The Magic of Li King Si

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The performance of magic by Caucasians in yellow face has a long history. The most famous practitioner was William Robinson, who performed as Chung Ling Soo, though he was by no means the only one. Throughout the 1950s and 60s in America (and other Western countries) it was a common trope. Here’s a clip from a 1957 television magic special hosted by Ernie Kovacs with a performance from a magician who called himself Li King Si.

I’ve not been able to find out too much about him or his assistant, but Magicpedia says he was a Frenchman whose real name was Edouard (Georges) Cassel He does a credible Zombie, but the most interesting effect to me was the banner waving that his assistant does in the middle of the act.

You can see the entire 1957 television special (it includes the famous television performance of Cardini) by visiting the YouTube channel of  Todd Karr.

Dumbledore Takes a Bow

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What’s shown in the video above is, essentially, Dumbledore giving a farewell performance for his students at Hogwarts.

Okay, let’s back up a bit.

There really is a Hogwarts. Only it’s called Tannen’s Magic Camp, and it runs every summer teaching a select number of talented young would-be magicians their art and craft. Many, many of the country’s best professional magicians have passed through this camp both as teachers and students including David Blaine, Michael Carbonaro, Steve Cohen, and actor Adrien Brody.

Magician David Oliver, featured in the video above, had been a key figure in mentoring youngsters at the camp over many years. There’s a lovely documentary about the camp where you can see David gently but firmly insisting to his teen students on the necessity of high artistic standards. About seven years ago, however, Oliver received devastating news: he had developed an awful lung disease called hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by working and living with the doves in his act.  In 2013, he had to undergo a lengthy operation, which resulted in a double lung transplant.

So now you have the context for the video. In it, David is performing for his students a little while after the double lung transplant. The cheering you hear is that of students for their beloved teacher. David is performing a classic of magic, the Zombie, the crude mechanics of which every student in the audience is fully aware. But how David works with that ball is like watching Fred Astaire dance with Ginger Rogers: the grace, the fluidity, the precision, he makes it all seem so effortless and beautiful.  I saw him perform this piece in Brooklyn years ago, and it was totally enchanting.

The students are cheering a great teacher, friend, artist, magician, and man of determined courage.