Nestled in the Sepulveda Pass, somewhere between the new Getty and the Sherman Oaks Galleria, lies the Skirball Cultural Center. Peer further in and you’ll find a fantastic anthology of escapists and prestidigitators; practitioners of legerdemain, lock-picking, sleight of hand; gentlemen steeped in 19th century panache, replete with gallant pseudonyms and ubiquitous facial hair.
“Daring illusions, charismatic stage personae, spectacle and wit…” begs the bill as you enter Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age. Not tricks–these exceptional men and women performed magic–and their collected relics are available to be seen for only a few more days. Through January 8th, 2012 the Skirball features this outstanding collection of historical heroes and the tools, trinkets, costumes, and posters that enchanted thousands in the days before film and television.
Tour guide Dana Miller kept last Thursday’s afternoon crowd engaged with a superb re-telling of Harry Houdini’s humble past and subsequent rise to fame. Houdini practiced holding his breath for his performances in his home bathtub. He borrowed his name from French magician and performer Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Houdini was intended to convey Houdin-like.
Houdini was an easy sell. Even 85 years after his Halloween day death, Houdini’s legend survives, largely intact. But it is the other names, long forgotten, which Masters of Illusion brings together in this superior exhibition. Horace Goldin, Royal Illusionist. Leon Hermann, aka Hermann The Great. Ernest Thorn. Felix Hermann, nephew of The Great. Harry Kellar. The Great Ramses, born Albert Marchinski. Carl Hetrz, assisted by Mademoiselle D’Alton, Rosini, the Napolean of Mystery. Theodore Bamberg and, later, his son David, better known as Fu Manchu.
If you adored the novels The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and/or Carter Beats the Devil as much as I, this exhibit is not to be missed. Thursdays at the Skirball offer free admission, which leaves exactly one more freebie day before the January 8th close.