Young Amar Nath Dutt (1884-1937) was sent by his Punjabi parents to Edinburgh to study medicine. Somehow he wound up chucking all that and touring with Ruth St. Denis as part of one of her “Oriental” dance numbers. In one account he says he learned magic by watching the Indian fakirs back home, and made his debut by challenging Chung Ling Soo during an Edinburgh performance, matching him trick for trick. In another version he learned magic in American sideshows. However it evolved, early in the last century he was touring American vaudeville and British music hall as Ram Bhuj, turbaned, robed and esconced in an elaborate stage set depicting a Hindu temple and surrounding mountains. Subsequently he became Linga Singh. Among his illusions; the supporting of a girl on the points of three upraised swords; the teleportation across the stage of a large carriage full of people using only the “power of the eyes”; and the ability to mix up sand piles of different colors and then (this is the magic part) sort them back out again. After his death of pneumonia at age 53, all of his stage effects and illusions were burned in a ceremonial pyre per his instructions.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.