As might be obvious, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and other “research” into the subject of magic. Between Grand Guignol theater and spiritualist acts like the Davenport brothers, horror has lived close to magic for a long time and both have always been close to my heart. It certainly hasn’t hurt matters that the signature trick of Joseffy (one of the magicians I’m writing about) was Balsamo the Living Skull. He also had a disembodied rapping hand and caused a stir in a department store when he and it went shopping for a new cuff…
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, popular magic was on the tamer end of the spectrum with the likes of Doug Henning and David Copperfield on television. Seeing Penn and Teller on Letterman was…surprising. (The good bit starts at about 2:30 with a long set up.)
It should be noted that the classic sawing an assistant into halves wasn’t done until the 1920s, but didn’t gain popularity until a pretty woman was added to the mix. Without even realizing it, I’ve included no women being dismembered in this collection of videos. Kevin James and his half-assistant has a little fun with Vin Diesel on The Johnathan Ross show.
Fellow The Illusionists, Dan Sperry nearly killed Sharon Osborn (with laughter) with his Life Savers and dental floss routine on America’s Got Talent, but I rather like his take on the classic dove production:
Speaking of classic, Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Levit performed Jim Steinmeyer’s Palingenesia, a recreation of Thomas William Tobin’s 1872 illusion. at the 9th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History in November 2005.
But back to spiritualists and a magician I grew up with: David Copperfield included a version of the spirit cabinet in his 1995 TV special.
If you wait long enough, everything that is old is new again.