Robert-Houdin was born Jean Eugène Robert in Blois, France, on 7 December 1805—a day after his autobiography said he was. He did not know it, but he later inspired Harry Houdini to become a magican. His father Prosper Robert was one of the best watchmakers in Blois. A skillful artisan and hard worker, Prosper Robert’s main ambition was to provide for his family, but he also wanted his children to climb the social ladder. Jean Eugene’s mother, the former Marie-Catherine Guillon, died when Jean was just a young child. At the age of eleven, Prosper sent his son Jean to school thirty-five miles up the Loire to the University of Orléans. (The college was equivalent to American secondary school. At 18, Jean graduated and returned to Blois. His father wanted him to be a lawyer, but Jean wanted to follow into his father’s footsteps as a watchmaker.
Erich Weiss (Harry Houdini)
Harry Houdini was born as Erik Weisz (he would later spell his birth name as Ehrich Weiss) to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874. From 1907 on, however, Houdini would claim in interviews to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on April 6, 1874. Weisz came to the United States on July 3, 1878, sailing on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers.The family changed the spelling of their Hungarian surname into Weiss and the spelling of their son’s name into Ehrich. Friends called him “Ehrie” or “Harry”. They first lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as Rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. According to the 1880 census, the family lived on Appleton Street. On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen. Losing his tenure at Zion in 1887, Rabbi Weiss moved with Ehrich to New York City. They lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. They were joined by the rest of the family once Rabbi Weiss found permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich Weiss took several jobs, next becoming a champion cross country runner. He made his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself “Ehrich, the prince of the air”. Weiss became a professional magician and began calling himself “Harry Houdini” because he was heavily influenced by the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, and his friend Jack Hayman told him, erroneously, that in French, adding an “i” to Houdin would mean “like Houdin” the great magician. In later life, Houdini would claim that the first part of his new name, Harry, was a homage to Harry Kellar, whom Houdini admired.
Howard Thurston “The Great”
He is still famous for his work with playing cards. According to legend, a Mexican magician appeared at a magic shop in New York city owned by Otto Maurer. The enigmatic magician demonstrated how he could make cards disappear, one by one, at his fingertips. Maurer showed Thurston the move, which he would later feature in his act. He added the “Rising Cards” trick from Professor Hoffman’s Modern Magic, the book from which Thurston had learned the rudiments of magic. For this trick, he would walk into the audience and ask several people to choose cards from a deck of cards. The deck was shuffled and placed into a clear glass. Thurston would then call for the chosen cards. One by one the cards would rise up to the top of the deck. When audiences wanted the cards to rise higher, he developed a way of causing the cards to rise directly out of the pack. Thurston arranged an impromptu audition with Leon Herrmann, nephew of Alexander Herrmann. His performance fooled Leon. From that point on he called himself “The man that fooled Herrmann” and used the publicity to get booked into top vaudeville houses in the U.S. and Europe, billing himself as the King of Cards.
Harry Blackstone Sr.
Blackstone was in the mode of courtly elegant predecessor magicians like Howard Thurston and Harry Kellar. He often wore white tie and tails when performing, and he traveled with large illusions and a sizable cast of uniformed male and female assistants. For a number of years he toured in the Midwest, often performing throughout the day between film showings. Blackstone remained silent during much of his big stage show, which was presented to the accompaniment of a pit orchestra and such lively tunes of the time as “Who,” “I Know That You Know,” and “Chinatown.” Among his especially effective illusions was one in which a woman lying on a couch and covered with a gossamer shroud appeared to float high in the air and then vanish, as Blackstone pulled off the covering. In another illusion, a woman stepped into a cabinet in front of many bright, clear, tubular incandescent light bulbs. When the magician suddenly pushed the perforated front of the cabinet backward, she seemed to be pierced appeared through the holes in the font of the box (to the accompaniment of her blood-curdling scream). The cabinet was then revolved so that the audience seemed to see the lady impaled by the blinding filaments. His “Sawing a woman in half” involved an enormous electric circular saw some three to four feet in diameter mounted on a swing-down arm. Blackstone demonstrated the efficacy of the device by sawing noisily through a piece of lumber. Then a gossamer-clad assistant was placed on the saw table in full view, as wide metal restraints were placed upon her mid-section. The blade whirred and appeared to pass through her body, as the ripping sound of (wood?) was heard, the woman shrieked, and particles were scattered by the whirring blade. the blade was stopped and she, of course, rose unharmed.
Harry Blackstone Jr.
Blackstone was born in Three Rivers, Michigan, the son of noted stage magician Harry Blackstone, Sr. (also known as “The Great Blackstone”). As an infant, he was used in his father’s act. Rather than utilize the routines his father developed, Blackstone developed his own and modernized his performance, though onstage he would on occasion perform a sequence of his father’s illusions in a period setting. Harry Blackstone, Jr. created four magic kits, from beginner to advanced, which were the best selling of all time. In the early 1970s, he promoted a “PF Magic Wedge Kit” on a television commercial for PF Flyers sneakers, and he appeared on several commercials for Jiffy Pop popcorn. In 1985, on the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth, Harry Blackstone, Jr. donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. the original floating light bulb — designed and built by Thomas Edison — and the original Casadega Cabinet, used in the “Dancing Handkerchief” illusion. This was the first ever donation accepted by the Smithsonian in the field of magic.
Kellar was the predecessor of Harry Houdini and the successor of Robert Heller. He was often referred to as the “Dean of American Magicians” and performed extensively on five continents. One of his most memorable stage illusions was the levitation of a girl advertised as the “Levitation of Princess Karnack” (invented by John Nevil Maskelyne). Kellar was a longtime customer of the famous Martinka Magic Company. They built many illusions for him, including the “Blue Room”. Like most magicians, there is little of Kellar’s early life that can be confirmed. His real name was Heinrich Keller and was born to German immigrants in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was sometimes called Henry, but later changed it to Harry. As a child, Kellar loved to play dangerous games and was known to play chicken with passing trains. Kellar apprenticed under a druggist and was constantly expimenting with different chemical mixtures. On one occasion, Kellar reportedly blew a hole in the floor of his employer’s drugstore. Rather than confront the wrath of his parents, Kellar stowed away on a train and became a vagabond. Kellar was befriended by a British-born minister from upstate New York. He offered to adopt Kellar and pay for his education if he would study to also become a minister. One evening Kellar saw the performance of a traveling magician, The Fakir of Ava (the stage name of Isiaiah Harris Hughes), and, after the show, Kellar “immediately got the urge to go on the stage.” He later told Houdini that, “I became very restless, bought books on magic and finally left my friend and benefactor.” While working on a farm in Buffalo, New York, Kellar answered an ad in the newspaper that was placed by Hughes, who was looking for an assistant. Kellar was hired and, at the age of sixteen, gave his first solo performance in Dunkirk, Michigan. It was a disaster and Kellar went back to work with Hughes. Two years later, Keller tried again with better results, but, as he was always broke, often had to leave town during the intermission to avoid creditors.
Richard Valentine Pitchford (Cardini)
He was born on November 24, 1895 in the village of Mumbles, in south Wales. Some sources use the incorrect year of 1899. He joined the British Army during World War I where he passed time in the trenches by practicing card manipulations, which is where he honed his ability to perform card manipulations whilst wearing gloves. After being injured in battle, he continued to hone his magic skills in a hospital. After performing in Australia and then in Canada he entered the United States from British Columbia. While working his way across the U.S. he met Swan Walker in Chicago, who became his wife and lifelong assistant. In New York City, Cardini became an almost immediate success as audiences (and magicians) had never seen such an act. Cardini enhanced his performance by incorporating his magic tricks into a skit. Sleight of hand, gestures, and the appearance and disappearance of objects were all timed precisely and exactly coordinated to music. He performed at The Palace, Radio City Music Hall, London Palladium, Copacabana and other prominent nightclubs and reviews, and also gave a command performance for the King of England in 1938. He became president of the Magician’s Guild in 1945 at the death of Theodore Hardeen. In 1957 at the age of 62 he appeared on one of the few magic television shows broadcast at that time, the Festival of Magic. One other film clip of Cardini’s hands does exist. In Disney’s “Snow White” (1937) the mirror sequence, when not shortened, contains a few minutes of Cardini manipulating cards. He died on November 13, 1973 in Gardiner, New York
William Ellsworth Robinson (Chung Link Soo)
During his early career, William Ellsworth Robinson called himself Robinson, the Man of Mystery. To increase his allure with a touch of exoticism, he changed his name to Chung Ling Soo and took his show to Europe. He took the name as a variation of a real Chinese stage magician – Ching Ling Foo – and performed many of the tricks that Foo had made famous. Chung Ling Soo maintained his role as a Chinese man scrupulously. He never spoke onstage and always used an interpreter when he spoke to journalists. Only his friends and other stage magicians knew the truth. Chung’s most famous illusion—partly because of his death while performing it—was called “Condemned to Death by the Boxers”. In this trick Chung’s assistants, sometimes dressed as Boxers, took two guns to the stage. Several members of the audience were called on the stage to mark a bullet that was loaded into one of the guns. Attendants fired the gun at Chung, and he seemed to catch the bullets from the air and drop them on a plate he held up in front of him. In some variations he pretended to be hit and spit the bullet onto the plate. The trick went tragically wrong when Chung was performing in the Wood Green Empire, London, on March 23, 1918. Chung never unloaded the gun properly. To avoid expending powder and bullets, he had the breeches of the guns dismantled after each performance in order to remove the bullet, rather than firing them off or drawing the bullets with a screw-rod as was normal practice. Over time, the channel that allowed the flash to bypass the barrel and ignite the charge in the ramrod tube slowly built up a residue of unburned gunpowder. On the fateful night of the accident, the flash from the pan ignited the charge behind the bullet in the barrel of one of the guns. The bullet was fired in the normal way, hitting Chung in the chest. His last words were spoken on stage that moment, “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.” It was the first and last time since adopting the persona that William “Chung Ling Soo” Robinson had spoken English in public.
Henning was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in Oakville, Ontario. He performed his first show at the age of 14 at the birthday party of a friend and was inspired by his audience’s spellbound reaction. Within a few months of placing an ad in a local newspaper, Henning launched a series of performances on local television in Toronto, and as an entertainer at parties. He was a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and studied psychology. Shortly after university, Henning was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts grant. The terms of the grant required Henning to study magic. He did so, travelling to view first hand the talents of such magic greats as Slydini and Dai Vernon. With the intention of returning magic to its “glory days”, Henning worked to perfect his craft. Garnering financial support, he developed a live theatrical show, Spellbound, directed by Ivan Reitman, with music by Howard Shore and co-starring actress Jennifer Dale, a musical that combined an intense storyline and Henning’s magic tricks. The show opened in Toronto and broke box office ticket records in that city. Henning reworked the show after catching the attention of New York producers, and took it to Broadway as The Magic Show, with songs composed by Stephen Schwartz. Debuting in 1974, the show ran for four and a half years earning Henning a Tony Award nomination.
David Copperfield (born David Seth Kotkin; September 16, 1956) is a world-famous American illusionist, described by Forbes in 2006 as the most commercially successful magician in history. Best known for his combination of storytelling and illusion, Copperfield has so far sold 40 million tickets and grossed over $1 billion. When Copperfield was 10, he began practicing magic as “Davino, the Boy Magician” in his neighborhood, and at the age of 12, became the youngest person ever admitted to the Society of American Magicians. Shy and a loner, the young Copperfield saw magic as a way of fitting in and, later, as a way to get girls. As a teenager, Copperfield became fascinated with Broadway and frequently snuck into shows, especially musicals featuring Stephen Sondheim or Bob Fosse. By age 16, he was teaching a course in magic at New York University. In 2006 Copperfield bought eleven Bahamian islands called Musha Cay. Rechristened “The Islands of Copperfield Bay,” the islands are a private resort. Guests have reportedly included Oprah Winfrey and John Travolta, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin was married there.
David Blaine (born David Blaine White; April 4, 1973) is an American illusionist and endurance artist. He is best known for his high-profile feats of endurance, and has made his name as a performer of street and close-up magic. He has set and broken several world records. Theatre owner James Nederlander as well as The New York Times have referred to Blaine as a modern day Houdini. He has also been called a “Houdini wanna-be” by the New York Daily News. On May 19, 1997, Blaine’s first television special, David Blaine: Street Magic aired on the ABC network. According to The New York Daily News, “Blaine can lay claim to his own brand of wizardry. The magic he offers in tonight’s show operates on an uncommonly personal level.” When asked about his performance style, David explained, “I’d like to bring magic back to the place it used to be 100 years ago.”’ Time Magazine commented, “his deceptively low-key, ultracool manner leaves spectators more amazed than if he’d razzle-dazzled.” The concept of focusing on spectator reactions changed the way that magic has been shown on TV. The New York Times wrote, “He’s taken a craft that’s been around for hundreds of years and done something unique and fresh with it.” In Magic Man, Blaine is shown traveling across the country, entertaining unsuspecting pedestrians in New York City, Atlantic City, Dallas, San Francisco, Compton, and the Mojave Desert recorded by a small crew with handheld cameras. Jon Racherbaumer commented, “Make no mistake about it, the focus of this show, boys and girls, is not Blaine. It is really about theatrical proxemics; about the show-within-a-show and the spontaneous, visceral reactions of people being astonished.” USA Today calls David “The hottest name in magic right now”.
Son of John and Dimitra Sarantakos, Criss Angel was raised in East Meadow, Long Island, New York, with two brothers, Costa and J.D. His father owned a restaurant and doughnut shop and was devoted to personal fitness before dying of cancer in 1998. He is Greek American. Angel was first introduced to magic at age 5, after his Aunt Stella taught him a card trick. His interest grew and by the time he graduated from East Meadow High School, he was not interested in attending university and he aimed at becoming a professional magician. Criss Angel is the star and creator of the A&E Network show Criss Angel Mindfreak. Seasons 1 and 2 were filmed at The Aladdin in Las Vegas, with Season 3 at the Luxor Las Vegas. Premiering on July 20, 2005, the illusions have included walking on water, levitating above the Luxor Hotel (in the light of 39 focused lamps that can be seen from space), floating between two buildings, causing a Lamborghini to disappear, surviving in an exploding C4 Crate, cutting himself in half in full view of an audience and getting run over by a steamroller while lying stomach down on a bed of glass. Also in season 3 he was known for jumping out of a moving car. Angel was injured and stopped production for 3 weeks. In 2002, Angel married his longtime girlfriend JoAnn Winkhart (aka JoAnn Sarantakos). The couple filed for divorce five years later. Although Angel was seen with his wife in the buried alive illusion (season 1, episode 6, 2005), she was not credited as his wife. Rather she was listed as “Criss’ Girl”. During the divorce proceedings the attorney of Angel’s estranged wife claimed that their relationship was kept secret to further Angel’s career. In November 2008, Angel began dating Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriend Holly Madison. The relationship ended in February 2009.