In a biography woven from equal parts enchantment and mystery, Jim Steinmeyer unveils the secrets behind the most enigmatic performer in the history of stage magic, Chung Ling Soo, the “Marvelous Chinese Conjurer”—a magician whose daring made his contemporary Houdini seem like the boy next door. Soo’s infamous and suspicious onstage death in 1918 mystified his fellow magicians: he was shot during a performance of “Defying the Bullets,” in which he attempted to catch marked bullets on a porcelain plate. When Soo died, his deceptions began to unravel. It was discovered that he was not Chinese but a fifty-eight-year-old American named William Ellsworth Robinson, a former magicians’ assistant and the husband of Olive Robinson. But even William Robinson was not who he appeared to be, for he had kept a second family with a mistress in a fashionable home near London.
Here is a look at the rough-and-tumble world of turn-of-the-century entertainments, the West’s discovery of Oriental culture, and Soo's strange descent into secrecy as he rose to stardom—written by the foremost chronicler of magic’s history and culture. Due to the scandals surrounding Robinson’s death, this is the first time his full story has ever been told.
Photographs are included.
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JIM STEINMEYER has created the defining illusions in contemporary magic, such as David Copperfield's vanishing of the Statue of Liberty. He has created special material for the programs of many leading magicians around the world—from Ricky Jay to Siegfried & Roy. He has also designed illusions for six Broadway shows and numerous other productions, such as Mary Poppins, which is currently on the British stage. Steinmeyer was a writer and producer of the A&E network's four-hour history of the art, THE STORY OF MAGIC, and is the author of HIDING THE ELEPHANT. Jim Steinmeyer lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Frankie Glass, an independent television producer.From Publishers Weekly:
In the boisterous heyday of the vaudeville music hall—an era that featured renowned magicians like Herrmann the Great and Harry Houdini—the mysterious and exotic Chung Ling Soo was considered among the greatest. Thus, his shooting death on a London stage in front of a packed house in 1918 was cause for scandal and rumor. In this affectionate and informed biography, Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant) tantalizingly picks along the trail of the magician's life back to his birth—not in China but New York. As a stunned public would discover, Soo was really William Ellsworth Robinson. That Robinson was able to maintain the fiction for so many years in the relentless spotlight of worldwide fame might have been a delicious tale. Unfortunately, there's no rabbit in this hat. Steinmeyer quotes Robinson himself to the effect that the public probably suspected and didn't care. Fans of the magic arts will appreciate Steinmeyer's intimate and colorful portraits of craft. The author is less successful in unraveling the complex riddle of Robinson's personal life; his forensic speculations and judgments are underexplored or simplistic. Who was William Ellsworth Robinson? That question remains unanswered. B&w illus.
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