Today is the birthday of magician Harry August Jansen (1883-1955), originator of the magic words “Sim Sala Bim!” Interestingly, the phrase is not Arabic, as one would assume, but is taken from a Danish children’s song. Jansen was born in Copenhagen and immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 6.
By his teenage years he was already performing magic. He played in vaudeville and Australian music hall for five years as The Great Jansen, briefly headed a Horace Goldin road company, and in 1922 was made anointed successor to Thurston (and thus the last in a long line of magicians leading up to him.) It was Thurston who dubbed him “Dante” (after an earlier magician by that name) and set him up with all his illusions, making him the head of a second company. Dante principally performed abroad, however, allowing Blackstone to fill the void in the public’s mind as Thurston’s successor. When Thurston died in 1936 and Dante returned to the states, a kind of rivalry ensued. In his last years, was a familiar sight in movies and on television. (He has a great role, for example, in the 1942 Laurel and Hardy film A-Haunting We Will Go.) He retired in the late 1940s.
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, including magicians like Dante, 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 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