How the Beatles Spoiled Fred Kaps’ Big Moment

Fred Kaps (Abraham Pieter Adrianus Bongers, 1926-1980) was the Dutch magician who had the grave misfortune to follow the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show on their American debut in 1964. As any performer knows, following an act that does really well kills your act. It therefore follows that following an unprecedented sensation is disastrous. On the Sullivan show Kaps basically had to perform magic tricks for an audience of 14 year old girls who were still crying, chattering excitedy with each other, and recovering from their first orgasms as the Fab Four trotted off the stage. It was especially unfortunate for Kaps not just because it ought to have been one of the biggest nights of his life, but because he had deserved to be there. He had won the Grand Prix of the prestigious International Federation of Magic Societies (FISM) an unprecedented three times. This was the kind of thing Sullivan loved, and it made Kaps one of the top magicians in the world. Could there be a more eloquent moment to illustrate the transformation of American show business? A decade later there would be no shows like Sullivan’s that would regularly showcase magicians like Kaps alongside other entertainers. Magicians continued to appear on TV but usually on their own specials, if they could swing one, or the occasional talk show. And pop singers and musicans were omnipresent.

Kaps was from Rotterdam. Among his numerous contributions to magic were his own original version of the color changing silks; his own take on perpetually pouring salt, and a floating cork routine designed to be shown to small groups for close up inspection. His influences and heroes included Channing Pollock (that pose with the fanned cards above is proof), Roy Benson (from whom he adapted the salt trick), Chefalo, and Kalanag. He was only 54 when he died of cancer in 1980.

For more on variety entertainment history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,