Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Clement the Lion of Magic

This post and accompanying scaling card relate to Clement de Lion, the most famous and innovative performer of the multiplying billiard balls in the early part of the last century. As I’ve discovered, he might also be called “The Father of the Sucker Die Box.”

Born Knud Valdemar Clement on Dec. 31, 1875, he had his magical debut in Copenhagen when only seventeen years old when he performed in local churches and private parties. His professional career began March 1, 1897, when he appeared at the Tivoli Theatre in Copenhagen.
Tivoli Theatre, Copenhagen

Magic magazines reported that he learned his first trick from his father, also a magician. He devoted his early learning and performing to cards and coins but by 1901, he had created his sensational act, “Two Hands, Twelve Billiard Balls — That’s All.” It is unique in that he arranged a synchronized musical accompaniment to his act and traveled around the world.

Apparently he never revealed the secrets of his routine, or if he did, it wasn’t in any English publication. Perhaps it was in one of the Danish magic publications. Regardless, it was unique. Rather than using the smaller balls favored by many magicians, de Lion used full-sized, two-inch white billiard balls. 

According to the April 1902 issue of Ellis Stanyon’s Magic, his bare hand production of twelve billiard balls was called, “The Twelve Phantom Billiard Balls.” de Lion could apparently palm three such balls in his hand and produce them much like coins in The Miser’s Dream.

At one time he ran a magic shop but quickly gave it up for the life of a professional magician. By 1902, he’d performed in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Italy, France, Spain and England. And he was planning on coming to America, which he did on a number of occasions.

Speaking of Spain, in an issue of The Linking Ring, de Lion recounted some of his experiences in Spain under an article titled, “Episodes From My Life’s Journeys.” While playing Spain in 1906, de Lion found much of his month-long theater engagement shortened and his salary cut by new management. He turned to a new nightclub that was being built as part of the approaching marriage of King Alfonso XIII. 
King Alfonso XIII of Spain 
It was while there that an agent (also a magic enthusiast) for the King  saw him and invited him to appear before the royal family. The agent picked de Lion up the next day and the conjuror thought he was just going to make arrangements for his performance when the man told him he was going to perform. De Lion didn’t have his billiard balls or his cards so he quickly returned to the hotel and retrieved them. The performance for the King and his family took place May 20, 1906, and it went so well that he was asked back to perform again that same week.

Plans were already underway for another performance after the wedding but “fate turned the page” as de Lion wrote. As the carriage with the King and Queen went through the streets of the city, an anarchist threw a bomb under the carriage. No one was injured but it cut off further wedding celebrations. That did not stop de Lion from capitalizing on his royal command performances as evidenced in the scaling card below.
The card features a very young de Lion as he appeared at the time of the performance with the following phrase below his photo in Spanish. “He had the honor of working twice in the Royal Palace in Madrid invited by S.M. The King.” The reverse is plain and while not featuring a playing card back, it was on thick card stock.

De Lion wrote two small pamphlets on magic, “Original Tricks of Clement de Lion,” published by Stanyon in 1902, and a beginner’s book titled, “Tryllebogen” (“The Magic Book”). He retired from the stage in 1922, and settled in Nice, France and lived there until the Second World War, when he returned to his country as a variety artist. He was able to save his money and invested in two apartment houses in Aalborg.

With regard to the Die Box, de Lion recalled that in 1909, he was planning to leave Europe for America and happened to visit Chevalier Ernest Thorn in his dressing room. 
Thorn showed him a four-door die box and explained its workings. The two-door had been known for many years but the four-door (two in front, two on top) was new. And, of course it had a sliding die carrier and accompanying noise maker.

Upon his arrival in America he went immediately to Martinka to order one but they had never heard of that model. De Lion had the apparatus custom built to his specifications. It brought hm great success and was a staple of his act for many years. It also popularized the effect for thousands of magicians and it’s still performed today.

Tragedy befell de Lion when his 28-year-old wife drowned while swimming in the Rodach River near Neuses, Bavaria where the couple were staying on summer vacation. Amy Clement de Lion, was an artist in her own right, performing ventriloquism under the stage name “Anonyma.” According to The Magic Wand, which reported the death, her career was “crowned with great success.” De Lion himself almost drowned trying to rescue her.

A great admirer of magic, de Lion called it, “The Queen of Arts” because, he said, “It is the only art whose inherent characteristic is evoking Wonder and the encouragement to use reason rather than to trust unreliable sense-perceptions. No other art leads to these things except by that way. So, we must not forget this, trying instead to amuse people with stunts that only make them laugh. Let us keep Conjureland a Wonderland.”
De Lion (left) two years before his death in 1965. 

De Lion was a member of the I.B.M. (#11012) as well as being the first Honorary Member of the Magiske Cirkel Oslo because of his contributions to the club magazine and the club itself. Active and interested in magic until the very end of his life, de Lion passed away Aug. 20, 1965, at the Community Hospital in Aalborg, Denmark, at the age of 89.


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