Categories
Book Shelf Magic Performing Arts Photography Recommended Reading List

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini”.

Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.

Harry Houdini. Say his name and a number of things come to mind. Escapes. Illusions. Magic. Chains. Safes. Live burials. Close to a century after his death, nearly every person in America knows his name from a young age, capturing their imaginations with his death-defying stunts and daring acts. He inspired countless people, from all walks of life, to find something magical within themselves.

This is a book about a man and his extraordinary life, but it is also about the people who he has inspired in death. As Joe Posnanski delves into the deepest corners of Houdini-land, visiting museums (one owned by David Copperfield), attractions, and private archives, he encounters a cast of unforgettable and fascinating characters: a woman who runs away from home to chase her dream of becoming a magician; an Italian who revives Houdini’s most famous illusion every night; a performer at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles who calls himself Houdini’s Ghost; a young boy in Australia who, one day, sees an old poster and feels his life change; and a man in Los Angeles whose sole mission in life has been to keep the legend’s name alive.

Both a personal obsession and an odyssey of discovery, Posnanski draws inspiration from his lifelong passion for and obsession with magic, blending biography, memoir, and first-person reporting to examine Harry Houdini’s life and legacy. This is the ultimate journey to uncover why this magic man endures, and what he still has to teach the world about wonder.

“Enthralling . . . This is a first-class book, a subtle stretching of the biographical form that is also superbly readable.”

—The Times (London)

“Whatever mystical inspiration drew Joe Posnanski to the story of Harry Houdini, readers will be forever grateful. Joe’s writing about the mysterious and mythical magician is touched by its own stunning magic.”

—David Maraniss, author of A Good American Family

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Categories
Auction History Magic Magic Performing Arts Posters Potter & Potter Auction Sideshow

The Johnny Fox Collection – Freakatorium – Auction

Many wonderful items will be auctioned off from the Johnny Fox Collection FREAKATORIUM

Wyatt, Snap. King of Swords. Sideshow Banner. Tampa: Snap Wyatt Studios, ca. 1947. Attractive canvas sideshow banner bears a full-length portrait of a sword swallower in performance, with a handful of shiny blades in one outstretched hand. 103 x 119”. Soiled and worn from use.

Wyatt, Snap. Headless Girl. Sideshow Banner. Tampa: Snap Wyatt Studios, ca. 1965. Bright banner shows a comely lady’s body that lacks a head, yet remains “Alive” and is able to answer questions and communicate through hand gestures. 101 x 118 ½”. Minor wear and tears evident, but overall well preserved. See lot 646 for a sturdy and functional version of the apparatus used to create this classic sideshow attraction.

Wyatt, Snap. Frank Lentini. 3 Legged Man Sideshow Banner. Tampa: Snap Wyatt Studios, ca. 1950. Vibrant orange and red canvas banner advertises the man with “3 Legs, 4 Feet, 16 Toes.” 97 x 115”. Worn but very good condition. Wyatt (1905 – 1984) created many iconic banner designs. He worked quickly, claiming he could paint at least one banner per day at a retail cost of $85 each. In his heyday, he reportedly produced as many as 400 banners per year.

Johnson, Fred. Human Dynamo Sideshow Banner. Chicago: O’Henry Tent and Awning, ca. 1950. Vibrant painted canvas banner depicting the classic Electric Chair sideshow illusion. 91 x 111”. Scattered holes, wear, and soiling from use, primarily in borders.

Circassian Enchantress Magic Program. Gardiner: Fountain Printing, ca. 1842. Early American program advertising a lecture by Dr. Shattuck on the Mysteries in Nature, Miracles of Indian Bramins, Hindoo Jugglers and Chinese Magi, followed by the performance of Mrs. Shattuck, the Circassian Enchantress, The Original and Greatest Lady Magician in America. Light creases and stains consistent with age, else very good.

One of my favorite magicians of all time! Cardini. Here is an item of his.

Cardini Combination Watch/Finger Reel. New York: Richard Cardini, ca. 1965. Uncommon model of this thread reel with custom-made flexible watchband and metal housing. Lathe-turned device clips in to strap or is easily removed for use in either of two manners. Interior of case stamped “CARDINI.” An uncommon model. Cardini designed and built thread reels of many types – for the mouth, shoe, and hand. He also manufactured wristwatch reels of various styles. This is the first combination finger/wristwatch reel we have encountered. The device slips securely in to or out of the watch housing with a minimum of effort, for use in the hand, or strapped to the wrist.

Head on Sword Sideshow Illusion. A disembodied human head – alive, talking, and moving – sits on the blade of a sword resting across the arms of a large wooden throne-type chair. Black art. Breaks down for packing. 62” high. Used but good condition.

Houdini, Harry (Ehrich Weisz). Houdini Signed Letter, Houdini Key, and Houdini-Era Handcuffs. Framed presentation includes a TLS from Houdini to Remigius Weiss regarding books on alchemy, boldly signed “Houdini,” together with original mailing envelope bearing Houdini’s return address; flat metal Houdini-owned key, and a pair of Houdini-era Bean Cobb handcuffs. Handsomely framed with a later photo of Houdini in restraints and chains to 19 ¾ x 22 ½”.

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This auction takes place on Nov. 1st, 2018.

These are merely ‘scraping the surface’ of the collection. Go to the site to see all of the items up for auction.

For more information on this and other wonderful auctions click here!

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Categories
Coney Island History Magic Performing Arts

Al Flosso – An Antic Force in Magic!

By Montague Chadbourne

Al Flosso – (Oct. 10, 1895 – May 13, 1976)

AL FLOSSO’S NAME is known to readers of the two-volume graphic novel by Jason Lutes who created a character solely upon the basis of a photograph and this magician’s colorful name. Readers of an earlier era of fiction writing recognized aspects of Al Flosso’s true nature in the character, Professor Flotto in the pages of The Great Balsamo, the novel by show-biz author Maurice Zolotow. The true-life Al Flosso (1895- 1976) was as memorable a character as any created in fiction or prose.

A city native, he later spoke of crossing the Roeblings’ Bridge to get to downtown Manhattan and buy a ten cent pulp-paper booklet of magic to learn at home. Next, he ventured into New York City’s midtown tenderloin district where he purchased a ‘barber-pole’ production effect at Martinka’s Magic Emporium of which he would later – like Carter the Great and Harry Houdini before him become the proprietor.

In his early “kid” days he associated himself with the legendary Max Malini (1873 – 1942) who, like Flosso, was a diminutive man with a striking oversize stage persona and an inspired knack to captivate audiences through the sheer force of his personality.

Next came his yeoman stint at Coney Island where he performed his rendition of ‘The Miser’s Dream’ in an uncanny act of sideshow flare; this performance was an unforgettable admixture of high magic technique and sidesplitting comedic bravado.

Of this work on his part showbiz legend Milton Berle dubbed Flosso, “The Coney Island Fakir,” and this salutation became the sobriquet that stuck.

Professionally he also explored the worlds of traveling sideshow circuses and vaudeville circuits. including split weeks in New England towns. Back home in New York, he purchased and presided over Martinka’s Magic Emporium, welcoming visitors with his warm, self-effacing greeting, “So you’ve come to see the Little Man!”

Later on, he performed on television and Catskill resorts with cyclonic vigor. His friends in the worlds of theater and magic were legend, from Houdini to Dunninger to the youngest aspirants of his beloved art of magic. Like his father-in-law, Professor Louis Krieger, Flosso had busked for the sidewalk gamins of the Bowery and for the members of New York Society’s “Four Hundred”.

He was engaged to improve Ambassador Joseph Kennedy’s manual dexterity as part of physical rehabilitation when Mr. Kennedy was at the Rusk Institute in Manhattan.

Unlike the broken character in Mr. Luter’s fictional ‘Jar of Fools‘, the true Al Flosso was a sober, and ever-alert, participant in the human condition until his last days, captivating all comers with his signature styles of magic, mirth, and mystery. Until his death in 1976, Al Flosso regaled audiences with his antic force, a quality very akin to the ‘Rough Theater,” as described in Peter Brook in his seminal text, The Empty Space. This theatrical genre acts as a cultural antidote to those denatured commercial amusements flooding the mass society which Brook designated “The Deadly Theater.” Flosso, the antic force to behold, was, indeed, the quintessence of that liveliest authentic theater which is always integral to the lively arts.

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Categories
Auction Book Shelf History Magic Photography

Blackstone Magic Auction – Potter & Potter – Oct 28th, 2017

Harry Bouton Blackstone (born Henry Boughton; September 27, 1885 – November 16, 1965) was a famed stage magician and illusionist of the 20th century. Blackstone was born Harry Bouton[1] in Chicago, Illinois,[2] he began his career as a magician in his teens and was popular through World War II as a USO entertainer.[3] He was often billed as The Great Blackstone. 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.[4]Blackstone Sr. was married three times. Blackstone Jr. was his son by his second wife.

This auction presented by auction house Potter & Potter is enormous! I have posted quite a few unique items and a link to the auction catalog.

Harry Blackstone Sr.

11. Salla, Salvatore (American, born Persia [Iran], 1903— 1991). Portrait of Harry Blackstone. Oil on canvas, depicting Blackstone forming a shadowgraph of a rabbit. Original gilt wooden frame with lamp attachment. 30 x 23 ½”. Signed “Salla”. Collection of George Hippisley (List No. B1250). 3,000/5,000

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138. Blackstone, Harry (Henry Boughton). Eclipses the Sun. Blackstone. Greatest Magician The World Has Ever Known. Long Island City: National Printing & Engraving Co., ca. 1928. Billboard-size poster bearing a bust portrait of Blackstone against a bright yellow sun, the majority of the poster filled with bright, bold text. 108 ½ x 80”. Minor expert restoration at old folds and tiny losses; A-. Linen backed. One of three examples known. 4,000/6,000

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164. Blackstone, Harry (Henry Boughton). Blackstone’s Own Magic Trick Bubble Gum. Havertown, Penn.: Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp, 1962. Complete set in box (8 x 4 x 1 ½”) with five-cent gum packets in wax wrappers, instructions, apparatus, and folding advertising banner. Banner folded, some signs of use/handling, box creased; very good. 200/300

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213. Appearing Canary Cage. Circa 1900. Finely made antique cage. A canary appears inside, visibly, at the command of the performer. Based on a design of Okito. Lacquered in gold and red with brass bars and adornments. 13 ½ x 9 ¾ x 12”. Very good condition. 800/1,200

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There are hundreds of other items up for auction in this unique collection of magic ephemera. Here is the link to the catalog.

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Categories
Comedy Film Music Silent Film

“Slippery Jim” – A silent film from 1910 inspired by the escape acts of Harry Houdini

Ferdinand Zecca reportedly came up with the idea for Slippery Jim after reading about the escape acts of Harry Houdini.

Original score by Ben Model.

Categories
Magic Performing Arts Photography Quick Change Artists Variety Arts

Introducing “The Great Lafayette” – A Man of Mystery – Rags to Riches Story

One of the most colorful personalities in the early 1900’s Vaudeville circuit was Sigmund Neuberger. (aka The Great Lafayette)

Here are some interesting excerpts from other very informed web sources about his life and career…

(Excerpt from The Edinburgh City Library Blog)

It’s one hundred years since the tragic death of one of the world’s greatest entertainers here in Edinburgh, and we’re marking the centenary with a series of events in libraries.

On May 9, 1911 a devastating fire broke out at the Empire Palace Theatre. Sigmund Neuberger, better known as the Great Lafayette, the self-proclaimed ‘Man of Mystery’,  was performing to a sell-out crowd when fire erupted on stage. The fire safety curtain descended preventing the spread of the fire and allowing all 3000 members of the audience to escape unharmed. However, those on stage and behind the scenes were less fortunate. Lafayette perished along with members of his troupe, his horse and his lion.

In an ironic twist of fate, the corpse of Lafayette’s stunt body double was initially mistaken for the magician’s. The remains of the real Lafayette were found the next day under the stage of the wrecked theatre. Huge crowds gathered in Edinburgh to see his funeral procession as it travelled to his final resting place. Lafayette is buried beside his beloved dog, Beauty, in Piershill Cemetery.

The Great Lafayette’s death sent cascades of emotion around the world. But before he died his life was a true rags to riches story. From simple beginnings he rose to command the highest fees for any stage performer of his time – the equivalent of £15,000,000. He had one love in his life – his dog Beauty, a gift from the great escapologist Harry Houdini. The Great Lafayette was a magician, a stage illusionist and a guaranteed success in theatres.

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During my Research for my book on American Quick Change Artist (that never came to fruition), I discovered quite a few documents about Lafayette.

Here are scans of a few of them I think are important to his story.

The Great Lafayette dressed up in his satin wardrobe for publicity photo.

A very tattered promotional page for his booklet “The Great Lafayette”.

His dog ‘Beauty’ (a gift from his friend Harry Houdini) was his pride and joy and upon Beauty’s death he was was struck with remorse.

To get a really clear insight into his amazing life read the new book by Ian Robertson and Gordon Rutter titled:

The Death and Life of THE GREAT LAFAYETTE


Here is where to get this new book “The Death and Life of The Great Lafayette”

Enjoy!

Much more interesting than watching ‘reality shows’ on TV. The Great Lafayette was amazing!