Famous Stage Illusions

The most famous stage illusions have been around for years -- certain acts have never lost their power to enchant and intrigue audiences. Stage illusionists make up one of the smallest groups of magicians, due to the incredible expense of their equipment. They often commit to just a few venues so they don't have to shift their props.

The cutting in half of a woman or man is probably the most well-known stage illusion. Most credit P.T. Selbit with the first formal presentation of this illusion, and the Thayer company for coming up with a standard prop box that sold for $175 to magicians who wanted to replicate the stunt.

Harry Houdini was famous for his "Vanishing Elephant" illusion, in which he made an elephant disappear in the Hippodrome. This was accomplished with the help of a huge container that the audience never knew still contained the elephant when it was spun around, as a black curtain was used to produce a shadow and the elephant was crowded to one side of the crate.

The "Lady into a Tiger" trick has been a staple of stage illusions for decades, and tigers formed the cornerstone of the famous Siegfried and Roy act. The use of exotic animals in stage acts was curtailed somewhat after one of the duo's tigers attacked Roy and bit him on the neck. The trick generally involves a beautiful female assistant who appears to be magically changed into a tiger.

Harry Blackstone Sr. performed amazing tricks with disappearing birdcages and magically appearing flowers. His son, Harry Blackstone Jr., became famous for his own acts as well as carrying on his father's "floating light bulb" trick. Blackstone Jr. also created magic trick sets marketed to children, and he had a show on PBS where he used magic tricks to teach mathematics to young children.

Pulling a rabbit from a top hat is possibly one of the most cliched magic tricks of all; this stunt is alternately attributed to the French magician Comte in 1814, and the famed John Anderson, known as the "Wizard of the North," who was one of Houdini's inspirations.

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