Friday, April 3, 2020

T. Van Russell: Canadian Trixster by Way of England

When I came upon this striking card for T. Van Russell, I was intrigued both by the card itself and by the person's name which sounded very "high class."  Sort of like the author and poet T.S. Elliott. And so, when I began to dig into this Russell fellow I found, as if often the case, that this was his stage name. I also discovered that this talented performer was VERY well known in magic, and especially by readers of The Linking Ring, publication of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Tom Bowyer.

Bowyer was borh in Wolverhampton, England June 15, 1902. He died in Toronto, Canada November 25, 1949, and during his short 47 years on earth he accomplished a great deal. Perhaps his dearest friend was Sid Lorraine, Canadian magician and magic icon. For more than 26 years they carried on a constant relationship both in writing and in person discussing magic, designing magic, debating magic and arguing about it, but never with rancor but always with kind friendship. His scaling card features a coat of arms with top hat, wand, cane and a playing card with a ribbon beneath that reads, "Deceiver Deluxe." It also promotes Vogue playing cards and especially the 831 back design of a black scotty dog in plaid scarf and tam.

Tom Bowyer                                                  Sid Lorraine

Bowyer came to Canada at a very early age with his parents and his first job was as an office boy for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Vancouver. Lorraine didn't know when his friend first became interested in magic but speculated that Bowyer's friendship with Allan Lambie, another well known Canadian magician set the hook. A 1921 issue of The Sphinx noted that (let's call him Tom from now on) Tom was reported to be the secretary of Vancouver Society of Magicians. Sid and Tom first met in 1923 after Bowyer traveled east to Montreal and then on to Toronto.

The local Toronto magic club was called "The Order of the Genii" and when Tom turned up there he wowed club members with a polished 10-minute act featuring cigarette manipuilations followed by an hour of close up magic. While in Toronto Tom met a lovely young woman named Margurite Warren and when she moved to Winnepeg, Tom moved after her and they married March 29, 1924.

At that time the I.B.M. was in its infancy and the President, Len Vintus lived in Winnepeg. Tom started helping Vintus with the club newsletter by proofing, writing and setting type. At this time The Linking Ring was a mimeographed newsletter. Tom quickly joined the I.B.M. and became member number 11.

It was as a book reviewer for The Linking Ring that Bowyer was best known and for years he reviewed books with his monthly column titled, "Book Reviews by Number Eleven." According to Sid, Bowyer was particularly good at reviewing submissions because he actually read every word of every book and actually learned the material and tried it out on audiences and other magicians to determine if the effects played as well as the authors promised.

Tom published a number of great effects which ran in The Linking Ring and many of them were designed to be performed for children. He also contributed articles to The Jinx, Hugard's Magic Monthly, and others. His "Tom Bowyer Repeat Bill Trick" was carried by magic dealers everywhere. Perhaps his most famous creation was "The One Man Impossibility" a card/mental effect that was sold by Thayers and directly from Tom.

In this effect, any spectator is summoned on stage, placed in a chair and blindfolded. A large sheet is placed over them and spectators in the audience select ten different cards (free choice) from the deck. Tom would then ask the covered spectator to name the first, second, third cards and so on until he or she had "mentally" identified each card. The medium under the sheet was not a stooge and was always 100% correct.

Tom appeared on the cover of The Linking Ring in January 1933 and was featured in a nice write-up. In 1933, Billboard Magazine magic columnist Bill Hilliar noted that Tom had just concluded 41 weeks of 15-minute programs over radio station OKY in Winnepeg. During the show Tom taught simple magic tricks and offered puzzles. He challenged anyone concerned with exposures to prove the tricks and puzzles he offered rose to that level.

Eventually Tom drifted away from public appearances of magic toward more intimate settings. His job in the Investigation Department of the Canadian National Railways took most of his time. His editorship of the book review column came to an end over some editorial disputes over his comments during reviews.

Sometime in 1947 or 48 he sufferd a breathing attack that sent him to the hospital. Apparently he had Emphysema and needed lots of rest. Sid visited Tom in the hospital. Entering the room he found a steaming tea kettle beside his bed (to help with his condition) and always a joker and ever with the positive quip, Tom explained it was a new idea he had for reading sealed envelopes. Eventually his condition worsened and he breathed his last November 25th.

Writing his obituary in The Linking Ring, Sid Lorraine said, "Magic has lost one of her most loyal fans and I have lost the best friend I ever had."  A quote from Tennyson closed the obituary - "God's finger touched him and he slept."

Monday, March 30, 2020

Schrieber the Magician (No, not that one)

This post is devoted to an all-around magic fan, club joiner, collector, enthusiast and frequent performer from Minneapolis. His name was William Gustav Schreiber. As has been my practice in past posts, I am violating the true scaling card criteria to devote this post to our subject.

Schreiber was born in 1885 and there is no record of how he became interested in magic but the lively Minneapolis magic scene with its various magic shops and slew of local magicians must have swept him up. He was one of those magic enthustiasts who, when you search for him on Ask Alexander, comes up with pages and pages of "hits" for his appearances at local magic club meetings and shows. In "real life" he owned the Schreiber Company, a printing and loose leaf manufacuring firm.

I originally thought he had a scaling card but it turns out one was business card and the other a promotional giveaway. The business card shows Schriber doing a card trick in tuxedo and top hat and advertises his contact info and the informative note, "Alive in Minneapolis, Ask Any Policeman."

The revserve offers his services for all types of dates and asks, "Your Next Entertainment Why Not a Magician?

Of a bit more interest was his Diminishing Card Giveaway which appears as a large ace of hearts with his booking info on it and with the pass of a hand, turns into a much smaller version of the card. It came with instructions on the back for performing this miracle.

                                                                                 Instructions for the Diminishing Card.

For over 25 years he was a feature act with the Shrine Merrymakers as well as performing at local clubs and lodges. He was a member of various Masonic bodies, the Society of American Magicians, The Academy of Magical Arts and Sciences and the Houdini Club of Wisconsin. Although not a member of the I.B.M. he was a big supporter and frequent performer on the local club shows. He was also an early and avid attendee at Abbott's Magic Get-Togethers.

According to magazine reports, Schreiber had a very large collection of magic and theater in his home. During a June 1950 visit to Minneapolis by Jay and Francis Marshall, Francis wrote, "If there is anything in magic that Bill doesn't have in that basement theater of his, we couldn't name it." This included lovely bound volumes of magic magazines which he bound himself at his company.

According to one report, Schreiber must have levitated the famous actress and TV star Arlene Dahl, although it must have been when she was a youngster as her pay was only $5.00. The article noted she likely wouldn't admit to the levitation if asked at the time.

Throughout the early 1940s he appeared both as himself as as "Chin Low, Chinese Magician," a portrayal of Asian magicians that many consider inappropriate today, but which was in great fashion years ago. In February 1946 he sent a the TOPS Magazine, a photo of a 24-sheet billboard announcing his appearance in Winnepeg. It was likely a billboard for the Shrine show and not his personal billboard. In 1942 he registered for the draft as World War got underway. At the age of 57 it is unlikely he served.

Schreiber died January 22, 1957 at the age of 71. Obituaries appeared in The Linking Ring and TOPS Magazine and remarks about him were glowing. In TOPS they wrote, "Magicdom lost an enthusiastic devotee in the passing of William G. Schreiber. Known to many Magicians all over the country for his bubbling personality will be missed at the various magic conclaves he was wont to attend. Particularly will this be true of the Abbott Get-Togethers where he was one of the "regulars."

In The Linking Ring, a friend, noted, "many magicians will remember him for his shirt and cap made of playing cards and mouth organ, string of dollar bills with uncutting scizzors, three-foot long stocking pocketbook and his work at conventions when called upon." A one-column feature on his passing appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Survivors included his wife Selma, three daughters and four brothers. After his death, his entire magic collection was purchased and put up for sale by Bert Forsythe who operated The Magic Center magic shop at 1411 West Lake Street. He placed an ad to this effect in The Linking Ring.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Schulte: Penman of Performers Patter

The subject of this post is one George Frederick Schulte, a magician and author who created more humorous patter and one-liners than anyone of his time. This was long before Robert Orbin started turning out patter books. Schulte was born May 22, 1887 in Athens, Wisconsin. He lived there until 1899 when he moved to Chicago, which became his permanent home.

So popular a performer in the Windy City, Schulte was billed as, "Chicago's Most Popular Magician." His first appearance in the city came in 1900. Our subject had a very nice scaling card featuring his photo on the front, his name printed in red at an angle with "The Magician" printed beneath. It had the Deland back in blue.

In 1912, Schulte was presenting a Vaudeville magic act called "Magic As You Like It." I learned this when searching through my photo files and I came upon what I assumed was a postcard of the performer. Turning it over, however, I discovered it was actually part of an image from a larger photo that someone cut down. You can just see the edge of a table in the lower right and one must wonder what he was gesturing at. This was Schulte in his prime. 

He was best known for his series of soft cover booklets of humorous patter and one-liners. He published "Talks for Tricks" (1916); "Magical Monologues," (1919); "Patter Paragraphs," (1921); and "Words for Wizards," (1924). These booklets are prized by collectors. According to Magicpedia, his favorite trick was the Conradi Coffee and Milk effect which was published in Dorny's book Trix and Chatter.  

An auctioned "Words for Wizards" autographed by Schulte

Speaking of collecting, Schulte gathered an impressive amount of material including letters and scrapbooks and photos, many of which were stamped, "Schulte Collection." A number of these items went up for auction in recent years including on Haversat & Ewing Galleries, Potter & Potter, Swann Galleries, and the Christian Fechner auction. One auction included a letter from Houdini to Schulte thanking him for sending his most recent publication. 

Another letter came from Harlan Tarbell who provided Schulte with a complimentary copy of his Tarbell Course with the admonition not to let anyone know he'd done so or he would be overwhelmed with requests. 

Schulte also sold collectible magic at a time when magic collecting was barely in its infancy. He ran an ad in the May 1928 Linking Ring adverting "Old Programs" for sale. The dozen he offered included Thurston, Houdini, Blackstone, The Great Leon, Dunninger, Thorn and others. A buyer that month could have bought them all for $3.75. Sold today, these programs would be worth thousands of dollars. He even offered copies of old time magic dealer catalogs very cheaply. 

Sphinx ad from 1928. 
Noted historian Henry Ridgely Evans once wrote to Schulte complaining about the lack of interest in magic history. His letter noted that he (Evans) should probably just publish all of the articles that he contributed to The Sphinx in the form of a book, which he did some years later. 

He contributed funny lines and quirky patter to The Sphinx for decades, always under amusing titles like, "Funology ala Magic," "Patter from Merryland," "Magicalities," and many others. These short columns featured insightful philosphies on magic and theater as well as self-effacing comments on magic enthusiasts, many who billed themselves as "Great" but rarely were. 

In the fall of 1926, he was featured on the cover of The Linking Ring, and earlier in June 1917, on the cover of The Magic World, published in Philadelphia. He also appeared on the cover of The Osirian in June 1925. 

In 1910 in Chicago, The World's Master Magicians was formed and met in the showrooms of Halton, Janson & LeRoy. The club had about 25 members at best but most were very famous magicians. Members included: Laurant, Roterberg, Christianer, Ralph Read, Lockman, Gilbert, Tarbell and others. The onslaught of World War I caused the club to disband around 1915. It eventually became The Chicago Magician's Club. 

During World War I, Schulte performed with the famous touring entertainment troupe, the U.S. Navy "Jacks of All Trades." He also performed for troupes during World War II as well. Schulte died March 15, 1967, age 79 and was buried in Port Hudson Cemetery in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Re-"Stock"-ing The Matter

First, my apologies for my long absence from this site. Life has been interesting since my last post and I'll leave it at that. I'm updating my May 16, 2017 post on the Dean of Cincinnati magicians, George W. Stock. Hence, the cute title.

When I wrote of Stock and featured two of his wonderful scaling cards, one which showed him shaking hands with Thurston after entertaining the master magician by performing his full evening show at the Lyric Theater in the city, I should have mentioned that his father, John Stock, was also a touring magician.


The fronts of George Stock's two scaling cards

George W. Stock 

He didn't have a scaling card as they weren't popular or used during his lifetime, but here is some information on him. He was born in 1828 in Saxony, Germany. He toured Europe performing magic from 1840 to 1848, a relatively short career there. He emigrated to this country about that time and performed magic in local theaters and concert halls in the eastern U.S. and then moved to Cincinnati where he operated the Lafayette Hall on upper Race Street. His specialties were magic and vent.

On his 83rd birthday he entertained friends and by reports, was as competent and entertaining as he always had been. He passed away in 1911.  Interestingly, he was the first magician to extract a canary bird from an egg with a borrowed ring around its neck. I recall seeing a John Stock broadside in an old magic magazine on Ask Alexander, but couldn't locate it for this post. Perhaps some other reader or one of my Propelled Pasteboard authors can come up with it.

Finally, here is the footstone of George W. Stock who is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Cincinnati. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Traveling in Style with Cadillac Willie

When I first came across this card for Cadillac the Magician, it proved something of a mystery.  First, thorough searching of the Ask Alexander database revealed nothing about this performer, suggesting that, whomever he was, his career had eluded the near-encyclopedic coverage of magicians in the trade press.  
From the Coolopolis Blog
The Canadian gentleman who sold this card to me via eBay had met with "Cadillac Willie" and obtained a small supply of these cards which were used as a business card.  So the name "Cadillac Willie" rather than just "Cadillac the Magician" offered a clue.  And some web searching turned up a few sources, most particularly a blog with the fabulous moniker "Coolopolis."  According to that site, which had a nice obituary for this performer, Cadillac Willie Wilkerson got his name from the trademark Cadillacs that he regularly drove.  We learn that Willie hailed from Los Angeles, moved around a bit (spending some time in Detroit), and eventually settling in Westmount in Canada.  His son, a New York area fireman, was engaged to Aretha Franklin, allowing Willie, for a time, to hobnob with celebrities.  One commentator at Coolopolis describes seeing Willie perform at a festival in Montreal, attesting to his skills as a stage pickpocket working without stooges.  One newspaper report suggests that he previously had a career as a heavyweight boxer, but could dance gracefully and frequently worked as an emcee across the U.S.
From the Coolopolis Blog -Willie with his car

The Coolopolis blog also relates the following about a different card that Willie supposedly gave out:

One of his business cards had his image on one side and some sort of escort on the other. He explained that if a man's wife caught him with the woman's card, he could flip it over and say, "no honey that's just Cadillac Willie's card."

I don't know if that account is true, but that card would be quite the collectible.
I was able to turn up a closed listing on eBay in which a seller sold off Willie's magic equipment collection.  These well-used props seem somewhat typical for a magician who performed at a variety of nightclub-type venues, including liquor bottles, brightly colored tubes, and a mean-looking rubber snake.   (Among the effects pictured is a UF Grant effect called "Moxahalla" based on the rice bowls principles.)  The lot sold for less than $100.
The content of the postcard-sized keepsake seen above also captured my interest.  Having held an amateur radio operator's license many years ago, and recalling the CB radio craze of the 1970s, the card put me in mind of an item that ham radio operators call a QSL card.   QSL cards were used by radio operators to confirm by mail contacts made by radio -- ham radio operators treasured their collections of cards obtained from fellow radio enthusiasts from around the world.   And early mobile telephony tended to blend with radio operation, so that mobile phone owners would "monitor" certain channels.  So, it would seem that Cadillac Willie, given his fondness for car travel, also used some type of radio equipment to stay in touch when on the road.   And, in terms of combining the QSL card with a business card, a bit of searching on the web revealed that he would not have been the only magician to have done so.  Several examples follow.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Señor Maldo

Born on April 8, 1896 in El Paso, Texas, Abel Maldondo lived in the United States for eight years before moving to Mexico City in 1904 with his parents, Ignacio and Izabel. According to Maldo, his older brother, Benjamin taught him what he learned from magician Jesus Lopez. At that time, Lopez was performing under the name “El Brujo Monderno or The Modern Sorcerer (As an aside, Lopez changed his name later to Alonzo Martini and performed in the Los Angeles area creating a show that included mind reading, magic, and illusions). While in New Mexico, young Abel was instructed by Lopez and learned the finer parts of magic that he would use for the rest of his life.
With the knowledge he had learned from Lopez and with a handful of performances under his belt, Abel returned to the United States in 1911 and toured the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona using the name Abel McDonald. He presented a show with varied card tricks, Shadowgraphy, audience participation. His featured effect was “The Burial Alive”. There’s no telling when Abel met Floyd Thayer (1877-1959), but their friendship continued throughout their lives. Floyd included a few of Maldo’s ideas and effects in the Thayer catalog.
Maldo continued performing adding effects to his show besides working with coins, cards, cigarettes. In 1935, he put out a booklet titled, Get It? A Book of Tricks and he put other effects and tricks under the name “McDonald”. It was during that time Abel had stepped into the guise of “Señor Maldo” dressed like a Mariachi in full colorful wardrobe and a wide-brimmed hat from Mexico called a sombrero. His magic show was filled with assorted skilled manipulations, paper-cutting effects, and he would include a special feature. Maldo would present his version of the Substitution Trunk and the audience thoroughly enjoyed it for each performance. At the 1936 Pacific Coast Association of Magicians Convention in San Jose, California he received the Houdini Trophy, presented to him by Mrs. Beatrice Houdini for his performance of the substitution trunk trick.

This was one of Señor Maldo's first use of a playing card for advertising.

He continued to perform throughout California at magic conventions and personal appearances. Maldo’s Six Card Repeat was different enough that Harland Tarbell asked to have it included in his course of magic. It was said by a number of those who saw Maldo present the effect, he performed his “Six Card Repeat” effect in a way of counting the cards and merely throwing the cards from on hand to the other. His way of flourishing nonchalantly and then tossing the cards gave the audience even more reason to be astounded by his presentation. And the magicians were complete impressed in seeing a personal style added to the effect they had seen so many times before.

Señor Maldo used the bridge sized Aviator back as another form of advertising as well.

In the 1930’s, Maldo and his wife lived and worked locally in the Santa Barbara. During World War Two, in 1942 Maldo registered for the draft and then was one of the many magicians would volunteer their services on the USO tours. Whether Maldo had only time to show the troops a few card tricks or other magic effects, his audiences were enthralled having a time away from their duties. In a portion of an article written reviewing one of many of Maldo’s tours, the one that took him to the Mediterranean was one to be repeated. It said the following, “…Maldo, the Mexican Magician, relied on more than a deck of cards to beguile GI audiences during his ten months tour of the Mediterranean for USO-Camp Shows. His egg trick was a soldier favorite and a GI never failed to eat the all too rare egg after the stunt. ‘Eggs are just like nuggets of gold over there’, said Maldo. ‘I always managed, through very good fortune, to have three or four dozen with me, carrying them in a special container. I did the trick, which involves bouncing a piece of paper on a fan until it gradually expands to take the form of an egg. You should have heard the 'Ohs' and 'Ahs' when they saw a fresh egg! Invariably some soldier would eat the egg raw . . . that's how hungry they were for one.’ Maldo is a one of a kind…”.

Señor Maldo was one of the many magicians who entertained the troops during WWII.

In 1951, Maldo along with the clubs and organization performances, he was played fair shows and fiestas. Also in 1951, Abel and his wife could be found at their Mexican restaurant Maldo’s El Charro on Santa Barbara Street. In 1952, he was included in the list of performers at the Abbott's 17th Get Together in full colorful Mexican costume. Maldo was involved with the magic clubs in Santa Barbara. In 1952, he served as President for the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians. That particular year the P.C.A.M. and Society of American Magicians had their joint magic convention in Santa Barbara. Maldo would freely give his time to be ‘a man of many hats’ for that convention.

Señor Maldo always presented his show dressed in full Mexican attire.

        During the early 1950’s, Maldo accepted a particularly unique tour. He traveled with a seventeen-member troupe around the Midwest appearing at state fairs and small theaters with Miss Sally Rand famous fan dancer. Their tour schedule took them across Oklahoma, Texas, and then Washington. Maldo was one Milt Larsen’s choices to perform in his new production of “It’s Magic”. He was also one of the chosen magicians to appear on Art Baker’s “You Asked For It” television show. Señor Maldo presented his substitution Trunk.

Here is Señor Maldo entertaining both the audience as Geri Larsen in the 1950's.

             Maldo had made a good living with magic and his life in Santa Barbara among his friends and family; it was always satisfying. In the later part of 1959, he had found that after a doctor’s examination he needed an operation to remove a small lump on his neck. The operation went as planned, but the diagnoses wasn’t good. Even though all that he went through during that time, he continued to perform shows and never allowed what he knew was inevitable to slow him down. Three months after his operation, Abel Maldonado passed away on December 8, 1959.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ovette and the Art of Reinvention

Joseph Ovette (1885-1946), an Italian immigrant from Naples, was first inspired by seeing a performance by Alexander Hermann, and purchased his first trick from Otto Maurer.  He began his career as a medicine show performer with the famed Kickapoo Medicine Show, eventually becoming a fixture of vaudeville.  Billed as "The Great Ovette" in his stage show, he also offered Asian-themed show under the name Lung Chang Yuen and performed mentalism as Mar-Jah.  Ovette wrote approximately 16 books on magic, several of which are seen below.

First showcased on our scrapbook damage page, Ovette's "Magic Wand" card remains one of the most inappropriate I've encountered. The cover of his book, Advanced Magic, seen below, demonstrates a similar sensibility. In 1927, Ovette was credited as the originator of the "Ovette Master Move," also known as the "Kelly Bottom Placement,"  a card sleight used to secretly place a chosen card on the bottom of the deck.

Some of Ovette's books were poorly-produced typescript jobs with awful diagrams.  And, at times, he was accused of failing to adequately credit original inventors.  But these issues should not necessarily dissuade practitioners from the contents.  After his death, the Conjurer's Magazine observed:

Joe Ovette not only invented hundreds of tricks and illusions but he performed his inventions as well, and successfully. Not all of Ovette's effects were original in their entirety. But he did have a keen sense for doping out new angles for old tricks and his imagination was limitless. Many of his best effects were "rebuilt" tricks which, because of the expert Ovette touch, turned out to be more effective and entertaining than the originals.

That was written by an author identifying himself as "Hokus Pokus Jr.," whose actually identity is a mystery to this writer, but who reported being a good friend of Ovette's.

A 1948 ad in Billboard shows the sad demise of his magic repertoire:

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

J.W. Wilson

I've long had a particular fondness for this card featuring J.W. Wilson, perhaps drawn by the incredibly cheesy devil-costume clad assistant whispering in this performer's ear.  This particular piece of ephemera dates to an era when artists like Thurston and Kellar distributed promotional pieces adorned with gorgeous lithography sporting imps, devils, owls and other familiars imparting secrets to the performer. Wilson went decidedly low-tech and low-rent on this piece, offering a friend in a devil get-up in this black-and-white photo. The Deland back suggests that Wilson may have hand-printed these himself.  

A group of Deland backs.  Wilson's is on the left.

So who was J.W. Wilson?   That Wilson is a common surname, and he insisted (generally) on only using the initials J.W.. made him somewhat difficult to track down.   (Consider the fact that these pages also feature a contemporary named John Darrell Wilson).  Scattered references reveal that together with the famed A.M. Wilson (ed. of the Sphinx), he was admitted to the Society of Buffalo (New York) Magicians in 1921. Later that year, the Sphinx reported that J.W. performed something intriguingly entitled his "Black Box Mystery" but left tantalizingly undescribed. (Additional research suggests it was a put-together production box).    In 1922, the Sphinx reported that Wilson was performing magic and Punch and Judy shows for American Legion halls.  By 1928, he hosted a group of Buffalo magicians, now using the name "John W. Wilson" and performed a spirit seance, and by 1933, this group elected him "stage manager."

The other textual clue on the card was the reference to The New York Clipper.  This periodical, it turns out, was a theater newspaper published in New York City through 1924, when its coverage was assumed by Billboard.  This helps date the card, and suggests that Wilson was playing the theater circuit.

Fortuitously, I came across this image of a 1918 issue of The Magic World on an Internet antique dealer's site, and Tom Ewing was able to secure a copy of the article for me.   It adds a few details: Wilson was born September 29, 1876 in Buffalo.  He developed a magic program and eventually added some large stage illusions, leading to a contract with United Booking Offices.  The illusions included Black Art and The Haunted House.  The Magic World found him working in Delaware and developing a new, Asian-themed act.  

 Despite my derisive comments about the production values of Wilson's throwing card, it turns out the image he used was a magazine cover portrait, which makes it a pretty cool collectible.

Finally, there is a coin move called the "JW Wilson Grip."  For a time, I assumed it was attributable to this performer.   However, continued searching led me to a September 2010 article in M-U-M by inventive magician Nathan Kranzo.  Fascinated by the JW Wilson move, he dug into the question, and came to believe that it had been developed by a Jimmy (sometimes spelled "Jimmie") Wilson, Jr. whose father, J.W. Wilson Sr. was also an accomplished magician.  Yet Richard Kaufman credits "Jimmy Wilson, Sr." for developing a coin grip in 1946 (see Genii, June 2003).  And the Conjurer's Magazine for May 1946 does contain  an effect called the "Five Coin Vanish" by one Jimmy Wilson.

The J.W.'s -  father and son - have left us with a few mysteries.

Friday, November 29, 2019



One of the things I enjoy about the study of magicians' playing cards is learning about obscure, even unknown, performers, whose career may be memorialized only by the existence of a card or perhaps a program or handbill.  Then, occasionally, I come across a piece like this one, which bears the image of a performer entirely unknown to me, but who was famous in his or her time. Such was the case for these odd pieces, which, I came to learn, were promotional cards for a performer named Rodolfo.  The cards come from full 52 card decks, available in both black and red, with a special joker featuring an image of Rodolfo.   While I own only a single card from one of these decks, I suspect that the backs are marked based on the elaborate back design.  Two other card designs, shown below, were shared with me by Magic Christian.

A Rudolfo Packet Trick

As I have noted elsewhere on this site, it is often the case that the amount of information on a magician's advertising piece is inversely related to the fame of the performer. Well, these card backs bears no information -- not even the performer's name. As I started to research Rodolfo, I came across a vast amount of information, both in magic periodicals and more general sources. And before I invested too much effort in distilling a post from these various sources, I found a most excellent summary of his life and career, written by none other than fellow co-contributor, Tom Ewing.
So, reprinted below is an article about Rodolfo written by Tom in a feature called "The Nielsen Gallery," written by Tom Ewing for M*U*M in April 2014:

Magicians everywhere have at some time faced uncertainty and fear when stepping through the curtain to perform magic. How much harder must it have been for Rodolfo, the subject of this month’s column? His was the Iron Curtain.
Rodolfo was the stage name taken by Rezso Gacs, who was born in Budapest, Hungary (home of Houdini), on May 16, 1911. According to brief biographies of him, he was born the son of a typesetter. There is no account of which magic trick lit the spark that ignited a lifetime career in magic, but it happened when he was thirteen and was reportedly performed by a Chinese bead vendor.

Rodolfo mastered that elementary trick and while performing it for his boyhood friends, he was observed by the Hungarian actor Arpad Odry, who also happened to be the president of the Hungarian Magicians Association. He took the young boy on as a pupil and trained him in the art of magic. His magic career began in 1930 when he appeared at the Municipal Grand Circus in Budapest; reports of his talent spread. His performing proceeded without interruption until he was drafted for military service in 1940. Soviet Union forces drove the Nazis out of Hungary at the end of the war and occupied Eastern Europe. In 1956, a spontaneous, month-long nationwide revolt against the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet- imposed policies broke out. After many clashes and deaths and the promised withdrawal of Soviet troops, the Politburo changed its mind and crushed the revolution. Hundreds were killed and many fled the country, but not Rodolfo, who continued to perform both within his country and across Europe. During World War II he performed for injured soldiers in army hospitals. After the war he worked as a teacher and professor in a school for the performing arts.

Behind the so-called “Iron Curtain,” performers were not allowed to individually book themselves. They had to do so through a government representative, who also gave them their dates and pay. Thus any act, whether in a circus or theater, was booked through, and payment made to, a communist government agency. The agency then parceled out to the acts an amount of money they felt was necessary for the performer’s needs. Such was the world in which Rodolfo operated.

Rodolfo never appeared in the United States, but if he had, the Hungarian government would have taxed him ten percent of his earnings. He did entertain audiences in
London, Lausanne, Paris, and Berlin. In 1957 he appeared in the Boxing Day Party on England’s BBC. Assisting him backstage was his most famous pupil and fellow Hungarian, George Kovari, who trained under Rodolfo. His opening effect was the Ribbon Fountain, in which hundreds of feet of colored ribbon cascade down on to the stage from a previously empty container.

According to Kovari, Rodolfo was a hard taskmaster when it came to learning magic. He insisted that Kovari copy his moves exactly saying, “If there was a better way of doing it, he, Rodolfo, would have found it himself!”

Dr. John Henry Grossman, magic historian and long-time columnist for M-U-M, visited with Rodolfo in Hungary during a trip through Europe. He and his wife were feted at the Budapest Association of Hungary Magicians at the Actors Club. Later Rodolfo took the Grossmans to the Jewish Hall of Records, where one of the crumbling books contained the handwritten record of the birth of Erich Weiss in 1874. This was at a time when historians were still trying to disprove Houdini’s claim of being born in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Rodolfo performed mentalism, stage magic, and pickpocketing; he would go through the audience shaking hands and greeting people and then proceed back on stage with the watches, wallets, and jewelry of audience members.

Due to his extensive language abilities he was able to present his program in eight different languages, and so was very popular with audiences throughout Europe. He wrote several books on magic, produced and sold several magic sets for children, including ones featuring trick cards bearing his photo, appeared on various television programs, and in 1962 was elected president of the Hungarian union for performers/artistes. His obituary noted that in a country where magic is considered a second grade art, he achieved every award ever given to any entertainer.

Even at the age of seventy Rodolfo still practiced four hours each day in front of a six-foot mirror, making sure his moves were flawless and invisible. He simply never stopped practicing. His creed was, “The artist who is satisfied with himself is not an artist anymore. He is dead.” Rodolfo died January 26, 1987, at seventy-five years of age. 


How famous could he really be?  Well, it was not as though they put his image on a postage stamp . . .  oh, wait, there is this: