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The Magician's Assistant

Updated on September 16, 2014
A portrait of a magician and his assistant.
A portrait of a magician and his assistant. | Source

The Magician's Assistant

Who doesn't love a little magic show? Whether you are 6 or 60 magic can enthrall any age (except maybe the doom and gloom teens, they aren't enthralled by anything). Many steps go into the making and executing of a magic show, this includes knowledge, creativity, commitment, and AN ASSISTANT. The magician's assistant is constantly characterized in film and television, and recognized by their audience appeal and performance, but can you name one?

Public perception of a magician's assistant has become narrow-minded and stagnant to what is an open-armed culture. While it is true that in the beginning an assistant was necessary to assist the magician by carrying props, moving the stage and as a prop themselves, the job definition has changed and expanded to involve their own performance of magic and illusion. Historically, an assistant would be a woman, and either married to or the daughter of the magician. This is not a task designated to only women as there are notable men who have been assistants.

Working as the assistant can be a stepping stone to a career and many of the women and men have gone on to careers of their own as magicians. Some become such an essential part of the show they can added to the title in a form of double billing. The art of performance magic has had its share of disappearances from the popular mainstream, but just as surely as an act it will reappear in another part of the room to an equally accepting audience. The popularity exploded as a novelty and exciting addition to performing acts already a staple of Las Vegas culture.

When magic shows were brought to Las Vegas they were expanded and glamorized to fit the new atmosphere and the assistant again became known to modern culture as prop wielding women of appealing aesthetic. However, with glittered costume and proper skills these assistants continue to perform illusions and support the magician in the art of magic.

Below is an exploration through the history of magic led by the magician's assistants who made it possible (and maybe a little bit more pretty).

Publicity poster for a show pre-dating 1896.
Publicity poster for a show pre-dating 1896. | Source

Adelaide Herrmann

b. 1853 d. 1932

assistant to Alexander Herrmann

Adelaide Herrmann was the assistant to her husband Alexander Herrmann, whose focus was audience manipulation and sleight of hand trickery. After her husband's death her enthusiasm was geared toward the show and with unrelenting ease she became a magician of outstanding infamy. Her biggest feats include the 'bullet catch' trick which was famously performed by her husband, and she first performed shortly after her husband's death. Standing in front of firing squad reports say she was able to catch six bullets from the trained militiamen's guns. Adelaide continued to recreate her husband's tricks and illusions for 30 years.

Talma Le Roy

b.1861 d. July 13, 1944

Assistant to Servais Le Roy in the act "Le Roy, Talma & Bosco"

Toted as "The Queen of the Coins" Talma's forte was sleight of hand magic and audience manipulation. Along with her husband, Servais Le Roy, and friend Leon Bosco she shared stage partnership that lasted through their career. Servais Le Roy is credited with the creation of the Asrah levitation which is now the stereotype of levitation. In the act the assistant is 'hypnotized' by the magician, told to lay flat on an elevated surface and then covered with a sheet. The magician levitates the body which shows its form through the sheet, and is slowly lowered down. The first remembered performance occurred in 1914. Centennial celebration, anyone?

Bess Houdini

b. January 22, 1876 d. February 11, 1943

assistant to Houdini

Working as his assistant until his death in 1926, Bess Houdini and her husband Harry Houdini were a phenomenon of the public for most of the early 20th century. Known together as 'The Houdinis' their signature trick prior to Harry's handcuff breakthrough was called 'Metamorphosis'. In this trick the magician's assistant binds the magician's hand behind his back and then ties him into a large bag. The next step is to place the magician in a large chest from which he cannot possibly escape. Additionally, the chest is locked into a large cabinet with a curtain. The assistant walks around the cabinet clapping three times, on the third clap the magician opens the curtain and the assistant is found bound inside the bag, in the chest, in the cabinet. After her husband's death, Bess, devoted her remaining years to promoting Houdini's legacy as a magician, and he is still a popularly known magician almost 90 years after death.

Las Vegas Recreation of Metamorphosis

Moi-Yo Miller

b. April 24, 1914 d. -

assistant to Dante

Moi-Yo Miller met the magician Dante in Australia and he was smitten with her appearance. In her homeland she was a part of a musical act and formally trained in the art, but she had no experience with magic. When Dante picked her for his show she was required to finish training in the occult, which she completed in a year. She went on to become his main assistant and stayed with Dante for the rest of his career. By her own account she's been sawed in half nearly 12,000 as a magician's assistant. That works out to 120 times for each year of her life. Dante is famous for his magical words "Sim Sala Bim" which would induce applause from the audience. As a result of her dedication and long life she was featured in the film Women in Boxes (2008) which presents the world of the magician's assistant and their importance to the role of performing magic. She is now retired from magic and rightly so at the celebrated age of 100.

The Magic Land of Allakazam
The Magic Land of Allakazam | Source

Nani Darnell

b. ? d. -

assistant to Mark Wilson

The qualities of Nani Darnell are what the public will typically associate to that of a magician's assistant because of her influence and widespread fame on television. In addition to the popular Saturday morning show The Magic Land of Allakazam (1960) she and her husband, magician Mark Wilson, created and performed in multiple television specials and shows dedicated to magic. The majority of their career was seen through the lens of a camera and broadcast at the national level. With their personas put into the public's view so widespread, magic became a popular feature for television and their schtick is commonly reproduced in television. Nani Darnell and her husband Mark Wilson are still alive and dedicated to magic to this day. They can be found spreading their knowledge of magic through books and classes, many of which have taken place at the world renowned Magic Castle.

Frances Louise Willard

b. December 12, 1940 d. -

assistant to Glenn Falkenstein

Frances Willard comes from a family accustomed to magic and she continued the tradition into her own family. Her father, Harry Willard was a magician known under the stage name 'Willard the Wizard'. Her career began at the young age of six as her father's assistant where she mastered illusions. When she met Glenn Falkenstein the two married and became a noted duo of their own. Specializing in mentalism and continuing the illusions that Frances performed with her father, The Falkensteins were renowned for their act and professionalism and were frequently featured across the world on stage and television. Accumulating many awards over their career, they were also declared lifetime members of the exclusive Magic Castle in Hollywood, California.

The Magic Castle
The Magic Castle | Source

Poll time!

Split decision: Card trick or illusion?

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