Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Glorious Deception The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" by Jim Steinmeyer

I love books about magicians and theatrical history, and this is one of my absolute favorites. It’s a fascinating story of a complex man, whose personal life was just as complicated as his professional one.

A magician’s patter, the way he playfully banters with the audience or tells stories, painting exotic and mysterious pictures with words to introduce his illusions, is vital to his act. So what does a magician do when he’s naturally soft spoken and speaking on the stage is awkward and forced? William Ellsworth Robinson shaved his head, donned oriental robes, and recreated himself as Chung Ling Soo, billed as “The Marvelous Chinese Conjurer” and relied on his assistants to do his talking for him while he wowed audiences with illusions decked in oriental splendor until the night the bullet trick went fatally wrong and he died on stage in front of his enraptured audience.

This fascinating book is filled with history and mystery, it probes the details of William Robinson’s double life, his transformation from awkward American magician to superstar, a complicated personal life with multiple wives and mistresses, adultery and bigamy, and explores the mysteries and rumors surrounding his final performance. Almost immediately following that night in 1918 there has been speculation about whether it was truly an accident, murder, or even suicide. For lovers of magic, mystery, and history in the mood for a good non-fiction read, I highly recommend “The Glorious Deception.”

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