LeRoy, Talma and Bosco: Triple Alliance of Illusionists


Today is the birthday of the great magician Servais Le Roy (1865-1953). Belgian born, he ran away to England as a boy, and began his career in magic in his teens when he became apprentice and assistant to a drunken ex-naval officer named Captain Henry Worsley Hill. Among his other duties he played the Vanishing Man in in Hill’s pirated version of Buatier de Kolta’s Vanishing Lady illusion. While performing with Hill in Gibraltar, Le Roy broke off on his own and began presenting his own magic act in Spain. This experience allowed him to get a six month booking at the Royal Aquarium at Westminster, where he met the woman who would become his magic partner and wife, Mary Ford a.k.a. “Talma”.

In the 1890’s during a tour of American vaudeville, producer M.B. Leavitt incorporated Le Roy into a “Triple Alliance” of three magicians, including himself, Eugene Powell and Imro Fox. This configuration toured all over the U.S. and Canada for the better part of two years. Then, Le Roy formed his own version of the trio. Talma (formerly an assistant) was to become adept at close magic, and took a page out of T. Nelson Downs’ book by becoming the “Queen of Coins.” Meanwhile, Le Roy’s specialty was larger illusions involving disappearances and relocations, using elaborate apparatuses, trap doors, mirrors and doubles. The third partner to join the team was Leon Bosco, a fat, bearded comedian, whose clumsy attempts to do comedy became the comic relief,  a role similar to the one Imro Fox had played. (This original Bosco died sometime after 1905 and was succeeded by as many as eight subsequent “Boscos”).

In the act’s most famous illusion, the Asrah Levitation, Talma, covered with a veil, was made to levitate. A hoop was passed over her, the veil was lifted and she vanished in the middle of the air. With their spectacular act, the trio traveled all over the world for decades. Le Roy was to make a lot of money selling his original illusions to other magicians. Conversely, for a time in the 1920s, he put his own tricks in moth balls for a time and performed Horace Goldin’s “sawing a woman in half” illusion. After having been struck by a car in 1930, Le Roy severely curtailed his professional activities. His last public performance was in 1940.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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