Friday, May 17, 2019

Burgette – “Weird Wonders”

When I do research on a magician who had a throw-out card, or a “Good Luck” card, I try to find a performer who had mentions in the magic magazines, or the newspapers of their day. William Burgette was a long time magician and had a history in both.

Burgette had an interesting “Good Luck” card, with his portrait on the front, and on the back he refers to his show as “Weird Wonders”. It also lists three of the effects that he was doing at the time, as well as his contact information.
William L. Burgette was born on May 24, 1911 in Elyria, Ohio. It is said that he gave his first magic show when he was eight years old. From there, he continued to perform for many years. Besides doing magic, Burgette also did escapes. He lived in several cities in Ohio during his lifetime. In 1940, The Billboard stated “Burgette the Magician, assisted by Mrs. Burgette and Rena Azzar, with A. C. Spitler on the advance, brings his season to an end at the Paramount Theater, Fremont, O., May 11. Operating within a radius of 150 miles of Fremont, Burgette played 42 dates on the season.”
Burgette was a long-time member of the I.B.M. and had these three mentions in The Linking Ring early in his magic career. He was “heralded as ‘Ohio’s Favorite Magician’”.

The Linking Ring from February 1930, March 1931, and June 1940.

Burgette got his share of press coverage too. The following three clippings are from The Sandusky Register for January 27, 1931, the Kingsport Tennessee Times for December 3, 1940, and the New Castle Pennsylvania News for March 6, of 1942.
William Burgette was a charter member of I.B.M Ring 189 in Galion, Ohio. He was very active in the Ring over the years and was named “Knight of the Year in 1974”. His obituary in the Mansfield News-Journal on January 23, 1976, mentioned his Broken Wand ceremony at his funeral services. The obituary also mentioned that William Burgette had also been a former shoe store manager, besides being a professional magician.
I will end this post with a nice review of Bill Burgette in The Linking Ring back in May of 1968. It was written by the late Terry Harris who was Secretary of Ring 189 at the time.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Francis the Famous

This post falls into the category of some performers featured on this blog who had their own scaling card but about which very little is known. Our subject is Francis G. Cuttle. A thorough search through Ask Alexander, and (something any conjuring historian of worth should utilize), I was able to turn up a little background. This is odd for someone who billed himself as “Francis the Famous!”

Cuttle’s card features his photo with the caption above it, “The Young Wizard.” He does look fairly young in the picture. To the left is his signature and, like many show people in the early part of the previous century, inquiries could be addressed to the New York Clipper, the newspaper for all things show business. The reverse side is not by one of the larger commercial card companies, but is attractive and pink in color.

Cuttle was most closely associated with Columbus, Georgia. In October 1930, the magicians of Atlanta, Georgia gave their fall benefit show in the auditorium of the Women’s Club. It was sponsored by the Atlanta Child’s Home. The bill was filled with local magicians including DeVaughn (a female magician); Mac and Frances; Albert Harrington, Homer Hulse, Dr. F.E. Van der Veer; Julian Boehm; and others.

No, Cuttle was not on the bill, but The Linking Ring covered the event in their November issue and noted that after the show the magicians had the pleasure of meeting Francis G. Cuttle of Columbus, Georgia who had heard of the show and traveled 200 miles to attend. He was identified as an, “ex-magician,” who was known in his professional days as, “Francis the Famous.” That’s it.

We also know Cuttle was married. According to The Atlanta Constitution, his wife, Annie Robinson Cuttle, died Monday December 18, 1934, after a long illness. She was born in Lowell, Mass., and her body was returned there. She had lived in Columbus since 1910. And one last interesting note – she was survived by her husband Francis and one brother — wait for it — William E. Robinson of Atlantic, Mass. No, not THAT Robinson, but an interesting twist to a story without a lot of details. Cuttle now arises from near obscurity to near visibility among Propelled Pasteboard's panoply of prestidigitators.

Tom Ewing

Monday, April 29, 2019

Jerome E. Cook – Magical Enthusiast

This blog is devoted to a gentleman who by most standards never reached the level of professional or perhaps, even semi-professional. Maybe he was only an amateur, but it is clear he loved magic, performed at club shows and even created a startling little coin trick that even today would amaze.

Cook had a scaling card (below), of course, or we wouldn’t be writing about him. It features his name and contact information over an eight of hearts. His address is given as 47 Sidney Place, Brooklyn, NY and there are contact phone numbers. The reverse side of the card is one of the old Steamboat “999” cards produced by Russell & Morgan, the company that eventually became the U.S. Playing Card Company. The back design was first introduced in 1883 but neither the card, nor Cook, date from that period.

He was born June 7, 1901 in Brooklyn to his father Alexander and mother Alice. As a young man, he was briefly enlisted in the Army near the end of World War I. His draft card shows him attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and being inducted on Oct. 11, 1918. His rank was private and he was honorably discharged two months later on December 9, the war having ended on November 11th. 

There are many Jerome Cooks, and while I tried to ensure that our subject Jerome E. Cook, was located on the hunt, some likely hits may, in fact, not be him. In 1923, Billboard reported that the New England Conjuror's Association held their big show on October 27. President Paul Noffke opened the show with card tricks and then on the stage show appeared one Jerome Cook who was described as impersonating a, “simon-pure Blue-Jay tramp offering various deceptions in pantomime.” Our guy? Perhaps.

Then at the February 1925 meeting of the S.A.M. Parent Assembly, here comes Jerome Cook again accompanied by Paul Noffke and representing members in Springfield, Mass. Houdini presided at the meeting. Is this our Brooklyn boy? Unlikey, but perhaps.

One thing we do know for certain, is that our Jerome E. Cook was in Pittsfield, Mass. in May 1930, and performed a fascinating coin stunt for U.F. Grant.

Grant wrote about it in The Sphinx for that month. He wrote:

"It is certainly a pleasure to be really baffled on a new trick, but when a man calls on you and baffles you on three new ones, one right after the other, why it is a sensation of once in a lifetime, and I was the victim and the gentleman that called on me was a Mr. Jerome Cook of New York City. These are his original tricks which he has worked for some time, but I am the first Magician to witness them. He borrowed a half dollar from me and balanced same on the back of his first two fingers, and holding the balanced coin right under my nose, it suddenly started to revolve while in the upright position, then it stopped and started revolving in the opposite direction; then he returned my half dollar which appeared as good as when I loaned same, and there were no threads used. Really, in my mind, the best coin stunt of late years and very weird looking."

So, what was this fantastic coin stunt? Thanks to the file of instructions on Ask Alexander, we know it was marketed as, “Revolvo - The Hypnotic Half-Dollar.” The instruction sheet with complete descriptions of how it is accomplished is provided below. 

It was accomplished with a nearly invisible, rotating sloted coin holder that is concealed between the two fingers and into which any ordinary half dollar can be inserted. Instructions for concealing the gimmick are provided. It was a great seller in Max Holden’s booth at the Fort Wayne I.B.M. convention in 1930. 

Cook may also have been a member of the International Magic Circle as he is mentioned in an issued of Seven Circles, once again accompanied by Paul Noffke. Our guy? Who knows? I could find no death certificate or notice in any of the magic magazines. I was able to confirm that he was a member of the I.B.M. and so, I close this post with the speculation that he was an enthusiast – a creative one I’ll give you – but yet another conjuror who felt compelled to create a scaling card for himself as he pursued his passion for magic.

Tom Ewing

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Teddy Dowler – The “Codologist.”

When I came upon his wonderful card in my collection I immediately had two questions. First, of course, was, “Who is Teddy Dowler?” And, second, “What is a Codologist?” If I was better informed on British magicians I would have known immediately. 

However, after a bit of research on the wonderful website Ask Alexander I had answers to both questions. Arthur “Teddy” Dowler was a British comedy magician who was very popular from the 1930’s until his death January 17, 1953 at 58 years of age. He was born December 30, 1894, at Stoke-on-Trent, England. Importantly, Dowler was co-founder with Harry Stanley of Unique Magic Studio which was absorbed by Supreme Magic in 1970. He was also the creator of the Legs Table. 

His card (below) features his name on the front, his self-appointed title, and has him living at “Sandringham” 25, Hope Road, Shanklin, I.W. The reverse does not feature a playing card design, but rather a photo of Dowler holding a rabbit and wearing a tuxedo with an enormous flower on his lapel. In each corner are the four playing card pips. Below, and to the left are the words, “Up to his tricks again!”

I wondered whether his title, “Codologist” had anything to do with fish (or perhaps Fish and Chips), but I believe I found the answer in The Collins English Dictionary. They identify the term as being informal Irish and describe “codology” as, “the art or practice of bluffing or deception.” Thus, Dowler must have been a practitioner of bluffing or deception. It makes sense. Dowler was among a contingent of magicians from Britain who came over to the States for the 1939 I.B.M. convention in Battle Creek, Michigan. The group sailed over on the S.S. Normandie and had their photo taken on deck.

He was in famous company that included John Ramsey, Edmund Younger, Mr. and Mrs. Les Levante, Cedric, Dr. H. Park-Shackleton, and others. Upon landing they were greeted at the gangplank by Charles Larson and Herman Hansen. On the voyage over these magicians had presented a stage show, a dry-run for a similar presentation at the upcoming convention. Dowler returned to the states as one of the first magicians from abroad to attend the Abbott’s Get-Together following World War II. He brought his wife with him and presented a, “typically English comedy style” act.

During this same trip, Dowler brought with him an improved version of Abbott’s popular effect “Disecto,” where a volunteer’s arm is sliced through with a movable blade without injury. The previous version featured a main portion of the chopper which hid the knife as it slit through the volunteer’s arm. This new version contained on very long opening that ran practically the length of the chopper through which the blade could be clearly seen slicing down on each side of the trapped arm. It took a great effect and made it even better. It was advertised, of course, immediately in Abbott’s catalog.

Dowler is identified most often as being the resident magician and MC at the Black Lion, Trent Vale, Stoke-on-Trent. He placed a fun advertisement for the place in the June 26, 1937 The World’s Fair. The ad notes that the Black Lion is, “150 miles from London (and worth the run!) 43 miles from Birmingham, 36 miles from Manchester, 53 miles from Liverpool and only 3 miles from the Theatre Royal Hanley.” The ad further states, “Teas, snacks, &c. ready any time, bowling green, salad served undressed for nudists, we even serve crabs. Magicians Made Merry – Showman Shriek Satisfaction. So come along all of you.”

Dowler also placed an ad in The World’s Fair on December 24, 1938, promising readers there was, “no Cod” about his Christmas wishes. One time Dowler starred with Maurice Fogel on the same bill at the Dudley Hippodrome. The reviewer in Abra, Jack Shepherd, apologized for calling Dowler a magician because of his self-anointed “Codologist” title, and also apologized to Fogel for calling him a magician because Fogel “went mad” if anyone referred to him in that manner.

Of course, I never had the opportunity to witness Dowler since I was only two years old when he passed away. I’m sure he was hilarious and well-loved by both audiences and his fellow conjurors. He was another brilliant thread in conjuring history gathered once again and woven into the tapestry of Propelled Pasteboards.

Tom Ewing

Friday, April 19, 2019

Hendrickson – “The Mystifier”

This throw-out card for Edgar A. Hendrickson is a fine example and has a very interesting design on the back. I do not know which playing card company produced this, but it is a great looking card.

I think we will start off by allowing the reader to view Hendrickson’s short biography that was on the cover of Mahatma magic magazine for August, 1902, together with two images that accompanied the article.
The Mahatma article mentions that he held an office in the S.A.M., but neglected to add that he was a founding member of the society. His S.A.M. number was 17, and his date of membership was May 3, 1902.
In 1897, Hendrickson was working with a partner, Joseph Rosani, who was a juggler. The two of them performed together for a number of years, working both the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits. Here as an early ad that ran in the Paterson, New Jersey News for November 13, 1897.
Below is an article that was in The Cecil Whig in Elkton, Maryland for December 5, 1905.
I also have found examples of Hendrickson and Rosani’s early advertising, like this pocket mirror and an early ad that may be from one of their brochures.
The reviews of Hendrickson and his magic were not always in glowing terms. The following two articles are from the Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine for January 1908, and then looking back on Hendrickson, from the Billboard for February 2, 1924. Keep in mind, that most performers get bad reviews once in a while.
To end on a positive note, The Sphinx for December 1910 had this to say, “Ed Hendrickson, the Entertainer, works seven days a week. Hendrickson has a big following and stands well in the community. His audiences expect new things of him, and he does not disappoint them. If there is anything new in magical construction, Ed has it”.
Edgar A. Hendrickson passed away on March 1, 1917, at the age of 56 and was buried in Brooklyn, New York.

Friday, April 5, 2019

“Mysterious” Brown

I recently acquired two throw-out cards for a magician who called himself “Mysterious” Brown. When I started to research his past, I came up with a lot of interesting facts, and even a tie in to a previous post I did. Of the two cards below, the one on the left has a blue Bicycle Nautic back, and the one on the right has a blue cross-hatch pattern of unknown origin.
I have a pretty good idea as to when these cards were produced. I found a couple of newspaper references that used the same image as on the cards. They are both from The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana. The one on the left is from 1932 and on the right from 1934.
Mysterious Brown was born Dota Claudius Brown on March 3, 1913. In his early years he lived in the state of Indiana. He would have been about 19 when that photo on the throw-out cards was taken, so he, like so many others, got interested in magic at an early age. According to all the newspaper articles I found on him, he performed magic on a steady basis.
Image by Heritage Auctions.
During World War II, he was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. During his time of service, Lieutenant Brown was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star Medal for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action” against the enemy. I found his Silver Star Citation on the internet, and also newspaper accounts.
From the Angola Herald for August 8, 1947 and the Steuben Republican for September 26, 1945.
Brown met his first wife Lillian when both were in the service, she being enlisted in the Marines. When the war was over, Dota and Lillian were students and graduates of the Chavez School of Magic.
They settled in California, and were very active on the magic scene. Besides magic, Brown was an art teacher and an accomplished artist in his own right. I even found some of his paintings for sale online. Here is one of them.
In exchange for teaching old time movie actor Max Terhune magic, Terhune taught Brown ventriloquism. Here is where the link comes in on an earlier post I did on this site. Brown’s ventriloquist figure was named Harley, and Harley was the first figure ever made by George “Mandroop” McAthy, whom you can read about here. There is even a group photo on McAthy’s post showing the Browns along with George McAthy and his son Gary.
From The Linking Ring for October 1954.
Dota C. “Mysterious” Brown had a long, varied, and interesting life. Unfortunately, he outlived his wife Lillian, and his second wife Erika. When he passed away on October 10, 1996 at the age of 83, he was survived by his wife Aini. Mysterious Brown was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Photo by Anne Cady.

Friday, March 22, 2019

J. F. Krayak – “Eminent Illusionist” and “European Mystitics”

This is another one of those posts about a magician who left behind barely a trace of his magical career. There is enough about him however, so that he is not completely forgotten. He had some pretty nice throw-out cards too.
The life of Joseph Frank Krayak will have to remain for the most part a mystery. As can be seen on one of the above cards, he lists his address as Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. He proclaimed himself the “Eminent Illusionist”. On another card is the phrase “European Mystitics”. It is the reader’s guess as well as mine, as to what Mystitics means. It sounds magical though, and I am sure it kept a potential audience guessing. The Billboard for January 8, 1921 tells us that he was performing in his home area.
There is very little mention of Krayak in the magic magazines of the past. His greatest moment occurred when he appeared on the cover of The Magic World for November of 1919.  The short bio written inside by C. J. Hagen is very brief and does not tell us much, and Hagen explains why.
Besides performing magic, Krayak was also an escape artist. Like Houdini, he was known for his straitjacket escape while suspended upside down. From what I have discovered, Krayak was one of the few magicians that did the stunt while Houdini was still alive. I guess most others waited until after his death, probably so as not to incur Houdini’s wrath. Below is an article in The Billboard for September 3, 1921 talking about his “strait jacket” stunt.
While he may have billed himself as “Krayak, European Wonder Worker” it would appear that most of his performing career was spent as a magician in various carnival sideshows, mainly on the east coast. The Billboard on November 5, 1927 wrote in its column “Midway Confab”, “Joseph Krayak, magician with some carnival, is requested to write home.”
One of the last references to Krayak that I could find appeared in Hugard’s Magic Monthly for August of 1957. It sort of sums up Krayak’s years as a performing magician.
Well, this trick sure sounds like a beauty. But then, beauty is in the “eye” of the beholder. Maybe this story about Krayak is just a load of “beans”! 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Jack Burch – A Bicycle Mystery

I really enjoy finding new throw-out cards that utilized the free promotion that was offered to magicians from Bicycle Playing Cards. In exchange for the ad on the front of the card that proclaimed how good Bicycle Cards were, the magicians could get the cards made up for free. This card for Jack Burch caught my eye as the wording was a little different than what I was used to seeing.
In place of the phrase “When you play with BICYCLE you hold GOOD PLAYING CARDS”, this card states, “Bicycle” “Playing cards possess peculiar points of merit not found in other makes at the same price. Their playing and wearing qualities are unequaled. Insist on having “Bicycles”. “They are the best”.
The back of this card remains a mystery however. It is gone. It is not that there is scrapbook residue covering the back. The back is just not there. Evidently this card was glued in a scrapbook, and when it was removed, the Bicycle back was left behind. It is a shame too, as I feel this card is a very early example from the Bicycle promotion. The era in which Jack Burch performed leads me to believe this.
From The Sphinx for July of 1902.
Below is a short bio on Burch which appeared in The Sphinx for November of 1902. His name was John G. Burch, but in reality his last name was Burcy. He went by “Jack”. Besides the bio, he was also featured on the cover of the magazine.
In the first ten years of the Twentieth Century, I found several references to Burch, and good reviews, in the magic magazines and newspapers of that era. An odd item I found in The Sphinx for June of 1904 was a notice that Burch had declared bankruptcy. I thought that this was an unusual thing to print in a magic magazine. This is where I found his real last name.
Occasionally Burch ran ads in The Sphinx for items that he had for sale. In September of 1906, he was offering Harry Kellar’s “Blue Room” Illusion for sale. If he really did have Kellar’s original apparatus as he said he did, you would think he would have avoided misspelling his name as Keller. Twice!
Kellar ad from the Boston Globe for May 18, 1897 and The Sphinx for September, 1906.
After 1910, references to Jack Burch seemed to stop. The only thing I did find was an item from The Sphinx in February of 1917, in which W. J. Hilliar was quoted as saying, “Do you remember – When Jack Burch was a magician?” Like the backside of his throw-out card, Jack Burch just vanished…
From the Louisville Courier-Journal for January 6, 1901.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Billy Russell, Magical Inventor and his Vanishing Manuscript

Elsewhere, I mentioned that many of my most prized pieces came from the collection of George Hawley, a long time resident of Batavia, New York.  It is unsurprising, then, that one of those pieces was this fine card promoting Billy Russell, perhaps the most famous magical figure to hail from Batavia.  During the time I operated (meaning, before the advent of AskAlexander), information about Mr. Russell was quite hard to come by. Indeed, the sum total of the information uncovered at that time consisted of the following from George Hawley:

"William 'Billy' Russell, based in Batavia, New York, was a popular society magician at the turn of the century. The Thurston-Dante letter set reproduced by Phil Temple contains an interesting letter from Russell in which he protests what he perceived to be an exposure of magic secrets by Thurston in a mass market book."

But now we have access to so much more.   As it turns out, Mr. Russell was a formidable figure in the world of magic according to many sources, including a fine piece authored by Gene Gordon for the Linking Ring in May 1947.  Gordon credits Russell with construction of several iconic magic effects, including Houdini's Milk Can Escape and his Paper Bag Escape.  Apparently, Howard Thurston challenged Russell to design and build a table for production of a fish bowl, with a caveat (which Thurston believed rendered the challenge impossible) that the bowl had to be larger than the table top.  Not only did Russell succeed, but the resulting prop became a standard in the field.

Russell launched his own road show, which later became a vaudeville act and school show, and featured several signature effects, including a floating ball, spirit slates and a crystal clock.  One of his ongoing challenges by the diminutive Russell was an offer to pay $125 (one dollar per pound of his weight) to anyone who could lift him off the ground; he never had to pay the sum to anyone.   As reflected on his card, he became a member of the IBM and helped found the Western New York Association of Magicians (MAWNY).   George Hawley served as an apprentice for Russell, which further explains his possession of this wonderful card.

Tantalizingly, in his 1947 profile, Gordon noted that  a book that Russell had authored, “Tricks of the Magic Trade, on which he has been working for years, will be published soon, and all professionals who have looked over the manuscript pronounce it the 20th century bible of stage magic.”  But no such book followed.  In 1964, Dr. Grossman, writing for M*U*M , conducted an extensive search for Tricks of the Magic Trade and proclaimed that the book never saw print.  What could have happened to this fine work described by Gordon?

Well, here's the good news:  As part of my research, I learned that all of the material described by Gordon saw publication, just not as a book.  In two issues of The Linking Ring -- April and October 1958 -- the magazine offered readers a "Parade" of magic by Mr. Russell.  As the editor properly crowed, taken together, the two issues  "will give you a whole book of the best you will find in the whole realm of magic!"  Even a quick perusal reveals this to be the case -- the material, clearly the same magic described by Gordon in his profile of the planned book -- is excellent.   Any stage performer interested in developing something so old that it would be new again would be well served to get access to these issues.

Russell continued as an active magician and inventor until his death in 1967 at age 86.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

David Kwong - The Enigmatist at the High Line Hotel

 Sometimes you come across a magic performance that is so very unusual that it reminds you of the vitality and variety of the art.  After all, under the heading of "magician," one can see illusionists, close-up performers, mentalists, escape artists, buskers, street magicians, pickpockets and parlor prestidigitators. But David Kwong, now performing as The Enigmatist at New York's High Line Hotel, defies all categorization.  He has crafted a performance unlike any I've encountered: Kwong combines magic with his affinity for puzzles, ciphers, games, history and wordplay.  The result is a positively enchanting narrative.  Make no mistake: those familiar with our craft will recognize certain magic and mentalism techniques that underlie some of the things that Kwong offers.  But these techniques are buried deep, and Kwong is such an eminently likable, engaging and talented artist that, well, you simply won't care.  As for non-magic folk, they are unlikely to discern the line between magic and other skills, a line which Kwong so deftly crosses and ultimately blurs.

David Kwong is uniquely qualified to bring this particular performance to the stage.   As noted on his website:

With his expertise in enigmas and magic, David Kwong delights and challenges audiences around the world with his intellectual brand of “puzzles and prestidigitation.”

A veteran “cruciverbalist” (crossword puzzle constructor), Kwong routinely creates puzzles for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal. He concludes his one-man show with his original crossword puzzle magic trick. 
Kwong recently produced Deception, ABC's show about a magician who joins the FBI. He's also the puzzle and secret code consultant for the hit NBC show Blindspot. He was the head magic consultant on the 2013 worldwide hit film Now You See Me. Other films Kwong and his Misdirectors Guild have worked on include The Imitation Game, Ant-Man, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and The Magnificent 7.
Kwong was a featured speaker at TED 2014. His talk on how human beings are “wired to solve” involved hiding secret messages in the New York Times crossword puzzle. Kwong’s book Spellbound: Seven Principles of Illusion to Captivate Audiences and Unlock the Secrets of Success was published by Harper Business in May 2017.

Kwong is a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied the history of magic.

Interestingly, he's also a member of the Misdirector's Guild, together with Dan White, whose captivating show I've discussed elsewhere on the blog.

David Kwong opens the show with a
unique twist on spoon bending
It's also worth mentioning that Kwong could not have found a better venue for his show.  Not only is it housed in the bedazzling, quirky High Line Hotel, but Kwong has managed to dedicate a remarkable portion of the building to recreate the Riverbank Estate, a location important to the history of cryptography that Kwong weaves into his performance.  The show has interactive elements that I will not elaborate upon here, simply so as not to spoil any portion of this wonderfully entertaining evening.

 And for ephemera collectors, note the following: the card at the very top of this post is a postcard-sized piece with a blank back.  Kwong's business card, above, bears the logo of the Misdirectors Guild.  And the signed answer sheet, left, is part of the fun of The Enigmatist, upon which I will not expound further....

For everyone else who is anywhere near New York City - go see The Enigmatist.  You will not regret it!

Kwong with your correspondent 2/23/19