Monday, May 22, 2017

Al Torsten

In 1959, the busy Chicago magic scene got a new member, Alexander Frank Simoneit. You say who? If the name doesn’t come to mind, it’s probably because he’s better known by his stage name Al Torsten, one of Germany’s leading vaudeville performers in pre- and post-World War II. He also had the promotional card below. I hesitate to call it a scaling card, but it’s still worthy of a post about this fascinating conjuror. It also falls into that common category on this blog of being produced by a playing card company to promote both the magician and their brand of cards.


The card features a young Torsten on the front and beneath him are the words, “Al Torsten the Card- Phantom works only with the world-famous “Altenburg-Stralsunder” playing cards – the old quality brand from Stuttgart.” On the reverse is a four-pip king of diamonds.

Torsten was born in Tula, Russia and during the Russian revolution, his family fled first to Latvia and then Lithuania. It was there in 1928 that he saw his first magician, a Greek by the name Casficis. This sparked his interest in magic and his father fed that interest by buying him new tricks and getting him teachers to train him. After high school he worked for Lufthansa airlines with ground control but his first love was magic.

He was living in Konigsberg at the time and there were no magic shops or clubs. A feature in the local newspaper on his magic resulted in other interested magicians reaching out to him and before long the Konigsberg East Prussia Magic Zirkel Society was formed with Torsten as president. 

Before he could get very far in magic he was inducted into the German army during World War II. He hated war and violence but had no other choice. The fact that he spoke five languages made him an excellent recruit as an interpreter. This was helpful with captured Russian soldiers. When he got leave to return to Germany he was subject to bombings there and so stayed with the Army.

Once while his wife Ellen was visiting him during a weekend visit their town was overrun by the Russian Army and calling upon the kindness of the very generals whom he had entertained, they moved his wife and some nurses to Western Germany where they were relatively safe. However, in the occupation of his town he lost all his magic, books, and collectibles. After the war he performed shows for the allies. 
Torsten won the 1950 Grand Prix for manipulation at the International Magicians’ Congress in Munich where he competed against 15 other nations. He also operated a magic shop and instructed magicians. Eventually he and his wife decided they’d had enough of a Germany in turmoil with post-war disruptions and decided to come to America. When they did, they chose Chicago.

He was an excellent, classical manipulator and appeared elegantly in white tie and tails. While in Chicago he also offered a number of magic effect that were sold by first Ireland’s and then later Magic Inc. He passed away in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Nov. 29, 2004. He held IBM # 17052 and was an Order of Merlin member.

I am indebted to the late Francis Marshall for much of this background which she provided in a 1959 issue of The Linking Ring. Thanks Fran!

Tom Ewing

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