Today is the birthday of Robert Heller (William Henry Palmer, 1826-1878). (The date is according to magic historian Milbourne Christopher). A native of Canterbury England he was trained originally in music (his father was a cathedral organist). As a teenager he became obsessed with Robert-Houdin and worked up an act in imitation of the French magician, right down to the accent and a black wig. With this act he gave hundreds of performances in London, New York, Philadelphia and other cities throughout the 1850s. Then he went back to music for a time, booking himself as a concert pianist for many years. In the 1860s he returned to magic in a much more natural style, performing as himself, mixing humor and music with conjuring and second sight routines. He became the premiere magician of his day. So much so that when Harry Kellar first came on the scene, he was accused of deceptively copying the better established magician’s last name. Heller died at the height of his fame (and workload) in 1878. This proved to be fortunate for Kellar, who proceeded to fill the vacancy.
To find out more about the history of variety entertainment, including magicians like Robert Heller, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous