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N. Hilliard, in an editorial published in the _Sphinx_, Kansas City,
Mo., March 15, 1905:

“While we do not take the controversy with undue seriousness, there
is an ethical aspect in the case, however, that invites discussion.
In commenting disparagingly on the professional ability of the
Chinese conjurer, in belittling his originality and his achievements
in the magic arts, Mr. Robinson (Chung Ling Soo) is really throwing
stones at his own crystal dwelling place. Despite the glowing
presentments of his press agent, one single naked truth shines out
as clearly as a frosty star in a turquoise sky. It is violating no
confidence to assert that had it not been for Ching Ling Foo, the
professional status of Mr. William E. Robinson, masquerading as a
Chinaman, and adopting the sobriquet of ‘Chung Ling Soo,’ would be
more or less of a negative quantity to-day. Ching Ling Foo, the
genuine Chinaman, is indisputably the originator, so far as the
Western hemisphere is concerned, at least, of this peculiar act, and
Robinson is merely an imitator. Robinson is shrewd and has a ‘head
for business.’ He doubtless realizes, as well as his critics, that
in the dress of the modern magician he would not be unqualifiedly
successful, despite his skill with cards and coins and his knowledge
of the art. The success of Ching Ling Foo in this country was his
opportunity. Adopting the dress and make-up of a Mongolian, and
appropriating the leading features of Ching’s act, he went to Europe,
where the act was a novelty, and scored a great success. Of course,
from a utilitarian point of view, this success is legitimate; but
in the light of what the American magician really owes to the great
Chinese conjurer, it is ridiculous for Robinson to pose as ‘the
original Chinese magician,’ and for him to say that Ching Ling Foo is
‘a performer of the streets,’ while he is the ‘court magician to the
Empress Dowager.’ This may be good showmanship, but it is not fair
play. The devil himself is entitled to his due; and, the question of
merit aside, the indubitable fact remains that it is Ching Ling Foo
who is the ‘original Chinese magician,’ while ‘Chung Ling Soo’ is an
imitator of his act and a usurper in the Oriental kingdom. {285} But
outside of the ethical nature of the controversy, we refuse to take
it seriously.”


Robinson calls himself “Chung Ling Soo, he of the One Button
[mandarin], Royal Chinese Conjurer.” Chung Ling Soo, in the
vernacular of Confucius, means Double Luck, or extra good luck.
Wherever he goes he puts on exhibition in the lobby of the theatre
the resplendent robes of his ancestors—“a piece of sacrilege,” says
an English paper, “no Chinaman the world has ever known has been
guilty of before. Some of the exhibits are from the Imperial palace
at Pekin.” These gorgeous garments were doubtless purchased in some
Chinese bazaar in London. According to a Holloway journal, Robinson
is the possessor of a wonderful collection of Oriental embroideries,
carvings, armor, and swords, and last but not least, “a splendid
{286} palanquin which cost the Chinese equivalent of 1,000 guineas.
It was presented to him by the late Dowager Empress of China, and is
constructed of solid ebony inlaid with gold and precious stones.”
In this palanquin, Robinson comes on the stage to perform his
bullet-catching feat, supposed to be a replica of a similar adventure
when he was attacked by “Boxers” in China. This is Herrmann’s old
trick, with an Oriental setting. Some years ago, a German-American
wizard, Prof. Mingus, invented a method of catching live gold fish
on the end of a line fixed to an ordinary bamboo fishing rod. The
line being cast in the air, a gold fish appeared dangling upon the
hook. The fish was then thrown into a bowl of water and shown to the
audience. Several fish were caught in this manner. Robinson adopted
this trick with great success. Pestered to death for an explanation
of the mystery by his journalistic friends, he finally condescended
to explain (?) it. He thus described it in the _News of the World_,
Holloway, England, April 9, 1905:

“Anyone may know how Chung does the goldfish trick, but it does not
follow that having been told one can do it. When Chung Ling Soo
makes casts in the air with his rod and line, little Suce Seen,
the Celestial handmaiden, stands meekly some yards away, holding
a glass bowl of water. The hook is a powerful magnet, and if one
could examine the goldfish caught, one would detect pieces of metal
attached to the bodies of the finny captures. The live goldfish
repose in little Suce Seen’s sleeve, and when a more than usually
skillful cast brings the magnetic bait for a second into the interior
of the girl’s sleeve, a ‘catch’ has at once been effected, and the
fish is seen dangling and wriggling in the air at the end of the

It is needless to remark that this is a _fish story_. Chung Ling Soo
is romancing. The gold fish are concealed in the handle of the rod.
The fish that appears on the hook at each cast of the line is an
imitation affair of silk, which is hidden in the hollow lead sinker.
A substitution is made, and the real fish thrown into the bowl by
the conjurer. The dainty little Chinese maiden (Mrs. Robinson) has
nothing more to do with the trick than the people in the audience.
She merely holds the bowl and looks cute.

The following is a sample of some of the nonsense published {287}
about Robinson, taken from the _Weekly Despatch_, April 9, 1905:

“Chung Ling Soo rose from the ranks, and his fame as a sorcerer
penetrated to the Chinese Empress Dowager, who commanded him to
court, where, after years of service, he was promoted to many
Celestial honors, and ultimately the rank of Mandarin was bestowed
upon him. His skin is yellow, his eyes are black and oblique, and
his teeth are absolutely inky, as all true Celestials of rank should
be.” Any one acquainted with the art of stage “make-up” knows how
easily these facial effects can be produced. There is even a black
paste for the teeth. I don’t doubt this much of the journalist’s
story—but the “Celestial honors” and the “rank of Mandarin”—shade
of the illustrious Münchausen preserve us! Poor old Ching Ling Foo,
the original Chinaman, has doubtless devoted his ingenious rival and
“foreign devil” to the innumerable hells of the Chinese Buddhists.

So much for the Oriental ancestry of my old friend, Billy Robinson,
the “One Button Man” of the Celestial Empire (Theatre of London,

Robinson is the inventor of the clever stage illusion “Gone,” which
Herrmann exhibited, and which still forms one of the principal
specialties of Kellar. I am indebted to my friend, Henry V. A.
Parsell, for an accurate description of the trick, as at present
worked by Mr. Kellar.

“At the rise of the curtain the stage is seen to have its rear part
concealed by a second curtain and drapery, which, being drawn up,
discloses a substantial framework. This framework, at the first
glance, gives one the impression that it is that horrible instrument
of death, the guillotine. As will be seen, it consists simply of
two uprights, with a bar across the top and another a little below
the middle. Just below the centre bar is a windlass, the two ropes
of which pass through two pulleys fixed to the top bar. The machine
stands out boldly against a black background, the distance from which
is indeterminate.

“After the introduction of the fair maiden ‘who is to be gone,’ an
ordinary looking bent wood chair is shown. The chair is then placed
on the stage behind the framework, and by means of snap hooks the two
ropes from the windlass are attached {288} to the side of the chair.
The maiden is now seated in the chair and her skirt adjusted that it
may not hang too low.

[Illustration: “GONE,” ROBINSON’S ILLUSION.]

“A couple of assistants now work the windlass and elevate the chair
and its occupant until they are well above the middle cross bar.
One assistant then retires, the other remains with one hand resting
against the side of the framework. The performer fires his pistol
thrice, upon which the maiden vanishes and the {289} fragments of
the chair fall to the ground. The illusion is produced by a black
curtain which lies concealed behind the middle cross bar. When the
pistol is fired, the assistant, whose hand is on the frame, presses a
spring which releases this black curtain which is instantly drawn up
in front of the suspended girl. At this same moment the girl undoes
a couple of catches which allow the main part of the chair to drop.
She, meanwhile, being seated on a false chair-bottom to which the
ropes are attached.”

As originally devised by Mr. Robinson, the illusion was based upon
the Pepper ghost-show. Between the cross-bars of a slanting frame was
a sheet of plate glass which, being invisible, left the lady on the
chair in full view as long as the light fell upon her. A screen of
the same color as the background was concealed above the curtain and
placed at such an angle as to allow its reflection to pass out to the
audience. The firing of the pistol was the signal for the assistant
to turn a switch. The lady was then veiled in relative darkness while
the screen was illuminated and its reflection on the plate glass
concealed her from sight. Carrying around the country a big sheet of
plate glass is not only an expensive luxury but a risky one, so the
illusion was simplified in the manner described by Mr. Parsell.


Buatier de Kolta was the greatest inventor of magic tricks and
illusions since the days of Robert-Houdin. He was an absolutely
original genius, who set at defiance Solomon’s adage. “There is
nothing new under the sun,” by producing in rapid succession a series
of brilliant feats that astounded the world of magic. I am indebted
to my friend, Dr. W. Golden Mortimer, for facts concerning the career
of de Kolta.

Joseph Buatier de Kolta was born in Lyons, France, in the year 1845.
For centuries his father’s people had inhabited the ancient palace
of the Emperor Claudius. Each firstborn male of the Buatier family
was given the Roman name. The subject of our sketch had a sister
and two brothers, the latter, with himself, being set apart for the
priesthood. His brother Claudius was not given to churchly ways, but
the second brother actually entered upon the holy orders. Joseph was
at college when he {290} first saw the wonders of magic as revealed
by a strolling magician, and he became so fascinated with the
possibilities of the art that he entered upon it at once.

[Illustration: BUATIER DE KOLTA]

He commenced his professional career at Geneva, Italy, in 1867,
and shortly after became associated with his cousin, Julias Vidos
de Kolta, who for fifteen years thereafter acted as his business
manager. De Kolta was his mother’s maiden name, adopted by her
ancestors from one of the Hungarian provinces. Buatier de Kolta,
as the magician was now known, traveled through Italy, where he
presented a two hours’ entertainment, consisting of original sleights
with a multiplicity of small properties. In 1875 he opened in London,
where a great furore was made with his flying cage, which he had
introduced in Italy some two years earlier. Though de Kolta was not
given to {291} mishaps, on the first presentation of his trick he
threw the cage out into the audience, an accident which has been
repeated by other performers.


He married Miss Alice Allen, in London, December 8, 1887. She
afterwards traveled with him as his assistant, and acted as his
business manager. In the year 1891, he made his first appearance
in the United States by playing a four months’ engagement at the
Eden Musée, New York City. On that occasion he introduced the large
vanishing cage, which he intended as a satire on the flying cage
because of the repeated supposition that a bird was killed at each
performance of that trick, but he never liked the large cage and soon
abandoned it. In 1903 he returned to this country, and opened at
the Eden Musée, on September 15, where he played many months. Among
other new tricks he {292} exhibited an improvement on the “rising
cards,” consisting in the continuous and successive rising of every
card in a pack from out a glass tumbler; and a little sketch entitled
“_la danse des millions_,” in which the money-catching idea was
elaborated. This number, delivered in Alexandrine verses with all
the charm of a classic, was intended as a hit at the extravagance
of the Panama Canal Company under the régime of De Lesseps and his

On that occasion he introduced an absolutely new illusion, the effect
of which was as follows: The curtain rose showing a platform in the
center of the stage. It was about four feet square and eighteen
inches high, with four legs. The conjurer appeared carrying a satchel
in one hand. He informed the audience that he kept his wife in the
receptacle. It was a convenient way of transporting her about with
him. Opening the satchel, he took therefrom a die about six inches
square, remarking that his consort was concealed within it. This he
placed on the platform. After arranging two open fans on the back of
the platform he touched a spring, whereupon the die opened to about
two and a half feet square. Presto!—he lifted up the die and his wife
appeared on the platform, sitting cross-legged like a Turkish lady on
a divan.

The secret of this surprising illusion died with Buatier de Kolta.
His wife refused to reveal it after his death.

From New York de Kolta went to New Orleans to play an engagement at
the Orpheum Theatre. In that city he died of acute Bright’s disease
on October 7, 1903. The body was taken to London for burial.

Among the better known tricks and illusions invented by de Kolta
may be mentioned the following: The flying bird cage (1873); the
vanishing lady (1889); flowers from a paper cone (1886); the cocoon
and living pictures (1887); and his disappearance, at the top of a
twenty-one-foot ladder set upright against a bridge, in full light;
soup plate and handkerchiefs; the decanters and flying handkerchiefs;
multiplying billiard balls; production of a large flag on a staff;
new ink and water trick, etc. {293}

In conjunction with J. Nevil Maskelyne, he invented the “Black Art,
or the Mahatmas Outdone.” It has been exposed by the _Strand_,
February, 1903, as follows:

“It is necessary for the benefit of those who have never seen an
act of this kind to explain that everything is performed in a dark
chamber—either the whole stage or a chamber fitted up in the center
of it—draped entirely in black—sides, back, floor, and ceiling. The
hall is placed almost in darkness, the only lights being a set of
sidelights and footlights, which are turned toward the audience with
reflectors behind, making it impossible for eyes to penetrate into
the darkness beyond them. Everything used in the chamber is white,
even the performer’s dress, forming a contrast necessary to the

“The séance is usually commenced by the production of tables and
goblets from space. In fact, everything required is mysteriously
obtained from apparent nothingness. The performer, usually dressed
in an Eastern costume, all of white, enters the empty chamber, and,
requiring a wand, raises his hand, when one comes floating into it.
He next taps the floor at the left side of the chamber and a small
table suddenly appears. This he repeats at the right side, with the
same result. He now taps one of the tables and a large goblet appears
upon it in the same mysterious manner. This also he repeats at the
other table, having now two tables several yards apart, with a goblet
upon each. The whole are brought forward for inspection and replaced
within the chamber. The performer takes one of the goblets, raises
it, turns it over and around in several ways, and it is seen that
the other is going through exactly the same movements without anyone
being near it. The performer replaces his goblet upon the table;
but the other remains suspended alone in mid-air, and the performer
places a large ring over it and around it, showing wires or any other
connection to be absent. He brings it forward and again hands it
for examination, but on regaining it does not take it to the table,
for by a wave of his hand the table comes dancing out to him and on
receiving the goblet dances back to its original position. He next
proceeds to borrow several watches and other articles of jewelry,
which he takes into the chamber and places in the goblet on the {294}
right. They are clearly seen to drop from his hand from several
inches above; he shows his hands empty and immediately rushes across
to the other goblet, brings it forward, and allows the audience
themselves to take out all the jewelry which was placed in the right
goblet only a moment previous. Having finished with these articles,
they disappear as mysteriously and quickly as they appeared.

“The next illusion performed is the production from space of a live
lady’s bust suspended in a frame. The performer raises his wand and
a large picture-frame suddenly hangs itself upon it. This is brought
for examination, then placed in the center of the chamber, where it
remains suspended in mid-air and sets up a swinging motion by itself.
It is then covered momentarily with an Eastern rug, and when removed,
a lady, devoid of legs, whose body completely fills the frame, is
seen swinging with it. The ‘live picture’ is covered momentarily, and
when the covering is withdrawn a large Union Jack is seen to have
taken the place of the lady, who has vanished.


“The performer proceeds next with a decapitation act, in which a lady
is beheaded in full view of the audience. At a wave of his hand a
lady appears, and hands to him her own gruesome means of execution,
a large, glittering sabre, which he takes, {295} and with one swing
cuts her head clean off where she stands. Catching the head as it
falls, he places a pair of wings at the back of it, when it becomes a
flying cherub, and immediately soars all about the chamber, finally
returning to his outstretched hand. He then removes the wings and
replaces the head upon the lady’s shoulders, restoring her to life,
for which kindness she quickly embraces him and vanishes. Wishing
to get another such share of her favors, the performer endeavors to
bring her back by magic aid, but is surprised by the appearance of a
grinning ghost, whose whole body consists of a skull, with a moving
jaw, draped with a white sheet. He catches it, and detaching its
skull brings it forward for a closer scrutiny, the jaw moving all the
time and the sheet dancing about alone. He then throws the skull into
the air and it is seen no more.



“The séance is generally concluded by an invisible flight, the
vanishing performer immediately reappearing amongst the audience. He
takes the dancing sheet and entirely covers himself with it, standing
in the center of the chamber, taking great care to drape himself in
such a manner as to show the shape of his body. In a few seconds the
sheet collapses, and before it has time to reach the ground a shout
is heard in the back of the {296} hall; the audience turning around
naturally are surprised to see the performer standing amongst them,
smilingly bowing in acknowledgment of the applause which greets him.

[Illustration: DECAPITATION.

Showing the girl’s head covered with a black hood—The girl acting for
the head falling to her knees.]

[Illustration: Le Commandeur, Marius Cazeneuve]

“As before mentioned, the whole of this takes place in darkness,
obtained by the chamber being draped in black velvet and the floor
covered with black felt. The brightness of the lights turned towards
the audience, contrasting with the denseness of the black behind,
dazzles the eye to such an extent that it cannot discern anything in
the chamber that is not white or of a very light color. The stage is
all arranged before the act, and the tables are in their respective
places, but cannot be seen on account of their being draped with
black velvet. The goblets, frame, lady, ghost, etc., are all placed
in readiness behind a black screen, also draped. None of this can
be seen while they are behind the lights, if kept covered in black,
no matter how near to the front they are placed. But how do they
float about and appear so mysteriously? An assistant is within the
chamber, dressed in black velvet throughout, with black gloves and
mask, covering all signs of white about him and making him perfectly
invisible. He wears no boots, and the felt {297} upon the floor
deadens the sound of all his movements. He it is who really produces
all the articles. When the performer stretches his hand out for the
wand, the assistant brings it from behind the screen and hands it
to him with a floating movement. As the performer taps the floor he
immediately pulls away the black covering and the table instantly
appears to view. The goblets are painted black inside, allowing him
to hold them at the back with his fingers inside, unnoticed. After
the tables are both produced he places the goblets upon them at the
right moment with one hand while he pulls off the velvet with the
other. The exposition is so quick and sudden that nothing suspicious
can be noticed. The turning of the goblet is also the work of the
invisible assistant, and is quickly changed from one hand to another
when the ring is being passed over it. The watches, etc., are not
placed in the goblet as they appear to be, but dropped behind it into
the assistant’s hands, who takes them over to the other while the
performer is exhibiting his empty hands. The picture-frame is also
handed by the assistant, and when it is apparently placed in mid-air
is really passed to the assistant, who quickly hangs it up. When it
is covered the lady steps from behind the screen to the frame, and
stands upon a swing which nearly reaches to the floor behind it,
and catches hold of the frame sides; the assistant draws away the
velvet which draped her, and keeps the swing in motion. The frame is
attached to the wires of this swing. The lady is dressed in white to
the waist, which exactly reaches the bottom of the frame. Below the
frame she is dressed in black velvet. When the frame is again covered
she steps back behind the screen while the assistant fits the Union
Jack in the frame. In the decapitation act there are two ladies,
one dressed all in white, the other standing behind her dressed in
black, with her head covered by a black hood. When the performer
swings the sabre the assistant covers the white lady’s head with a
black velvet hood, at the same time pulling the hood quickly from the
other lady’s head, who immediately falls to her knees. The illusion
looks perfect—a body apparently standing without a head and the head
apparently falling. When the wings are put on she flaps them by means
of a wire and runs round the {298} chamber, stooping at intervals,
so as to take an irregular course. The beheaded lady is restored by
exactly the reverse method, and she disappears behind the screen. The
ghost is danced about on a stick by the assistant, and when its skull
is thrown into the air it is caught in a black bag. The performer
takes the sheet and goes behind it and hands it to the assistant, and
it is the latter who is seen draping himself, the performer running
around to {299} the back of the hall meanwhile, where he waits to see
the sheet drop. The assistant, allowing time for this, simply lets
go the top of the sheet, and, of course, cannot be seen behind it.
The performer runs in before it has time to reach the ground, his
invisible flight and immediate reappearance greatly astonishing the




Cazeneuve, better known as _le commandeur_ Cazeneuve, the great
card expert and magician, was born in Toulouse in 1840. He adopted
magic, after witnessing a performance of that original genius,
Bosco. His chivalric title (commander of the imperial order of
Medjidie) was conferred upon him by the Sultan of Turkey, with
whom he was a favorite. At the Court of Russia he and his charming

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Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 24 of 28)