National Post Newspaper

Tricks of the Trade

Your Guide to the World of Magic

By Liam O'Donnell

Originally published in the
National Post Newspaper - September 16th, 2000

Masters of Magic

Magicians have entertained audiences with illusions and great escapes since the Pharaohs built their pyramids. Over the years, hundreds of magicians conjured their names into the history books. Here are ten of the best that every budding magician should get to know.

The Bambergs (1760 - 1974)
Magical secrets are traditionally handed down from generation to generation and the Bambergs kept their magical knowledge a family secret for over 300 years! The first was Eliaser Bamberg who entertained Dutch royalty during the late 1700s. He had a wooden leg with a secret compartment and called himself "The Crippled Devil". His son, David Leendart, and grandson, Tobias, also became magicians. David Leendart's son took up the family business and performed around the world as Okito, the Chinese magician. Okito's son was the last of the dynasty. He performed until the 1970s disguised as the Chinese wizard Fu Manchu.

Matthew Buchinger (1674 -1740)
This remarkable magician went by the name of "The Little Man of Nuremberg" because he was born with no arms and no legs. Despite this challenge he was a master of deception astounding audiences across Europe with his Cups and Balls routine.

David Copperfield (Born 1956)
At the age of twelve, David Copperfield put on his first magic show, by the time he was sixteen he was teaching magic at New York University and now at 44, he is the most famous magician in the world. Copperfield's illusions are big and usually broadcast across the globe. He made the Statue of Liberty disappear and walked through the Great Wall of China, all on live television. Many say, however, that his best illusions are saved for his live stage shows.

Dedi ( Around 2500 B.C.)
Watching your slaves build pyramids can take a lot out of you, so it's no wonder that the Egyptian Pharaohs were the first to relax by watching magic shows. The first recorded performance took place about 4500 years ago by a man called Dedi. His tricks were remarkable but gruesome; he would cut off the heads of goat and sheep and then 'magically' reattach them.

Robert Harbin (1908 - 1978)
Inventing new tricks is the heart of modern magic and nobody did it better than Robert Harbin. Born in South Africa, Harbin created hundreds of magic tricks but the most famous is his "Zig Zag Girl" illusion, where he used two large blades to slice his assistant into three pieces. Still performed by magicians around the world today, the "Zig Zag Girl" is so convincing because the audience can see the assistant's face, hands and feet at all times.

Doug Henning (1947 - 2000)
Canadian magician Doug Henning burst onto the world magic scene in 1974 when he starred on Broadway in the musical "The Magic Show". Henning, like Jean Robert-Houdin before him, stood out from other magicians by not wearing the traditional magician's costume (a tuxedo or fine suit), performing in jeans and tie-died T-shirts. His boyish enthusiasm for creating illusions made him a favourite for TV audiences everywhere.

Harry Houdini (1874 - 1926)
Houdini was the master of the great escape, breaking free from jails, straightjackets, even the belly of a whale! Harry Houdini was born Erich Weiss in Hungary but moved to the United States when he was four years old. He first called himself Erich, Prince of the Air, and performed on a homemade trapeze in a friend's backyard. When he was twelve he ran away from home and began performing in small traveling shows, changing his name to Houdini, in honour of the great magician Jean Robert-Houdin. He went on to international fame during the early 1900s, escaping from jails across the globe to publicize his shows. Houdini knew how to grab the headlines; he loved to perform his escapes outside, hanging from tall buildings. He escaped from water tanks and even starred in his own movies filled with, you guessed it, great escapes.

Jean Robert-Houdin (1805 - 1871)
Known as the Father of Modern Magic, Jean Robert-Houdin brought a modern edge to magic, doing away with the flowing robes worn by magicians at the time and using machines to create his illusions. Robert-Houdin worked as a watchmaker in France until he stumbled upon magic when he was 40 years old. He used his training as a watchmaker to build ingenious mechanical devices known as automata. With springs and cogs he created automata like The Orange Tree, which blossomed and bore fruit, then butterflies pulled a handkerchief out of an orange and hovered above the tree. Audiences had never seen such intricate mechanics and were amazed by his 'magic'. Robert-Houdin became an instant success and performed around the world.

P.T. Selbit (1881 - 1938)
Percy Thomas Tibbles became a professional illusionist in 1900 and reversed his real name to become P.T. Selbit. Known as a great inventor of illusions, Selbit caused a sensation when he displayed his new trick: Sawing A Woman In Half. He was the first to perform this legendary illusion and was quickly copied by rival magicians around the world.

Sigfried and Roy
(Siegfried Fischbacker born 1939, Roy Horn born 1944)

These German illusionists have amazed audiences around the world with their lavish magic spectacles featuring wild assistants like tigers, flamingos, and elephants. They've performed together since 1967 and are one of Las Vegas's biggest attractions. Doing nothing on a small scale, this flashy duo are known for their show stopping illusions involving mechanical beasts, fire works, and a stage crowded with exotic animals and dancers.

Join the Club

Most magicians belong to a magic club where they meet other magicians, trade tricks and get tips. There are magic clubs and societies all over the world, there may even be one near you! The most famous club is The Magic Circle with its headquarters in London, England. The club is open to amateur and professional magicians around the world, but only the best are elected to the elite Inner Magic Circle. Formed in 1905 the Magic Circle boasts many famous magicians as members and some not so famous magicians, including boxing great Muhammad Ali, American General Norman Schwarzkopf and even His Royal Highness Prince Charles!

Get In On the Act

If you're interested in magic, one of the best ways to start or improve your skills is by joining a magic club or society. Here are some great websites that will help you find the club nearest you and give you the secrets you need to make your magic show a sensation.

Magic Youth
This is the youth program set up by the International Brotherhood of Magicians (I.B.M.), to encourage, train and promote young magicians. Membership is open to anyone between 12 - 18 years old, who has been interested in magic for at least a year. Along with local chapter meetings, members receive annual subscription to "Top Hat" a magazine featuring trick tips and articles by other young magicians.

Calgary Magic Circle Junior Magicians Club
Also affiliated with the I.B.M. the Junior Magicians Club hosts monthly meetings for magicians under 18 years of age, where they can learn new tricks and meet other young magicians.

About Magic
Magician Bryan Dean is your host for this ever-growing treasure trove of magic information. It's a great resource filled with tips for beginners, new tricks, chat rooms with fellow magicians and links to other magic sites. Updated regularly, this site is well maintained and can be visited repeatedly to see what's new in the world of magic, or you can subscribe to the weekly email newsletter and get all the news delivered to your mailbox.

Magic Reads

Books are also a great way to learn new magic tricks. Here are a few good ones that will help you learn that first trick and get you on the road to becoming a Master Magician.

  • "101 Easy-To-Do Magic Tricks" by Bill Tar

  • "50 Nifty Magic Tricks" by Elizabeth Wood

  • "Abra-Ca-Dazzle: Easy Magic Tricks" by Ray Broekel

  • "Magic Tricks for Kids: Everyday Objects" by Daniel J. Morlock

  • "60 Super Simple Magic Tricks" by Shawn McMaster

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