Magic has lost all its magic. These days, it feels more like a sleekly packaged act of illusion engineering. The eye-popping, jaw-dropping, awe-inducing wonderment that used to accompany the abracadabra has mysteriously vanished into thin air. All one gets to hear now is the incredulous catcalls of killjoys screaming: “Haven’t we seen this on YouTube before?”
Things were much better in the pre-internet era. The worldwide brotherhood of magicians went to great lengths to create an aura of mystique around their tricks. No one ever wrote ‘sleight-of-hand’ manuals or shot ‘Magic for Beginners’ videos explaining the elaborate deceptions. Part of the charm flowed from the larger-than-life persona projected in the public eye. It also helped to have strange names that lit the fire of intrigue in the mind of the beholder.
The 17th century ‘Conjurer of Kings’, Jacob Meyer, assumed the name ‘Philadelphia’ when he chose to tease emperors by producing ghosts out of smoke, flower showers from the sky and appearing in four places at the same moment.
Long before the invention of the fictional Harry Potter, there was a black magician named ‘Potter’ (Richard Potter). He was famed for dancing on fire, walking on eggs without breaking them, and climbing up a yarn and vanishing into the clouds.
In the late 19th century, Erich Weisz who dreamt of making it big, decided to call himself as ‘Houdini’ as a nod to the French magician Robert-Houdin. The name change worked as Erich ended up becoming the world’s greatest escape artist.
Likewise, Samri S. Baldwin, the American legendary for occultist psychic acts, used to bill himself as ‘The White Mahatma’ to add that Indian zing to his performances. David Bamberg opted for ‘Fu Manchu’ to give himself an exotic Chinese makeover while doing shows in Argentina.
Even the man who made Statue of Liberty disappear renamed himself as David Copperfield (after Charles Dickens’ character) to stand out from his peers. If he had chosen David Seth Kotkin instead, who knows, he might have had to settle for the invisibility of anonymity! BOTTOMLINE: If you want to become a magician, pull out a new name rabbit out of your hat.