MEMOIRS - 05 - Personalities

Chung Ling Soo, the famous Chinese Magician, I knew personally, and when he happened to be showing at the Shepherds Bush empire, he often came round to our house in Holland Park, after his performances, to have a bit of supper and a chat. For close-up work and pocket tricks, Chung was a master, and could palm a small coin as easily as he could a large cigar or good-sized orange.

His sad and tragic death came as a great shock to his friends and to the Profession, as he was a great favourite with his fellow workers, and with the public at large.

Chung Ling Soo was accidentally shot, at the Wood Green Empire on Saturday, 23rd, March, 1918. He died from his injuries on the following day. The fatality occurred during the second house, about 1045p.m. During the performance of his chief trick, which was known as "The Bullet Catching Trick", and which consisted of catching on a plate, bullets from a rifle which was fired at him from the front or side of the stage. He had done this trick hundreds of times before, but this night, simultaneously with the

report of the gun, Chung Ling Soo was seen to fall and roll over on to the stage. The curtain was immediately lowered and some pictures were shown. As this was the last item on the programme the majority of the audience left the building without knowing what had happened. The accident was due to faulty mechanism of the rifle. It was discovered afterwards that the bullet had entered the right side and passed right through him, embedding itself in the wings of the scenery.

Chung Ling Soo was a Scots American whose real name was William Elsworth Robinson, he was aged 59 at the time of the accident. He possessed a faculty of ‘make-up’ and was generally accepted as a genuine Chinaman. He had performed before Royalty on several occasions.

Hamleys, the first Magical Store I ever visited was in Oxford Street, and the first trick I bought from them was, the Vanishing Penny. I remember well, going in and asking for a demonstration and the young man who did the trick for me, took the penny in his right hand and transferred it to his left hand, and the penny just seemed to melt into thin air, and it was eventually produced from behind his right knee. I wonder how many of the present day Magicians have started their career, by performing the vanishing coin trick?

Ornums. One of the most fascinating Magical Deposits I can remember was ‘Ornums’ in Duke Street, Adelphi, London.

"Ornums magical mart" to give it its full name, was owned and run by George Mackenzie Munro, one of the founders of the Magic Circle, London. For twenty years, Mr. Munro had this Depot in Duke Street. It was a quaint little place up a dark stairway, which led into a room which had a small counter behind which Mr. Munro was discovered ensconced amid a jumble of packing cases and tables; his shelves were laden with boxes containing props, fakes, coils and tricks of all descriptions. Dear old Munro was a good sort, very obliging and always willing to help and advise the beginner. Ornums was known most to the world’s famous conjurers, from Professor Hoffman to Chung Ling Soo; and when you paid a visit there, you were sure to meet one or two fellow magicians, and hear all about the latest tricks, and the doings of the Magical World.

Dear old Munro passed away at the age of 65, in his house in Upper Tooting, on August 26th, 1929.