Max Holden: The Man Behind the Magic Shop

I first learned about magician Max Holden (William Holden Maxwell, 1884-1949) when researching this piece on Times Square area magic shops last fall.

Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Holden was the son of a cabinetmaker and the nephew of juggler and magician Fred Henson, whom he assisted early in his career. An apprenticeship with the great David Devant further developed his skills and his reputation and he soon branched out on his own performing magic and juggling on the UK’s Moss Empire Circuit.

When he was 21 (1905), Holden moved to the U.S. and established himself in Boston, working the Keith-AlbeeOprheum and Loew’s vaudeville circuits. In addition to his skills of legerdemain, Holden became celebrated for his shadowgraphy, the vaudeville specialty of making silhouette shadow shapes with his hands, employing colored-lighting for his own twist. For a time, he toured with his first wife as Holden and Graham. The first Mrs. Holden, who was also a dancer, passed away in 1919 and he soon married a woman named Tess Maxwell who also became his stage assistant.

The Holdens toured throughout the world until retiring in 1929, to open their famed magic shop (taking over Blackstone’s Magic Company). It became a major gathering spot for the magic community, and remained one long after Holden’s death. Always entrepreneurial, Holden also wrote articles for The Sphinx and Walter Gibson’s Seven Circles, published and sold books like those of Ted Annemann and Jean Hugard, and designed and built custom props for magicians.

In the 1930s Holden (along with others) weathered a scandal involving the public revelation of some major magic secrets in a magazine ad campaign. His involvement was later proved to be true in a 1994 article. This article on itricks tells much more about that scandal, and Holden’s career in general.

For more on vaudeville and music hall, where magicians like Max Holden throve, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.