Thursday, December 31, 2009

Asian and Asian American Magicians

During the early 20th century there were a number of Asian and Asian American magicians of note, however, few of their lives have been actively studied and much of what we know about them has long remained unfortunately brief. Three to consider include:

Ching Ling Foo (1854 - 1922) from Beijing. He was the first modern East Asian magician to achieve world fame, and was immortalized in a song by composer Irving Berlin. He's particularly famous for offering a reward of $1,000 to anyone who could reproduce his most famous trick of producing a child from a bowl of water that was itself created from a piece of empty cloth. Ching Ling Foo's act was ripped off by an American magician who donned yellow-face and claimed he was "Chung Ling Soo."

Long Tack Sam (1885-1961) is from northern China's Shangdung Province. He has come into renewed fame recently thanks to the work of his granddaughter who released a graphic novel and a film discussing the life and times of this magician. You can see a trailer here: An acrobat, magician, comic, impersonator, restauranteur and theater owner, the colorful Long Tack Sam was also Orson Welle's mentor in magic, a freemason and a world traveler.

De Yip Loo is a Chinese American magician with roots in the Midwest. In an article in the May 2004 issue of Magic Magazine, Mark Holstein wrote: “De Yip Loo was a Chinese magician who created the famous “Shang Po Magic Show,” not too long after several seasons of touring the world with the Great Blackstone and, later, the Great Dante." 

De Yip Loo came to America as a teen and started on a farm in Minnesota, but moved to Chicago where he set records for breaking more dishes than anyone else at a local Chinese restaurant. But then the Great Blackstone and from that point on the rest became history. His daughter Mai Ling maintains a great website about his life at

Dr. Krysten R. Moon has a very interesting article: The Rise of Asians and Asian Americans in Vaudeville, 1880s–1930s.

Dr. Moon suggests "While playing to the lowest common denominator, vaudeville was also an incredibly democratic form of entertainment for the period, and a place where the children of immigrants often found success. It was in this environment that Asians and Asian Americans had opportunities to express ideas and traditions in ways that were not found in later forms of entertainment, especially film and television..."

Asian Week has a 2007 article: Asian American Magicians Have The Magic Touch providing a brief overview of the current scene for the emerging Asian American magicians today, including Andrew Ngo, Carlos da Silva II and the multiethnic troupe, Prophecies of the Element:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came across your entry accidentaly.
Thanks for including my father.

My site has changed slightly but will
be bringing back the magic page soon.

Videos can be found on my myspace page.