Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction! The world of magic has its share of odd facts and quirky information.
The woman pictured in the Howard Thurston She Floats levitation poster was the mother of actress and comedienne Imogene Coca. Sadie Brady Coca was one of Thurston's main assistants.
A vaudeville magician, Jack Norworth, wrote the words to the famous tunes "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" and "Shine On Harvest Moon".
Okito (Theo Bamberg) developed his silent Oriental act to compensate for the fact that he was totally deaf.
Washington Irving Bishop (1856-1889) was a famous magician/mentalist who suffered from a condition that would spontaneously put him into a coma that could last for days. On May 12, 1889, while performing for members of New York's prestigious Lambs Club, he suddenly became faint and lapsed into a coma. Two doctors in the audience rushed to his side, and after careful examination, pronounced him dead. The doctors decided that an autopsy should be performed, and since the brain was believed to hold a clue to Mr. Bishop's sudden death, the doctors launched the procedure "before the brain cooled". While the body was still warm, the top of the head was sawed open, the brain removed and examined. Since no cause of death was apparent, the death certificate noted "Hysterocatalepsy" as the cause of death. Of course, it was the autopsy itself that killed him. When Mr. Bishop's mother was notified that her son had collapsed, and that an autopsy had been performed without her permission, she was enraged. She pointed out that a slip of paper was in her son's pocket at all times, detailing his tendency to slip into comas, and containing instructions to prevent "premature autopsies or treatment by ice or electricity while he is in a trance state". Mrs. Bishop's complaints caused the doctors to be brought to trial, where their high station in New York society helped acquit them. She spent the remaining twenty-nine years of her life, and all of her money, trying to bring her son's murderers to justice. In 1890 she wrote a book called A Mother's Life Dedicated and an Appeal for Justice to All Brother Masons and the General Public, A Synopsis of the Butchery of the Late Sir Washington Irving Bishop. As a frontispiece, the book contained the reprint of an actual photograph depicting Mrs. Bishop lovingly leaning over the open casket of her son, gazing at the line on his forehead where the top of his skull had been sawed off.
Eliaser Bamberg, Holland's court magician and great-great grandfather of Theo Bamberg, was considered to be a most incredible magician, performing seemingly impossible miracles. The truth was that he had lost a leg in a war, and had his artificial limb fitted with secret compartments, allowing him to perform amazing magic effects.
Today's "Masked Magician" was certainly not the first. A Peruvian-born illusionist had great success in France in the late 1800's performing as L'Homme Masque, or "The Masked Man". Jose Antenar de Gago not only wore his mask during his performances, but he always appeared disguised in public as well.
Long before he became one of America's greatest magicians, Howard Thurston began his career as a jockey at the tender age of nine. He earned a living as a bellboy, a potato peeler pitchman (apparently having invented this particular design of peeler) and even a professional pickpocket before setting his sights on magic.
Pulling a rabbit from a hat is a classic symbol of magic, yet in truth has rarely been a part of any magician's show. By some accounts, the idea of pulling a rabbit from a hat was part of a publicity stunt. Created by a British magician, the effect capitalized on the public's interest in a woman who claimed to have given birth to a litter of rabbits.
Nicola and Von Arx were brothers, as were Houdini and Hardeen, Howard Thurston and Harry Thurston, Ira Davenport and William Davenport.
Harry Houdini's brother, Hardeen, was a Leap Year Centennial baby- he was born on February 29, 1876. The year was the 100th year (centennial) of America's independence.
Kuda Bux, the mentalist most famous for his Blindfold Drive and other blindfolded feats, eventually lost his sight to glaucoma.
Some magicians have gained fame even while physically challenged. Eliaser Bamberg had only one leg (and he used his false leg to hide magic items). George Kirkland, blind since birth, entertained Britons in the late 1800's. Admiral Tom Thumb was a midget magician who worked for Ringling Brothers circus, and who sold his own magic sets, complete with tiny cards. Today, Argentina's Rene Levante is famous for his amazing card magic, even though he has only one arm.
The stage name "Alexander" has been used by no less than nine professional magicians, not counting the great Alexander Herrmann. The name has been used by Alexander Heimburger, Claude Conlin, Alexander Victor, Loring Campbell, Leon Mandrake, James Gordon Alexander, Carl Alexis Rhodin and Augusta Krocs.
Magicians also have their share of bad luck. John Calvert, Von Arx and Thurston all lost shows in shipwrecks.
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