Today is the birthday of Charles Joseph Carter (1874-1936). Those who’ve read Glen David Gold’s amazing novel Carter Beats the Devil (2001), will know something about him already, and surprisingly, though plenty of the events are purely the stuff of Gold’s imagination, the book also contains much that’s true.
This remarkable individual began performing magic at the age of ten, and toured the country as a young man with the Kickapoo Medicine Shows. At the age of 26, the now married Carter made Chicago his base, started a theatrical booking agency for magic acts, and started his own magazine Chicago Footlights. While resuming his magical performing career, he attended law school, graduating in 1905. In 1907 he began the first of several world tours featuring his large scale illusions. It was 1911 that he began doing the spectacular “Lion’s Bride” illusion described in Carter’s novel (the act was originally done by The Great Lafayette and featured an actual live lion). Carter’s reputation was more as a showman than as an innovator: he also did Kellar’s levitation stunt, Ching Ling Foo’s water bowl, traditional mentalism, and Horace Goldin’s sawing a woman in half routine, among others. But his acts was so well staged and sumptuously costumed, and so brilliantly advertised (some of his posters implying a connection the famous Egyptologist Howard Carter), the he became one of the preeminent magicians in the world. He died while touring in Bombay India in 1936.
To find out about the history of vaudeville and magicians like Carter the Great, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever mesmerizing books are sold.