had others manage the business. Initially, he had planned to star in various productions put on by the theater, actual theatrical plays. But by all accounts. Rameses himself, kept performing on the road. However, the cost of running the theater was killing him financially. Partly due to WW1 and people not coming to this particular theater. And also the staff salaries to operate the theater. It just began to eat up everything. At some point, Rameses moved into the theater as his residence just to save on some money. Lawyers got involved and he had to declare bankruptcy and get out of the Empire debacle altogether. He went from being well off financially to back to having nothing, in just a few months time.

The only saving grace was he still had performing contracts for the Rameses magic act. So off he went again. First stop was in Egypt! He had mixed results in Cairo, but apparently was huge in Alexandria. 

He continued to perform into the 1920s, in fact he added the prestigious St. George’s Hall to his

list of performance places. Despite having continual work, it would appear that Albert Marchinsky never recouped all the money he lost. At one point he had an apportunity to perform at The Kursaal, which was sort of an early version of Coney Island in the UK, built before Coney Island in the US. it was a step down, as the attractions were presented more like side-shows. You were responsible for drawing your own crowds, etc. In the midst of working on this, Rameses met a man named Nathan Fogel, whose son Maurice, was interested in magic. Nathan invested 35 lbs into the Kursaal venture so his son could work as an assistant to Rameses. This was a young Maurice Fogel who would go on to become a top flight mentalist. He is covered on episode 94 of this podcast. 

Fogel acted now as chief assistant to a much smaller Rameses show. As time went on, Albert’s health declined. There were times when Maurice was forced to don the Rameses make-up and costume and put on the show. It was a hard/fast eduction for Fogel but he learned fast and kept the show running. At one point, Rameses was too sick to go on and went to Victoria Hospital. He died, July 31, 1930 following a surgery for colon cancer. He is buried in the Edmonton Federation of Synagogues Cemetery in Greater London.

(Complete transcript of Episode  101)

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Good Bye To Another Las Vegas Icon


Yes, another icon of Las Vegas is going, this time it's a hotel/casino, The Mirage. Built by Vegas Mega Developer Steve Wynn back in the 90s, it was one of the 'new' hotels that helped to remake the face of Las Vegas. The hotel took two years to build and at the time was the most expensive hotel ever to be built, at a whopping $630 million dollars. It was the first of Las Vegas's Megaresorts. 

Along with the hotel, Steve Wynn hired Siegfried and Roy to be their in-house show.  A theater was built specifically for them and for 14 years they reigned supreme with their act of magic and wild animals. In November of 1996, at a cost of $15 million dollars, the casino opened The Secret Garden of Siegfried and Roy. This was an animal habitat featuring white tigers, bengal tigers, lions, a snow leopard, a panther, and an elephant. Later a dolphin habitat was added to the attraction. The habitat received 500,000 visitors per year.

In recent years, a new magic star would be featured in the casino, the wonderful card magician Shin Lim. He is there now, and I assume he'll be there right up until July when the property closes mid-month. Shin Lim was winner of America's Got Talent as well as America's Got Talent Champions and other awards. His show of close-up magic has also featured mentalist Colin Cloud. 

The Mirage is owned by the Hard Rock Casino and will be torn down to make way for a new property, which expects to open some time in 2027. 

By all accounts, Las Vegas has shifted from a Grand Show town with Gambling to a Sports town.