Today is the birthday of Spanish magician Frakson (Jose Seville, 1891-1981), billed as “The Man with a 1,000 Cigarettes”. Seville came from a family in which everybody (father, uncles, siblings) all performed magic. He was an admirer of the magician Jose Florences Gili, who had the trick of producing lighted cigarettes out of thin air. Frakson amplified that effect and made it the centerpiece of his act. In 1925, he toured American vaudeville and worked for 49 weeks. He moved to the U.S. permanently in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War hit. In Europe he had been billed as the Man with 100 Cigarettes. Apparently, Americans were impressed with that number; it was when he moved here that he increased it to 1,000.
I found this clip of his act, which doesn’t look very magical but is plenty disgusting. I am genuinely confounded about what effect he was trying to achieve! Nowadays, I believe, it is technically illegal, at least in New York:
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.