Before Blaine: Blondini

For half a tic I thought I’d already done something on The Amazing Blondini (Michael Costello, 1922-1996), but that’s just because his stage is an ingenious mash-up of Blondin and Houdini. Blondini was primarily a fairgound performer, in his native Ireland, as well as Great Britain, and eventually the rest of the continents too. It thus feels special to treat of him today (his birthday) for I am planning a dedicated post on the history of fairs for later this month. We take them for granted, but I’ve realized that my earliest live amusement experiences were at fairs. They’re pretty important to me, and their tradition goes back for centuries.

Anyway, Blondini was literally born on a fairground. His mother was a fortune teller, his father, a strong man. (He also had a sister who was a trapeze artist. She was sadly killed in the line of duty). Blondini was only 13 when he broke off with his own act, billing himself as “The World’s Youngest Sword Swallower”. For a time he worked with a medicine show. He later acquired the whole tool-kit of skills: fire-eating, bed of nails, escapology, strong man stunts and the rest. He is known for big public demonstrations — blowing himself up in a coffin, pulling an automobile with his teeth, and, perhaps his best known, staying buried alive for 78 days. David Blaine, eat your heart out!

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