” The Women Of Magic ”
( The Magiciennes )
Ronald J. Dayton
Not only the world of magic, but the world itself is changing. The stereotypes of decades past are being shattered daily. Women are rapidly advancing to the forefront in many fields previously dominated by men. The ironic part is…they have been here all along…but have gone relatively unrecognized. Male egos have pushed them into the background. It’s sad, but true. Public perception is another quantity which has hindered their advancement. It was not until the 1850’s * that women began to appear on stage in the capacity of assistant and victim to their maile counter- parts. They…being considered to be the ‘weaker sex’ were the ‘objects’ which were expendible enough to suffer the indignities of torture, dis-memberment, and general abuse in the name of entertainment.
In more modern times, the ladies became known in the trade as ‘box
jumpers”. We needed their charming good looks and form to enhance our own performances, act as misdirection, and someone who would actually fit into the tight spaces required for most illustions. As indispensible as they were and are…they still did not get adequate billing or credit for what they were doing.
The same might well be said for all of the husband/ wife teams of mentalists and spirit workers over the years. One partner was not solely responsible for the success of the act. Many times it was the ‘lesser’ partner, who did all the work in the trenches…carried off her end of the bargain by memorizing key parts of a code…while the more flamboyant male garnered all the glory.
This is NOT the case, I am happy to say, in the instance of Francis Willard and Glenn Falkenstein. They work as a perfect and harmonious team. Francis, the daughter of famed tent show performer, Willard the Wizard shares center stage with her husband. But, I am getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s begin at as early a period in magical history as possible.
In 1872, a Newzealand performer billing herself as Madame Cora de Lamond was performing the broom suspension with the assistance of her sister Christina. Cora also presented hypnotism. The 1880’s found Madamoiselle Beatrice performing the egg bag, aerial suspension and a version of the hindu basket in London. Around this same era, a French escape artist…a lady known as Saronje’ was amazine the european community.
In a billing shared three ways, with two men and a woman…Mercedes Talma held her own in the team of Talma, Le Roy and Bosco.
Following the death of her husband, Alexander Herrmann, Adelaide ( Scarcez ) Herrmann took over all responsibilities for the huge stage show…not only managing and overseeing it, but performing with exceptional skill, and headlining on the vaudevillian circut for over thirty years!
In the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, marvelous talents arose from the female ranks. Skilled manipulators such as Suzy Wandas Bennett . Bennett was inspired by the skills of Mercedes Talma…and she in turn inspired a present day manipulator and performer named Lucy Smalley. Suzy Wandas is recorded as one of the top manipulators in magic, male or female, in the history of magic!!
The 30’s and 40’s also reflect the contributions of three other ladies of magic. One time circus strong woman, Dell O’Dell gained recognition in California as a performer of children’s magic on televison. She had an infectious and embracing style caused her to be touted as America’s foremost female magician. The thirties also found Geraldine ( Jaffe ) Larsen as co-founder and driving force behind the formation of both Genii magazine, and the Magic Castle. Prior to that, Gerrie was the star of her own television series.
Known as the ‘First Lady of Magic:, Frances Marshall has written many, many books on magic, has performed on stage as a world class magician in her own right, and owns and operates one of the countries finest magic shops, Magic Inc. in Chicago, Ill. This woman has been a tireless embassador to magic for many decades. Her work, dedication and high standards are beyond reproach. She truly is, ” The First Lady.”
There are of course, performers who have specialized in one field or another, and are there-by not directly associated with magic…even though their love for it, and involvement in it are outstanding. One such lady is Shari Lewis. Here too is a remarkable woman. She is a show person in the finest sense. She and her hand puppet creations, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse have won her world acclaim, fame, and the hearts of millions. Shari has co-authored books on magic for youngsters. She is a powerful influence for the craft. Ladies such as Celeste Evans, a stautesque and lovely club performer and manipulator have also made their mark…and been positive influences and role modles for other females such as Diana Zimmerman. The 1940’s also witnessed the talents of Ruth Dore, daughter of Theo Dore. Her manipulative skills and sleight of hand were flawless.
The name of Dorothy Diedrich should also be mentioned. She began her career as a dove worker, and has since found her way into the world of escapetology. Straight Jackets and chains do not phase this woman. She is very accomplished…and willing to take on any challenge.
The creativity of Velma Nahum is evident in the character she has devised, that of an exotic Harem Girl. Working in a fully costumed, cross-legged fashion, she weaves her story of mystery in a world of Arabian Nights.
I cannot close this commentary without mentioning two other ladies of the wand. The first is Nanni Darnell…wife of magician Mark Wilson. They were instrumental in bringing some of the very first magic to television, via their creation, The Magic Land of Alakazam. It would be difficult to envision its success without the grace, charm, and personal magic Nanni brought to the show. And lastly, we must look to the future. People such as Melinda…the very first woman to headline in Vegas, and Luna ( Shimada ) McBride, are bright stars on the horizon…and entities which will foster the dream of success in generations of Ladies In Magic yet to come.
I think we owe them all…past, present and future…a debt of gratitude!