For some reason, we’ve had a cluster of Australians here recently, direst Louise Lovely, then Sydney Deane, and now The Great Levante (Leslie George Cole, 1892-1978). Since we generally work off of birthdays, this is the result of no plan; the answer needs must be astrological. Mayhap the Aussie showfolk rutting cycle runs along strict calendar lines. Ours not to reason why.
Cole is widely regarded as Australia’s premiere magician and was regarded as one of the greatest magician’s in the world in his day (the International Brotherhood of Magicians bestowed the title upon him in 1939). He was the founder of the Australian Society of Magicians, the fourth oldest magic fraternity in the world. Cole grew up on farms, and was 17 when he was hired by a Melbourne hotel to tend bar and maintain a billiards hall. Here, he met the great American magician Tom Selwyn, then on tour, and apprenticed under him for two years. It was Selwyn who gave him his stage name. The Great Levante toured Australian vaudeville, rep theatres and amusement parks, and occasionally pulled Houdini-esque stunts like jumping off the Queens Bridge in shackles. Houdini’s Metamorphosis was in his repertoire (as “The Steel Trunk Mystery”), as was the hoary old Wrestling Cheese gag. He is best known for devising the first Impalement illusion. His wife and daughter were also in his act as assistants.
From 1933 through 1940, Levante embarked on his first grand world tour. In 1940 he devised his evening-length revue How’s Tricks, which incorporated comedy, singing and animal acts along with his magic and had a cast of 40. He did not retire until 1977, a few months before his death.
To learn more about the vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous