10 of History’s Most Legendary Magicians

by Neha Bansal2 years ago

6 Harry Blackstone Sr. (1885 – 1965)

Harry Blackstone Sr., or “The Great Blackstone,” gained fame with his floating-lightbulb and vanishing-birdcage tricks. He was mostly known for this comedy magic show, “Straight and Crooked Magic” that he performed with his brother, Pete. 

Harry Blackstone Sr
Harry Blackstone (Image to the left), Harry Blackstone Sr. performing the Indian rope trick on stage. Image Credits: Wikimedia.org, Wikimedia.org

American magician Harry Blackstone Sr. was nicknamed “The Great Blackstone.” His phenomenal magic tricks include the dancing-handkerchief, the floating-lightbulb, and the vanishing-birdcage tricks. He often wore a white bow tie and black coattails while performing shows during World War II. Blackstone was also quite good with card tricks. 

Blackstone was born in 1885 in Chicago. He received a magic-trick game on his 8th birthday, and it was then that his love for magic began. Harry Blackstone Sr. had his first paid performance at the age of 14  years.

Harry initially began performing shows with his brother, Pete, and their “Straight and Crooked Magic” comedy show was highly famous. He later gained fame and continued performing across the globe for more than three decades with his brother as his manager.

He died in 1965 in Hollywood. His son, Harry Blackstone, Jr., continued his legacy from 1934 to 1997. (1, 2) 


7 Dai Vernon (1894 – 1992)

Known for being one of the greatest sleight-of-hand magicians of all times, Dai Vernon was nicknamed “The Professor” as he taught many other legendary magicians. He once fooled Houdini in a card magic trick and thenceforth, started billing himself as “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” for the next 20 years. 

Dai Vernon - Legendary Magicians
Dai Vernon (Image to the left), the vanishing card trick by Dai Vernon. Image Credits: Magician/ Wikimedia.org, The David Ben Collection/magicana.com

Canadian magician Dai Vernon was world-famous for his card tricks. He was the mentor of many famous magicians and was nicknamed “The Professor.”

He had once managed to trick the great magician Houdini in a card trick. Houdini had claimed that he could figure out any magic trick after watching it three times. Later, Dai Vernon started calling himself, “The Man Who Fooled Houdini.” 

Born as David Frederick Wingfield Verner in 1894 in Ottawa, he was fascinated with magic from the tender age of six. He decided to become a professional magician and learned many sleight-of-hand tricks, up-close, and card tricks later on.

Dai Vernon later changed his last name from Verner to “Vernon” because he felt his name was often misspelled. He also changed his first name from David to “Dai” for similar reasons. (1, 2)


8 The Great Lafayette (1871 – 1911)

Mostly known for his signature lion’s-bride illusion, which showcased him swapping places with a live lion, The Great Lafayette was one of the greatest illusionists of his times.

The Great Lafayette
The Great Lafayette (Image to the left), Poster of a Lafayette show called, “A Carnival of Conjuring”. Image Credits: themagicdetective.com, themagicdetective.com

The great Illusionist, The Great Lafayette, was a friend of magician Harry Houdini and a private person who was not very social with his fellow magicians.

Houdini was his only magician friend who had once given him a dog named Beauty, whom he adored more than anything in the world. He was the highest-paid entertainer of his times and known for his signature lion’s-bride illusion, in which he would swap places with a live lion. 

He had so much hold on the audience that when a stage lamp fell and ignited the entire set, everyone thought it was part of his show. A total of 3,000 people sat and watched while the fire spread.

Sadly, they were all incinerated in the fire along with the lion. Lafayette had managed to escape, but he returned to rescue his horse in a vain attempt and perished in the fire. 

Born as Sigmund Neuberger in 1871 in Munich, the Great Lafayette met his untimely death in Edinburgh’s Empire Palace theater in 1911. (1, 2)


9 John Nevil Maskelyne (1839 – 1917)

Popular for exposing the fraudulent magic of the Davenport Brothers and performing the same trick without claiming to have supernatural powers, Maskelyne was actually the first magician to perform the trick of levitation.

John Nevil Maskelyne
John Nevil Maskelyne (Image to the left), Both Jasper Maskelyne’s grandfather and father were magicians. This poster advertises one of his grandfather’s shows. Image Credits: Carte de Visite Woodburytype – Print/ Wikimedia.org, Harry Ransom Center/The University of Texas at Austin

Three generations of Maskelynes awed the world with their magic tricks with grandfather, father, and son. John Nevil Maskelyne was the first one to contribute to the world of magic with his knowledge, skills, and invention.

John Nevil Maskelyne was the first magician to perform the trick of levitation, although sources say that it was Robert-Houdin. He later invented many devices including the “pay toilet.” Maskelyne also founded the Occult Committee in 1914, in which he exposed many fraudsters claiming to have supernatural powers. He was famous for performing Maskelyne’s box trick, automata, and juggling. 

Born in 1839 in England, he was trained to be a watchmaker. He fell in love with magic when he saw the performance of the Davenport Brothers for the first time. He immediately understood the Davenports’ spirit-cabinet illusion trick and claimed to do the same without any supernatural powers. After his success, he went on to perform more shows.

His legacy was later taken forward by his son, Nevil Maskelyne, and his grandson, Jasper Maskelyne. The three Maskelynes are some of the most legendary magicians of history. (1, 2)


10 Harry Houdini (1874 – 1926)

One of the best legendary magicians and escape artists and known worldwide for his escape acts, Harry Houdini took the inspiration for his name from the famous Robert Houdin. He was known for his ability to manipulate locks and escape from any kind of bondage.

Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini (Image to the left), Harry Houdini jumps 30 feet from Harvard Bridge locked up in chains, April 30, 1908. Boston, Massachusetts. His hands were handcuffed and chained to a collar around his neck by a Boston policeman. Image Credits: Shutterstock.com

Harry Houdini was a notable Hungarian-American stunt performer, illusionist, and escape artist, famous for his notorious escape acts. He was first noticed in his vaudeville acts in the United States and then in Europe where he was nicknamed as “Harry Handcuff Houdini.”

He constantly challenged the authorities to keep him locked up in handcuffs. Soon, he expanded his escape acts by using chains, ropes slung from tall buildings, straitjackets underwater, and many other devices.

He had even performed a trick where he had to hold his breath inside a sealed milk can containing water. His daring and sensational escape acts were performed on the basis of his extraordinary physical strength and his ability to manipulate locks. Many motion pictures also featured the acts from 1916 to 1923. 

Born as Erik Weisz in 1874, Harry Houdini was the son of a Jewish scholar. In 1894, he got married to Wilhelmina Rahner, who later became his stage assistant under the name of “Beatrice Houdini.” He died of peritonitis in 1926 in Detroit. (1, 2)

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