Jack Gwynne and the Royal Family of Magic

Magician Jack Gwynne (Joseph McClode Gwynne, 1895-1969), began his professional career as a builder and designer of props and illusions. As a kid in Pittsburgh Gwynne had been inspired by effects created by Kellar and Thurston. Upon adulthood he worked in local steel mills by day and pursued magic by night. In 1925 Gwynne was demonstrating some of the effects he had fabricated at a local department store, when Harry Houdini happened to catch his performance. Houdini hired him to create illusions for him, one of which was the “Disappearing Chicken”. In 1926 he was hired by Thurston as well. The following year, encouraged by the reaction to his performance at a convention of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Gwynne got himself booked on the big time Keith vaudeville circuit (which became RKO shortly thereafter).

Gwynne’s large scale act incorporated his wife, children and nephew as the “Royal Family of Magic.” When in New York, they played the Palace (R.K.O.’s flagship theatre) and other top venue such as Loew’s State, the Roxy and Radio City Music Hall. The RKO circuit was good for year-round bookings through 1935, by which time vaudeville was definitively dead. From here Gwynne became one of America’s top night club acts through the end of the 1930s. He also played bit parts in films (sometimes performing magic). You can see him in There Goes My Girl (1937), Damsel in Distress (1937), Dark Streets of Cairo (1940), Bagdad Daddy (1941), Model Wife (1941), and, believe it or not, Citizen Kane (1941).

With the advent of the Second World War, Gwynne toured tirelessly with the U.S.O. Following the war, he settled in Chicago. He toured nationally with his own large scale magic show from 1946 through 1960, and made over two dozen appearances on the ABC television program Super Circus from 1952 through 1955. In the 60s he performed an educational magic show in New York city schools.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous