In response to the question “Why join?” there are many benefits and perks for becoming a member that can be found on the national website. And it is no small thing to become a part of the history or this organization as can be found in this excerpt:
“The Society of American Magicians, founded on May 10, 1902, in Martinka’s famous magic shop in New York City, New York, is the oldest and most prestigious magical society in the world. For over a century it has promoted the ideals shared by Kellar, Houdini, Thurston and more than 47,000 others world-wide who have held membership in the society. Those ideals include the elevation of the Art of Magic, the promotion of harmony among magicians, and the opposition of the unnecessary public exposure of magical effects.”
The First Step to Join the S.A.M.
Full discloser: I, the Manhattan Magician, have been accepted into S.A.M. National but am in a pending status for my local NYC assembly (chapter).
That said, joining the Society of American Magicians can itself be challenging. Thankfully I had the help of Sterling who does a terrific job for MagicSAMpa1 (Manhattan Assembly) as a webmaster and a kind of communications director updating MagicSAMpa1’s website and sending email subscribers information on the latest happenings in the magic world, especially in New York City.
Presenting Yourself as a Magician
As far as joining S.A.M. goes you need to present your magic bio to them and then get cleared by the secret panel. And submissions don’t always end with a positive result. Why? Because true magicians and magic bloggers (like myself) have a certain way that they communicate that can be recognized by other conjurers.
If you don’t pass this prestidigitator test you won’t be admitted into the national organization. But once you do make it through this phase you will be sent an official document as well as a tie clip and a membership card that has your ID number on it. Again, I thankfully had the help of Sterling to guide me through this process.
Once you have been admitted as a member of the national Society of American Magicians you then have to go through another procedure to actually gain admission to your local assembly. This can be even more difficult than getting into the national organization. Why? Because during this stage you have to actually prove your abilities as a sleight of hand artist live and in person.
On the Path
Again, true practitioners of the wizard trade will be able to tell if you’re not a genuine magician. They know the way your fingers should move and your body language should express, including the use of misdirection and more. I mention all this because I am at that very place on the path.
Manhattan Magician’s Experience of Becoming a Member of a Local Assembly
I’ve been admitted to the national organization but have yet to be accepted to my local assembly. And since I’m the Manhattan Magician, meaning I live and work in the city, the assembly I seek membership of is the very first chapter to exist, MagicSAMpa1. In fact, Harry Houdini himself was the president of this chapter from to June 1917 until his mysterious death on October 31, 1926.
Where is the Manhattan Magician Now in this Process?
I recently attended a meeting of MagicSAMpa1. It was a very positive experience which included interacting with magicians who were showing each other magic and sleight of hand as well as culminated with a performance by Bruce Kalver.
The Top Secret Part of the Meeting
While at the meeting I was recognized as an inductee so during the top secret part of the get together, I and another inductee, Zachary, were asked to go into a sound proofed adjacent room. Zachary and I talked extensively about magic, and about a half hour or so later were both readmitted to the meeting for Bruce Kalver’s performance.
Appointment for Proof of Being a Magician
Also while at the MagicSAM1 meeting I met a gentleman named Stephen with whom I need to contact soon to do my “Magician Proof” with him. So that is where I am now in the process. After I meet with Stephen I will then need to get four magicians’ signatures to finally be accepted to my local New York City assembly.
In closing I’d like to say that my experience with the national organization and local assembly of the Society of American Magician’s has been great. Stay tuned for the next phase in this adventure!
It’s probably a bit too ambitious on my part to attempt to put together a list of my top 10 favorite magicians of all time given lack of time due to other work. But the folks listed here really formed who I am today. Most of them lived in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. I read books upon books upon books about them. 793.8 (if you’re a magician you’ll recognize that Dewey Decimal number) and the biography section were my destination at libraries across the country for ten years.
10. David Devant
David Devant is my 10th favorite magician of all time. The reason he is my last pick is because he popped up in my book reading less than the others. Though, I was quite taken with his collaborations which resulted in new magic tricks and stage illusions (magicians call big apparatus items “illusions”).
The information that I got on David Devant most recently was from Wikipedia which described him as an English magician, shadowgraphist and film exhibitor. They talk about how he was born David Wighton in Holloway, London. He is regarded by magicians as a consummate exponent of suave and witty presentation of stage illusions. According to American designer of magical illusions and theatrical special effects, Jim Steinmeyer, Devant was “England’s greatest magician — arguably the greatest magician of the 20th Century”.
9. William Ellsworth
Now here’s a guy who has quite an interesting story. I actually read a book about him very recently. He presented himself as Chung Ling Soo, a Chinese conjurer. When reading the biography about him I was struck by his passion (maybe even obsession) that those in the illusion arts often share. In short, Mr. Ellsworth spoke almost exclusively about magic in his interactions with other people. And of course what makes him most memorable today is that he did the bullet catching in mouth trick. As Chung Ling Soo he never spoke on stage. But on one – and the final – occasion that he performed the bullet catch in teeth feat. The bullet killed him. He called out in his own voice: “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.” A the curtain was lowered, those were the last words of William Ellsworth.
Britannica.com had some information on Ellsworth which talks of him beginning his career as a performer in the United States using the stage name William E. (“Billy”) Robinson. While in England in 1900, he modeled himself after Ching Ling Foo, an authentic Chinese conjurer who had recently made a successful American tour. Accused by Ching in 1904 of being an imposter, Chung admitted to the masquerade, but his public admired him even more for his clever impersonation. Campbell was still playing Chung Ling Soo in 1918, when he was accidentally shot to death while doing a bullet-catching trick.
8. Alexander Herrmann
My interest in Alexander Herrmann had a lot to do with my intrigue regarding his wife, Adelaide Herrmann, who after Mr. Herrmann’s death went on to have her own successful career as a magician.
My research on Alexander Herrmann was mostly done at Wikipedia.org which spoke of his first setting eyes on Adelaide who of course became his wife. The scene was set in 1874 upon Alexander’s return to America by boat. On the boat, he saw the young dancer Mademoiselle Scarcez that he had met in London. The titian-haired, bilingual Adelaide had been planning to marry an American actor. Before the ship docked, she changed her mind.
“In Manhattan on March 27, 1875, the Mayor of New York performed the ceremony marrying Alexander and Adelaide. Herrmann was known to do spontaneous tricks. Even on his wedding day he could not resist; he produced a roll of bills from the mayor’s beard.”
7. Harry Blackstone Sr.
Those of us of a certain age remember Harry Blackstone Jr. the son of Harry Blackstone Sr. His son became known for doing commercials involving magic for Jiff Pop Popcorn. I tended to be partial to Senior over Junior because he popped up a lot more in my readings described as a compelling performer.
According to Wikipedia.org Blackstone was born Harry Bouton in Chicago, Illinois. He began his career as a magician in his teens and was popular through World War II as a USO entertainer. He was often billed as The Great Blackstone. As mentioned his son Harry Blackstone Jr. also became a famous magician. Blackstone Sr. was aided by his younger brother (2 years younger) Pete Bouton who was the stage manager in all his shows. Blackstone Sr. was married three times. Blackstone Jr. was his son by his second wife.
I like Talma so much that I used her image that was included as part of The Comedians de Mephisto Co. on one of my blogs. Talma worked closely with her husband when performing as a magician.
Wikipedia.org discusses that as a performer, Mary Ann Ford adopted the name Mercedes Talma but was generally known just as Talma. Talma was taught magic by Le Roy and although being an assistant she was known for her own coin tricks including the “Out of the ear” trick and “Talma’s travelling coin.” Eventually she was known as “The Queen Of Coins.” She formed a long-running stage partnership with her husband and their colleague Leon Bosco. They named their act “The Comedians de Mephisto Co” but they were much better known as Le Roy, Talma & Bosco.
5. Harry Kellar
Harry Keller was another of the magicians that would show up in biographies I was reading of other magicians. He had a great impact on legerdemain. An interesting fact about Keller is that his successor was Thurston, who will be highlighted coming up. Genii Magazine, which I used to read as a kid magician, describes the passing of the torch:
“The Mantle of Magic is an honor which started on May 16, 1908 when Harry Kellar bid farewell to the stage with Howard Thurston at his side. With his retirement, Kellar began the tradition of what has become to be known now as the “Royal Dynasty of Magic” This Royal Dynasty is often given as Kellar, Thurston, Dante, Lee Grabel and currently Lance Burton.”
There’s a mention of Lance Burton in the Genii quote. Lance is is great contemporary magician with whom I, several years ago, was fortunate enough to have a several hour conversation with while in Vegas. Lance and I spoke at great length on the art of magic as well as where magic was going in the future. If I was doing a modern day list I would definitely have picked him. Interesting that he is in a way connected to Kellar.
Magician.org talked about Harry Kellar, being known as the “Dean of American Magicians.” They went on further to note that Keller enjoyed both public recognition and financial success. His was the largest and most elaborate stage illusion show touring during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is best known for his spectacular version of the Levitation, in which a girl mysteriously rises up from a couch, floats across the stage to the audience, then disappears into thin air. Upon his retirement in 1908, Kellar chose to spend his remaining years in Los Angeles.
4. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin
My interest in Houdin had much to do with the fact that Houdini gave himself the name “Houdini” by taking the name “Houdin” and adding a letter “i” at the end. Hence the name went from “Houdin” to “Houdini.” And from what I recall, Houdini’s name, because of the “i” at the end, took on the meaning “Like Houdin.” Houdini idolized Houdin while growing up.
As long as we’re on the topic of Houdini, another Houdini story is that while in France he tried to visit Houdin’ widow but she rejected him. So as revenge Houdini wrote a negative account of Houdin entitled “The Unmasking of Robert Houdin.”
The thing that fascinated me about Houdin was that he was also a clock maker. So he was able to create magic using his knowledge as such.
Biography.com details the account that while living in Paris, Robert-Houdin began to fuse his interests. He sought the company of other magicians and visited magic shops to learn the latest tricks and gadgets, while also employing his mechanical expertise to build new inventions, some of which he would later incorporate in his performances. One of his creations was a writing automaton that was ultimately purchased by American showman P. T. Barnum.
3. Adelaide Herrmann
While Alexander Herrmann is my #8 pick, my #3 choice is his wife Adelaide Herrmann who was mentioned in Alexander Herrmann’s piece earlier. Adelaide worked for quite a while as an assistant to her husband and then after his death went on to do a traveling magic show of her own.
Geniimagazine.com describes the situation as being that during her marriage to Alexander she was the chief assistant for him. She continued his show after his death with his nephew Leon Herrmann. She later created and starred in her own act. Adelaide died in 1932 in the Community Hospital, 8 St. Nicholas PL, New York City, of pneumonia. She was a “Manhattan Magician” herself!
2. Howard Thurston
Thurston is another favorite of mine. A read a book about him recently and learned more about his life than I knew as a kid magician. Thurston was living on the edge for quite a while before his breakthrough as a conjurer.
Britannica.com describes Thurston as originally being a card manipulator who toured the world (1904–07) with a full-evening show. He returned to the United States to become successor to Harry Kellar, the leading American magician. For more than 20 years he toured with a three-hour show and became best-known for his large stage illusions, such as the “floating lady.” In 1931 he shortened his program to appear as the stage attraction at motion-picture theatres.
1. Harry Houdini
Okay, this is where you’re going to have to curb my enthusiasm. Houdini was my idol as a kid and teen magician and still is today. I think what I admired him most for – as well as what I learned from reading many-many biographies about him – was his amazing insight into marketing and publicity. I wrote an article about Houdini in May for this, the blog you are reading right now. I saw him as being the ultimate “ArtisticPreneur.” A side note is that one of the blogs we manage actually has as its domain name ArtisticPreneur.com.
Houdini’s career was remarkable and took him through many incarnations of himself. First he was a card manipulator then an escape artist followed by being a spiritual medium exposer and even a filmmaker. I made the transition from being a magician to a filmmaker (briefly) because I was inspired by Houdini.
TheGreatHarryHoudini.com describes that in Houdini’s later years he took his talent to the film arena, where he both acted and started his own film laboratory called The Film Development Corporation. Years later, Harry would receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
So those were “Manhattan Magician’s Top 10 Favorite Magicians of All Time.” There actually were several other magicians who I wanted to include, including magicians from today. But the magicians who have made the biggest impact on my life were the ones that I read about as a kid and teen magician from age 8 to 18. Thank you for reading. This is Manhattan Magician vanishing in a puff of smoke.
What do all 5 of this week’s magical entertainers have in common? They’re all Manhattan Magicians of course, who perform in Manhattan, NY, New York City, The Big Apple, NYC, also known as The City that Never Sleeps.
Our mission at the Manhattan Magician blog is to celebrate and ruminate about Manhattan Magicians, primarily those who live or perform in Manhattan, NY. But needless to say, magicians from all over the country and even the world are welcome as well. Are you a Manhattan Magician? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us via our mystical contact page found here.
In this post we feature magicians including Steve Cohen, Dan White, Madeleine The Magician, Brian McGovern and Gary Ferrar all of whom perform in New York City. So without further ado here they are, 5 performers who do legerdemain in The Big Apple, NYC:
1. Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen of “Magic Chamber” is a wonderful Manhattan Magician. He brings you miracles up close. On his website his unique performance approach is detailed as the following: “Chamber Magic®, Steve Cohen’s dazzling live show, performed weekly in an elegant salon in the Lotte New York Palace hotel, features conjuring, mind-reading, sleight of hand, and an astonishing trick called Think-A-Drink. A celebrity favorite, Cohen baffles his guests with magic up close as he recreates parlor entertainment that characterized Manhattan in the early 20th century.”
2. Dan White
Dan White is our second Manhattan Magician. Jimmy Fallon has called this conjurer’s act “Unforgettable.” The NoMad, in collaboration with theory11, presents THE MAGICIAN, an intimate evening of magic, mystery, and deception, starring Dan White. Every Weekend.Recommended for ages 18 and up. Dan is a creator, consultant, and performer. Over the past 20 years, he’s created magic on stage and screen around the world — with frequent collaborations with David Copperfield, Kanye West, and theory11.
3. Madeleine The Magician
Madeleine The Magician in her bio on her website talks about how ever since she can remember, she wanted to perform for anyone who would watch. Her Mom, who was her biggest fan and consummate supporter, subtly gave her the confidence she needed. So it would stand to reason that when she was on her own, she would give up the idea of becoming a doctor in order to become a starving actress. So there she was following her desire and performing here and there when her agent called and gave her the opportunity to work for 3 weeks as a dancer with some magicians. And then she fell in love…head over heels in love…but not with the magicians but with The Craft. She knew at that moment she I was hooked. She wanted to become a Magician!
4. Brian McGovern
Brian McGover is a magician who performs for both kids and grownups. He has been called “The Best New York City Magician” (according to his rabbit). As you may have guessed, Brian does comedy magic. His mission is to bring you the funniest magic show on earth to your next party in the New York area. Since David Copperfield’s fees to perform at your event will likely break the bank, McGovern offers himself up as the next best thing. He is also a father, so he has had to sit through many, many tedious kid shows at parties. So his goal is to not be that. And as an award winning prestidigitator, he can do world-class sleight of hand.
5. Gary Ferrar
Gary Ferrar is a magician who has performed for celebrities including Tom Brokaw, Ivanka Trump, Robert De Niro, and Michael Bloomberg. Ever since he can remember, he has loved performing. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that his grandfather was a lion tamer who appeared on Johnny Carson. And since performing is in his blood, magic for him isn’t a break from regular life – it is regular life. From national television appearances to private lessons for celebrities, he has traveled all over the country doing what he loves
Harry Houdini’s primary residency was in the Harlem neighborhood of the Big Apple, making him likely the most famous Manhattan Magician who ever lived. He was an artist and an entrepreneur or to put it another way, he was an ArtisticPreneur – the ultimate ArtisticPreneur. He not only paid close attention to his art of magic but he also realized that to be successful he needed to focus on the marketing aspects of his creative career as well.
One of the ways that Houdini would bolster his publicity would be to escape from a straight jacket while hanging upside down in the middle of the town square of whatever city he was currently performing in. These publicity stunts would draw a large crowd and newspaper coverage, providing an opportunity to let others know that they could come see the escape artist live and in person at a local theater.
Houdini also paid attention to what people wanted to see. For example, early in his career he billed himself as the “King of Cards” which was an act he was doing with lukewarm response. But then when he began to do escapes in his shows, the escapes resonated with his audience. And through the suggestion of a booking agent Houdini decided to focus on escapology. Hence he became known as an escape artist.
Some believe that the reason that Houdini’s escapes were popular was because vicariously and metaphorically his fans would see the escapes as an affirmation that a person could escape from any problems she or he might face. Whatever the reason, Houdini brought his escape work up front and center by freeing himself from chains, large milk cans and even jail cells.
Houdini’s ArtisticPreneur orientation was ever present. He was proactive when it came to his creative career and created opportunities for himself rather than waiting for or hoping that others would do it for him. He knew that the promotional aspects of his creative career were in his charge.
Later in life, around 10 years prior to his early death at age 52, Houdini recognized the importance of the then burgeoning art form known as cinema and anticipated the very strong impact it would have on audiences. Ever the master marketer, he produced, acted in and promoted several films. Unfortunately, his film career was not successful at the time. But now in the present day Houdini’s movies are one of the ways we are able to learn more about this incredible showman. Some believe that had he lived longer, Houdini may have ultimately triumphed with his film ventures.
Toward the end of his life one of the missions that Houdini had was to debunk phony mediums and mystics by matching any of the acts of spiritualism that they would do. Houdini’s aim was to show that using the art form of magic he could do the same feats that so-called psychics did such as manifesting spirits in a dark room.
Ironically, even though he was somewhat cynical regarding most spiritualists, Houdini at the same time secretly held on to the idealistic notion that there might be some way of getting in touch with his beloved mother once she had passed away.
As another attempt at finding out if people could communicate with the dead, Houdini made a pact with his wife Bessie Houdini. The arrangement was to remember a phrase that would be kept only between the two of them. And after Houdini’s death Bessie contacted psychics hoping to find one that could channel Houdini’s spirit and utter the secret words. As we’ve mentioned before in this website, Bessie Houdini spent the last days of her life in a home within blocks of where we the editors of Manhattan Magician work.
And the death of one of the greatest Manhattan Magicians of all time – Harry Houdini – couldn’t have happened on a more opportune day in terms of marketing. His demise was on Halloween, 1926, the holiday known for ghosts and goblins. Even now many years after the escape artist’s passing, magicians gather annually in congregations all over the world on All Hallow’s Eve, October 31st. They hold seances in an attempt to reach Houdini’s spirit and find out if he is able to escape death.
Although no one has been able yet to manifest Mr. Houdini’s spirit, he is still very much alive in terms of interest from a global audience. This is a testament to the wonderful marketing abilities and artistry of this Manhattan Magician and ultimate ArtisticPreneur.
A recent blog entry on the site of our friends at NYC Create dealt with the issue of how to make money as an artist. And if you’ve read our About page you probably got that we consider Magic to be an art form that is made up of several different art forms.
Therefore if you are a Manhattan Magician it is suggested that you check out this NYC Create article. At the bottom of the page of the link given is a bullet point list of different steps you can take to have a more profitable magic career. Enjoy!