Superb performers in history

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 12/22/03 02:42 PM

In reading EXPERT CARD TECHNIQUE the other day, I came across the following passage under the heading, "The Presentation of Magic" (p. 431):

"...remember that not everyone can be a Frank van Hoven or a Russell Swann."

Apparently, these performers were the gold standard of their day as pertains to performance. Strange that the names of Hugard, Braue, and Anneman should be among the most famous names of that era, and van Hoven and Swann are unfamiliar to me.

Does anyone have any information on how great these performers were?

Postby Guest » 12/22/03 04:47 PM

Read David Price's MAGIC history book and Dai Vernon's old GENII column, regarding Van Hoven and Swann. With the exception of Jean Hugard, the others were not well-known to the general public. Van Hoven and Swann were very successful performers, because of their personality they sold and the entertainment value their acts had. They were both very funny and got high salaries spanning from the vaudeville to nightclub era, when many performers couldn't make that adjustment.

Postby Jim Riser » 12/22/03 04:55 PM

David and Diego;
There is additional info on Van Hoven in one of Eric Lewis' books.
Jim Riser
Posts: 1003
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Tucson, AZ

Postby Pete Biro » 12/22/03 05:25 PM

My dad worked with Frank Van Hoven. He was the funniest act in his time. He was known as "The Man that Made Ice Famous."

He was making more money than Houdini.

Van Hoven was making $10,000 a week in the 1920s with his vaudeville and music hall act (he was H U G E in England too). Both Tommy Cooper and Ballantine owe much to the groundbreaking work of Van Hoven.

His "signature" piece was to produce a huge block of ice and have a spectator come onstage to HOLD IT... what else happened is little known, as very little was ever written about his act.

My dad told me that when the kid had the ice, Van Hoven would leave the stage and often go out the stage entrance to the alley if there was a bar there and order a beer.

Needless to say, the premise of his act was pretty much "nothing worked" but his attitude and actions were hilarious.

Wish I had more details.

Russell Swann -- I know he was one of the top comedy acts in the Eastern "finer nightclubs" but I pass on to others to give you more information.

I do know he did the Snake Basket as a feature. :D :D :D
Stay tooned.
User avatar
Pete Biro
Posts: 7125
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollyweird

Postby Matthew Field » 12/23/03 09:35 AM

Vernon made many references to Van Hoven in his "Vernon Touch" Genii columns. He was also billed as "The Dippy Mad Magician."

Matt Field
User avatar
Matthew Field
Posts: 2547
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hastings, England, UK

Postby Pete Biro » 12/23/03 09:58 AM

I have a poster hanging in my office with "FRANK VAN HOVEN... The Dippy Mad Magician" heading the bill at the Argyle Theater, Sept. 3, 1917 (England)

My other favorite performer (Luckily I did see him) was LARRY GRAY The Dizzy Wizzard. Vernon and he were pals, both experts at cutting sillouettes.
Stay tooned.
User avatar
Pete Biro
Posts: 7125
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollyweird

Postby John Smetana » 12/23/03 01:07 PM

I seem to recall seeing Russ Swan at an annual SAM show in NYC. Wasn't he the one who appeared to be having a problem with the snake basket effect and then laid down on the stage and worked on the basket from underneath, much like a car mechanic would do. Was the time..
I think he also did an excellent head chopper routine.

Best thoughts,
John Smetana
User avatar
John Smetana
Posts: 264
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Morganville, NJ

Postby Guest » 12/23/03 06:36 PM

The Van Hoven/Swann entry was most interesting. To Pete B., I'd note that his father's memory--or Pete's in recalling it--was a bit off, in that it was (as his father did note) a 'little boy' who held the block of ice, not truly a spectator. The kid, if memory serves--and I don't mean my memory as I'm not old enough to have seen vH, but rather reading about the act--was one of two paid stooges (the other also a kid). By all accounts a great performer. Interestingly enough (if you'll trust my already admitted caveat)Dell O'Dell, his girl-friend at the time, tried to continue his act when he died, but it didn't 'go.' Swann (who I did see) was a fine nightclub entertainer at the time. He used a lot of stock stuff and got a lot out of it all. A rabbit-wringer, for example; taking the flattened rabbit and putting it into a dove-pan with an air gizmo from a tire attached, and inflating it with a hand-pump. Sound corny? Wasn't when Swann did it. He sort of got out of magic professionally and became an official in AGVA. Good to see such names still bandied about.

Postby Anthony Brahams » 12/24/03 02:29 AM

My father told me that Van Hoven was one of the funniest acts he had ever seen, and that is from going to probably thousands of variety (US=vaudeville) shows in London and other parts of England from about 1920 onwards, particularly if there was a magician on the bill. The "assistant" appeared to be from the audience and I do not recall hearing that it was a boy.
Anthony Brahams
Posts: 196
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Norwich, U.K.

Postby Kim » 01/08/04 02:13 PM

The name Van Hoven is new to me, but Russell Swan is mentioned numerous times if the Jinx ;)
Posts: 41
Joined: 03/21/08 01:26 PM

Postby Pete Biro » 09/20/04 01:48 PM

John S.... I believe the repair man was Recil Bordner, owner of Abbott's and seller of the Abbott Snake Basket.

For some reason I think it was Duke Stern and/or Karrell Fox that was doing the basket and when it didn't work Recil came to the rescue with tools, etc. under the table just like an auto mechanic under a lift.

It was very funny. I is possible that Swann did it as well, and they were doing a take off (or rip off) of the gag.
Stay tooned.
User avatar
Pete Biro
Posts: 7125
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollyweird

Postby Jacky Kahan » 09/20/04 02:22 PM

There is an E-book available at

Programmes of Famous Magicians
by Max Holden (1937)
and you'll find
on Page 41 Russell Swann

This ebook gives a very nice glimpse into the past. It describes the routines and effects of the programmes of famous magicians.

Hope this helps

Jacky Kahan
Posts: 391
Joined: 03/16/08 04:55 PM
Location: Belgium

Postby David Alexander » 09/20/04 06:46 PM

Russell Swann was extremely successful, earning $2,000 a week when other magicians were happy with $300. There is a geat picture in an old Genii with Swann, Snag Werris, and a singer named Sinatra all wearing towel turbans doing the Snake Basket. That's the kind of juice Swann had.

Swann had a successful run in England, earning the admiration of the likes of The Great Lyle, which is a hallmark of how good Swann was.

He was one of the very best at what he did, and that was entertain with magic.
David Alexander
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL

Postby Guest » 09/21/04 01:57 AM

Yo can see a pic of Russell here:
[second pic.)
I "googled" this info:

"The Magic Guillotine!" (Russell Swann) 7 p. in Red Dragon
Comics, v. 1, no. 5 (Oct./Nov. 1948)
I. Russell Swann. k. Swann, Russell. k. Guillotines. Call
no.: Film 27395
Magic Tricks.
"Swann's String Stunt!" 1 p. in Red Dragon Comics, v. 1,
no. 5 (Oct./Nov. 1948) -- Explains the Russell Swann magic
trick in the previous story, "The Magic Guillotine!" --
Call no.: Film 27395

Gali-Gali and Russell Swann performed in top spots throughout the United States for years and years and years while other magicians with more prominent stars in the magic firmament were performing at magic wand [ ] conventions or getting good press in magic journals, thus ensuring themselves a more lasting legacy with the magic community. Perhaps Swann and Gali-Gali were too busy to performing to attend conventions, perhaps their magic was too pedestrian to interest the amateur seeking new effects, perhaps their agents thought it inadvisable, or perhaps they were just in show business while others gravitated more toward the camaraderie that the magic community provides.
VIDEO: 100. The Great Masters of Magic Houdini, Keller, Thurston, Okito. David Devant, The Great Nicole, Dante, Rosini, Fu-Manchu, Dunninger, Kalanag, Blackstone, St, Horace Goldin, Milbourne Christopher, Cardini, Russell Swann, Kuda Bw Levante, Robert Harbin, Sorcar, Fred Kaps, Richiardi Betz

Postby David Alexander » 09/21/04 09:41 AM

Russell Swann performed his guillotine on the old Jackie Gleason TV show. During rehersal the director kept cutting him down in time, eliminating funny lines and bits of business. When Swann complained, he was told "we already have a comedian on the show."

Kjellstrom has it exactly right that Galli-Galli and Swann were too busy performing to attend conventions. Both men were part of Show Business, not amateur magic. They knew that if they attended conventions amateurs would happily steal lines and bits of business or full presentations, so they stayed away, happy to work for high salaries as opposed to doing conventions for little or no money and exposing their acts to a lot of potential thieves.
David Alexander
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL

Return to Magic History and Anecdotes