Today is the birthday of David Bamberg (1904-1974), known professionally (if politically incorrectly) as Fu Manchu.
Bamberg was the sixth in a long line of Dutch magicians going back to the 18th century. (Actually, the seventh, if you include his great great great great grandfather Jasper, who was an alchemist and necromancer rather than a performing magician in the modern sense) The first magician per se, his great great great grandfather Eliaser Bamberg (1760-1833) had a wooden leg and used to hide props for his tricks inside the appendage. (The peg leg was also quite functional and quite necessary; he’d lost his real leg in a shipboard accident). His son, David Leendart Bamberg (1786-1869) began as an assistant to his father, and eventually becoming Court magician to King William II. The next two succeeding Bambergs were also Court magicians to the Dutch King. The fifth in the line, Theodore Bamberg (1875-1963) started out with his father at Court, but then changed his name to “Okito” and toured music halls and vaudeville purporting to be Chinese. In the U.S. he toured the Orpheum circuit when he was booked by Martin Beck.
His son, David Bamberg gave his first performance at the Society of American Magicians at the age of 5. he apprenticed with many magicians over the years, including P.T. Selbit, and eventually became a master not only of magic but the vaudeville specialty of shadowography (shadow puppets). It was while he was performing in Argentina in 1928 that he began performing as Fu Manchu (taking the name from the Sax Rohmer character), with some backers underwriting an elaborate stage presentation. For the next four decades, South America would be his main base of operations, giving his last major performance there in 1966.
Here he is performing the famous bullet trick in the 1940s:
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.