Today is the birthday of The Great Leon (Leon Levy, 1876-1951). This vaudeville magician was best known for his illusion “Fire and Water”, in which an assistant was wrapped in paper and set afire, only to magically emerge from a tank of water on the other side of the stage. Other signature illusions included “Shrink and Shrunken”, “The Miniature Haunted House”, “Ribbon Shot Through a Woman”, the “Duck Tray” and the “Doll House.” He was also one of the first Americans to perform the saw trick. In his early years he performed under “Oriental” aliases, such as Chunda Hula, and Kadan Sami. He retired from the stage in 1932, just as vaudeville was expiring.
His son Leon Leon (Leon Levy, 1903-1998) was also an accomplished magician as well as a sound engineer for movies and television. He got in on the ground floor of that field in 1929 and is considered by those in the profession as one of the pioneers of the profession, having invented several techniques and devices still used, including the famous ‘clapboard”. In later years, he worked for Glen Glenn Sound.
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 check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc