Images from Egyptian Hall: Will Nicola

Images from Egyptian Hall: Will Nicola

Will Nicola (seen on the right) was another globe-trotting illusionist from America. Young Will learned the magic business as an assistant in his father’s magic act and his older brother, Charles, who would gain his own fame as Von Arx, also mentored Will in the mysterious arts. Will’s first performance on his own occurred at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898. During the run of the Fair he became friends with the great Chinese magician, Ching Ling Foo, who was visiting America for the first time. Twelve years later, with his own full-evening show, Will had set forth on his first world-tour. While appearing in Tientsin, China, a familiar face turned up at the theater. It was Ching Ling Foo. This photo was taken in front of the theater to commemorate their reunion. In 1938 Nicola was on his fourth world tour working very successfully through Australia and New Zealand. From there they sailed to Java and then on to Singapore. It was during this engagement in November of 1939 that WW II broke out in Europe. Nicola thought it best to suspend the rest of his tour and cancelled his bookings in India. The show, as well as a large quantity of Chinese silk that he hoped to turn into costumes and backdrops, was loaded on board a British ship named Sirdhana. With the entire company onboard they set off for Honolulu but before clearing Singapore harbor the ship struck a submerged mine. The passengers safely scrambled into the lifeboats and then, from a safe distance, watched Nicola’s entire show disappear under the ocean’s surface....
Images from Egyptian Hall: Adelaide Herrmann

Images from Egyptian Hall: Adelaide Herrmann

  During the early morning of December 17, 1896 Adelaide Herrmann suddenly found herself not the co-star of the Herrmann the Great touring show but simply as the widow Herrmann. Her husband, Alexander Herrmann, had reigned supreme as America’s foremost magician for many years and she had lived a life of luxury. Now, just forty-three years of age, Adelaide needed to make a living and magic was all she had known throughout her adult life. Immediately following Alexander’s death she cabled her nephew in France instructing him to sail for America. Leon Herrmann was already an accomplished magician and perhaps even more important, he looked like his uncle with a black mustache and goatee. This new iteration of The Herrmann the Great show toured America for three seasons but a clash of temperaments finally doomed the enterprise. Leon further antagonized his aunt by retaining the title Herrmann the Great, which he used for his own full-evening show. Another nephew, Felix Kretschmann, the son of Adelaide’s sister, decided that he too would become a magician. He purchased enough of Alexander’s magic equipment, costumes, and curtains from Adelaide to produce an act, grew the required goatee and mustache, and then, much to his aunt’s chagrin, legally changed his name to Felix Herrmann. Taking this as an affront to her deceased husband, Adelaide never forgave Felix to the point that she removed his name from her will. Adelaide carried on as a magician, a domain that was inhabited almost exclusively by men. During her long career she appeared at the Wintergarten in Berlin, the Folies-Bergere in Paris, and the Hippodrome Theatre in...
Images from Egyptian Hall: Charles Carter

Images from Egyptian Hall: Charles Carter

This exotic looking wizard did not travel to America from the mysterious East. His name was Charles Joseph Carter, born in New Castle Pennsylvania in 1874. As a teen-ager he was already performing as Carter –The Boy Magician and what he lacked in artistic ability and creativity he more than made up for with ambition and fortitude. Attending law school in Chicago provided him with skills that served him well throughout a long career. He formed a booking agency called The National Theatrical Exchange; he started a theatrical magazine called The Chicago Footlights and for a few short years he owned the famous New York magic company (Martinka’s Magical Palace) before selling it to Harry Houdini. In 1921 Carter lost a fortune filming The Lion’s Bride in South Africa, a movie that was written, produced, directed and starring Charles Carter. Orson Welles he was not. In 1933 he lost another fortune when his Temple of Mystery at the Chicago World’s Fair closed after just two months of miserable business. But over the course of three decades Carter the Great made seven long trips around the world where he presented a three-hour show of magic and illusions. The secret to his success was that rather than appearing in major cities where he would be competing with the greatest magicians in the world, he played the far corners of the globe where audiences rarely saw anything like what Carter had to offer. His world tours could easily last more than two years and during those circumnavigations of the earth he lived like a king, staying in fine hotels, eating in the...
Mahdi Gilbert

Mahdi Gilbert

As part of what will be an ongoing series of articles concerning significant people in the world of magic, we will kick off the series with a profile of a truly remarkable individual. We stayed close to home for this inaugural piece, for the subject is someone who occasionally takes up residence and works right here in the offices of the Conjuring Arts Research Center.   In July of last year, the following scenario played out four times a night, for a full week at the famed Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. A group of thirty smartly dressed people are sitting in the Close-up Gallery. The tuxedoed host greets them and says, “Our next performer has traveled the four corners of the Earth. He has been forced to reinvent magic for himself. Literally redefining how a deck of cards can be handled. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome a man who shuffles without fingers, palms without palms, and is living proof that nothing is impossible. Please welcome Mahdi Gilbert.” When the performer steps out from behind the curtain, the first thing they notice about him is that he is very short, about four-feet-six inches, and yet very imposing. He has dark, curly, hair, a beard, strong features, and an elegant bespoke tailored suit. And as they assessed the diminutive performer, a realization explodes in their brains, when they notice that he has no hands; then they remember the host’s comments, and the introduction start to make sense. Their minds start to race and they can’t help but wonder what Mahdi is going to share with them. This is the Magic Castle,...

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