Saturday, December 24, 2016

William Ellsworth Robinson a/k/a "Chung Ling Soo" and the Deadly Bullet Catch

William Ellsworth Robinson (1861-1918), will be remembered as not only a fine performer and inventor, but someone who kept his audiences and friends mystified. He worked for master magicians Alexander Herrmann and Harry Kellar. Under the guise of Chung Ling Soo, he performed in Europe and even ventured below the equator, receiving rave reviews. He cheated death during the first years he included his version of the bullet catching effect. During one of the first of numerous stage performances in England, he was set to “catch” the bullet, when he saw one of the assistant’s forgot to remove the ramrod after loading the power into the gun. He ran toward the assistant and pushed the musket so it would fire toward the ceiling of the theater. The startled assistant pulled the trigger and the ramrod left the barrel and was impaled in the ceiling.

On March 23, 1918, he wasn’t as fortunate. During the performance at the Wood Green Theatre, what was supposed to be the finale of the show, became the last time theater goers would see Chung Ling Soo perform his magical feats of illusion. When the muskets fired that evening, one of them discharged a live bullet and struck the performer. He collapsed onto the stage floor. He was rushed to the hospital, where he passed away the next day.

Here's a unique piece of Robinson's publicity as Chung Ling Soo:                                                                  


If you were lucky enough to be in the audience on a very special day, you might have fortunate enough to catch one of these 4 3/4" diameter (12.065 cm) cards. According to some accounts, Robinson would hurl these cards, modeled on the very china plate that Robinson would use to "catch" the bullet, into the audience like Frisbees.  

Robinson always had the perfect publicity.
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  1. Mr. Frank, thanks for that wonderful post, and terrific card. robinson's story is one of the most interesting in the annals of magic. And while modesty may prevent you from saying so, visitors should be advised that you have written a fine, beautifully produced and highly collectible book about Robinson/Chung Ling Soo. For more information, drop Gary Frank a note at

  2. I have just discovered this blog. My husband's mother's father was Chung Ling Soo's assistant, and when they came to Australia, he met a beautiful dancer and married her, staying in Australia for the rest of his life. I don't know what Chung Ling Soo did when he lost his assistant!