1750, most magic we know of took place at fairs in Europe.
Several magicians had made a living there, but then the fairs
were scaled back and shortened. In response, magicians started
moving into the cities.
first, magicians performed at inns and public houses, or rented
rooms for their performances. Eventually, magic caught on
with the upper classes. Magicians started performing in large
theaters and gained respectability and status. Many magicians
capitalized on the public's interest in science, drawing people
to their magic shows with scientific sounding terms or combining
their shows with science lectures.
great traveling show also arose in this period. The network
of small vaudeville theaters created another venue for magicians.
Magic shows of all sizes flourishedit was a time of
enormous development for magic. Many of the trends that exist
in magic today have their roots in this period.
science of finding a wealthy audience
the late 1700s, scientific lectures became popular with wealthy
people in England. To capture that audience, the magician
Katterfelto added science into his act. Before each show,
he'd lecture for an hour on scientific topics. Katterfelto
used a solar microscope to show thousands of tiny creatures
hidden in a drop of water, beer, milk or anything else he
wanted to magnify.
on the ritz to get high-class crowds
you see a male magician dressed up in tails, you're seeing
the unofficial "dress code" made popular by French
magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin in 1845. He was
one of the first magicians to dress in eveningwear for his
show, instead of the usual long, star-covered robes. Robert-Houdin's
new look helped upper-class audiences feel comfortable, with
a stage set up to look like a friend's parlor.
finds a permanent home in the city
the Egyptian Hall was built in London in 1812, "England's
Home of Mystery" was mainly a museum. Over the years,
magic shows replaced lectures and other programs until 1873,
when magicians John Nevil Maskelyne and George Cooke moved
in permanently. Maskelyne and Cooke brought audiences back
by constantly changing and adding to their show.
big traveling show becomes popular, and Kellar was big
Magician Harry Kellar was the first American-born magician
to create a blockbuster traveling magic show. He toured around
the world, mostly in the United States after 1884.
had a staff of assistants and a show that filled the stage.
He sometimes "borrowed" popular tricks from other
magicians and repeated them in his own style. He believed
that the United States would support only one big magician
at a time. For his time, he was that magician.
Kellar left, his show went on
Kellar wanted to retire, fellow magician Howard Thurston bought
his props and took over the show. Kellar toured with Thurston
in 1908, passing on the role of most popular magician in America.
kept some of Kellar's illusions, but added his own ideas to
make the show even bigger. He made a car full of people disappear.
He levitated a woman out over the audience and around the
stage, eventually making her vanish from the air. Thurston
hired other magicians to help him tour several versions of
this popular show.
magic acts make the variety show circuit
the late 1800s, most magicians got their start in the variety
shows of vaudeville. A typical act lasted only 10 to 12 minutes.
But a magician could take that act on the road for years.
card handling set a new standard
In Cardini's legendary vaudeville act, he played a tipsy
gentleman surprised by cards that just kept appearing in his
back to life was a great trickuntil he really died on
foremost African-American magician of the early 1900s, Benjamin
Rucker, performed under the name Black Herman, and was widely
popular. Black Herman was good at being buried alive. People
paid to see his "corpse," feel that he had no pulse,
and watch his coffin be buried. Days later, Herman would rise
from the dug-up coffin and lead the audience into the theater.
night in 1934, Black Herman collapsed on stage and died. But
the audience wouldn't leave. Huge crowds gathered outside
the funeral home to see the end of the "trick."
Herman's assistant finally said, "Let's charge
admission. That's what he would have done." So they
fairer sex became fair game
never showed the "torture" of women before 1921.
In that year, magician P.T. Selbit shut a woman in a wooden
box, with ropes holding her down, and cut the box in two.
The audience loved it. Magicians everywhere rushed to make
their own, bloodier versions.
did it catch on in 1921? The numbing, brutal world war? Anger
over women's recent and often violent battle for the right
to vote? Whatever the reason, magicians still twist, stretch
and carve up women on stage.
magician's assistant Must be able to:
Electric (Marvyn and Carol Roy)
set, pack and care for all props
handle animals, from rabbits and doves up to large cats
and snakesno allergies allowed
be beautiful, glamorous, charming, sexy, persuasive and
funny without upstaging the magician
make sure lights and music hit their cues
bring props to the magician openly and secretly
fit into small boxes and holes
take the bumps and bruises of a show night after night