Personal News Dep't: My book, The Pocket Guide to Magic, is out.
“Gee, since it’s a pocket guide, I wonder if Bart had to leave anything OUT of a book like that?” you ask. (Look, just play along, okay?)
The answer is that NOTHING was left out of this rabbit-covered pocket guide… save for the following wee tale of catching bullets that I like to call:
The Act That Didn’t Defy Death!To generate suspense, magicians from Houdini to Criss Angel have put themselves in harm’s way performing daredevil escapes and outrageous illusions. Even a talented amateur like myself has felt the icy breath of death on my neck during a performance. Finishing a trick for my sister, I asked, “Is this your card?”
It wasn’t, and she chased me all the way down the block.
But the Bullet Catch is the most dangerous of the life-threatening illusions. You really shouldn’t learn how to do it! The idea is that at least one person fires a gun at the magician who then he catches the bullet on a plate held in front of him or in his teeth. To date, at least fourteen magicians have lost their lives either doing the trick or from complications after the trick has been performed.
One of these magicians was Magic Marvo, a performer in South America. He successfully caught a bullet and was probably feeling good about himself until someone in the audience stood up said something like, “Catch this!” The man then shot at the magician. Marvo didn’t make the catch. (What really stinks was that Marvo hadn’t even asked for a volunteer!)
The first victim of the trick was apparently a woman named Madame de Linsky, who died during a performance around 1820. Twenty years later, performer Arnold Buck made the mistake of letting an audience member come forward to load the gun and shoot at him. Unknown to Buck, the man loaded the barrel with nails, creating a “buckshot” effect that no magician could stop. (The Buck stopped there.)
A surprising number of women have caught bullets. Annie Vernone was seventeen years old when she did the act in 1857. And although most accidents involving the Bullet Catch happen when real bullets were accidentally loaded into a gun, the performer known as Madame Clementine knew she was using real ammunition. Her assistant would hide a bullet in his mouth and Clementine would then aim and deliberately fire past him (inconveniently shooting a hole in the theater) while he would produce the bullet between his teeth.
Nice! But after doing multiple performances in a small theater, Clementine neglected to check her sights when doing the same trick from a different distance in another establishment. Result: Her assistant took a bullet right in the forehead.
Magician Chung Ling Soo (he’s profiled in the Pocket Guide) was shot in 1918. Two bullets had been loaded into two rifles, and after they were fired, the magician staggered back as the audience applauded. (They didn’t understand that he’d actually been shot.) Although it had been twenty years since the fake-Chinese magician had spoken any English onstage, he cried out, “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.”
Chung Ling Soo died the next day.
Fifty years later, magician Paul Daniels re-created the incident on live TV. That is, he wore Soo’s original costume and had one of the men who fired at Soo reprising the role. Daniels made the catch! This success may have inspired the African superstar magician known as Zamba Powers to conclude his evening act in 2007 by having a volunteer come up from the audience to shoot him.
This was all well and good until the volunteer shot him dead and escaped in the pandemonium afterward. See how dangerous the Bullet Catch can be? You’re not really defying death, you’re just making it mad. Heck, Houdini may have been the most fearless magician ever, and he refused to try the Bullet Catch.
What, you still want to learn how to do this trick? Very well, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Please turn to page 532 of this blog.