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Home Magic History
Famous Wisconsin Magicians
Orson Welles Print E-mail
CLICK HERE to view Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich video!

1915-1985

Born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, WI.  This actor best known for making the movie Citizen Kane (1941), was also an accomplished magician.

Orson was inspired by his fathers love of magic and by seeing magic shows. He learned from a Mysto Magic set at age 8 and was doing sleights by 12.  Both his parents died by the time he was 15, leaving him with an inheritance.  By his early 20s he had joined John Houseman to form The Mercury Theater.  In 1938, he direced a radio version of the H.G. Wells story "War of the Worlds".  It fooled many people into thinking that martians had invaded Earth.

Orson went on to direct films, act in movie and on stage, write and produce.  In the war years, he started his Mercury Wonder Show and traveled with USO units to Armed Forces camps performing magic and comedy. His main assistants were Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth.

In 1944, Orson had a cameo in the movie "Follow the Boys".  He peformed part of his Mercury Wonder Show magic act and sawed Marlene Dietrich in half.

After giving an interview on the Merv Griffin Show, Orson died of a heart attack, two hours later, in 1985.

To view a video of Orson and Marlene Dietrich in action, click Orson's picture at the upper left above.

         
 
Norm Nielsen Print E-mail
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Norm Nielsen’s “Musical Magic Act” is one of the most memorable and most beautiful acts in magic. He is one of the few performers that has been able to evoke a true sense of “wonder and enchantment” in numerous audiences around the world. A native from Kenosha, Wisconsin, his interest in magic started at a young age after watching his barber perform a few cigarette tricks. “I became his friend," he says, “and went with him to the bars and watched him perform over and over again. And, he never told me how the tricks were done, but I eventually caught on....” A few years later, he had the opportunity to go to his first magic convention in White Water, Wisconsin, were he saw Neil Foster perform. Seeing this magician was such an inspiration that he soon went to Los Angeles and applied to the Chavez School of Magic.

Attending the Chavez School was not easy. After busing tables and working at a local factory, he had to spend five hours a day, five days a week, at the Chavez School. It was there that students practiced and perfected sleights and routines with cigarettes, thimbles, balls, cards and anything that the course prescribed. He finally graduated in 1953.

Excited, and with his act prepared, he was ready “to take the world by storm”. The first thing h e did was to go see an agent in Hollywood who told him: “You are magician #453 with this Chavez routine and very skilled at it. Now you must begin to throw out the act you have learned. Develop something of your own.” This indeed was the best piece of advice anyone had given him. The School had given him the required technical skills, which is one of the ingredients for success. Yet he still had to develop stage presence and something “original” in order to take him to the top.

Since then, he did magic with doves, and various manipulation acts! One of his first ideas was to make a trumpet toot as it floated in thin air. He eventually rejected it, as the audience would not be able to see the keys move as they played the magical instrument. This led to the creation of the floating violin, whose moving bow was sure to be seen. He made several prototypes, and it took almost two years before it was ready. It took several more years to perfect the illusion to its current state. This is one of the most memorable moments in magic.

Most of his Musical Magic Act is described by John Fisher in the book Paul Daniels and the Story of Magic: “This warm, engaging performer weaves a very special spell of wonder as first a flute disintegrates into silver dust the moment it touches his lips. Coins appear mysteriously at his fingertips, to be dropped melodically upon what resembles a vertical xylophone, down which they tinkle with a distinctive m elody of their own, faster and faster until his hands are overflowing. The whole sequence has that Cartier stamp of dazzle and class. Nielsen’s speciality, however, is his floating violin, rightly considered to be one of the most beautiful illusions in magic. The instrument takes on a bewitching life of its own as it soars, spins, and plays hide-and-seek behind a silk scarf in Nielsen’s hands. Balanced precariously across the strings, the bow moves tantalizingly to and fro to play hauntingly of their own accord. In a last attempt to tame the instrument, the magician throws the scarf high into the air. In less than a second, the violin literally melts away. Nielsen walks forward to acknowledge his applause; from the wings the violin enters at ground level and makes its way to his side. As Nielsen takes his bow, the violin dips the head of his fingerboard as its own cheeky mark of respect. Seldom has a magician endowed a supposedly inanimate object with such telling personality.” 

This act has been on of the most sought after variety acts in Europe. Mr. Nielsen has worked in London, Helsinki, Istanbul, Tokyo, Caracas, Santiago, Las Vegas, Sydney, Montecarlo, etc. Indeed, he has worked in almost every top nightclub in the world, including the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris, where he performed on and off for six years.

He has received numerous awards as well: Stage Magician of the Year - Magic Castle (1970), Magician of the Year - Magic Castle (1978), Jack Gwynne Award (1977, 1988), Chavez Award 1991, Golden Mandrake Award - Paris (1991), Performing Fellowship - Magic Castle (1994), Magician’s Favorite Magician CBS-TV (1995). Lately, he has been honored in various events and conventions. His latest award was the Milbourne Christopher Masters Award (2009), during the SAM National Convention dedicated to him.

Apart from his performing career, he is the owner of Nielsen Magic, his magic business since 1956. In the early years, he learned how to make magic props from Theo Bamberg, also known as Okito. He was given permission by Okito to manufacture all items of his line, including the beautiful Okito Checker Cabinet. He is also the manufacturer of the high-quality Nielsen line of products, which include among others, Vanishing Bottles, Rubber Doves and Manipulation Cards.

Magic performing and manufacturing have given meaning to his life, until nineteen years ago, when he discovered a new passion: Magic stone-lithographs or posters. It all started with a gift: A friend gave him a Fu Manchu 1/2-sheet poster -- all falling apart and in pieces. He had this one restored and mounted and “it seemed to ‘grow’ on him.” Later, someone else offered him a Frakson poster. Then came his third poster: a 3-sheet Carter “Priestess of Delphi”. After that he has literally become “possessed” and motivated to obtain every paper sample he can. His passion has come to such point, that in seven short years he has gathered one of the largest c ollection of magic stone-lithographs in the world! He is also perhaps one of the most knowledgeable persons in that field. Posters of Houdini, Herrmann, Kellar, Thurston, Leroy, grace his collection. And what is most amazing, 70% of his collection is all on display! Visiting his collection allows us to touch a vital part of magic history. You can visit his website at: http://www.nnmagic.com

   
 
Thomas Solomon Print E-mail
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THOMAS SOLOMON is an American escape artist and magician who grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He began his career fascinated with mechanical devices . . . especially locks. At the age of thirteen, too young to acquire a legal work permit, he was apprenticed to a locksmith on Milwaukee’s South Side for the summer with the "enviable" and unpaid job requirement of answering the phone and sweeping the floors.

Endearing himself to the lock professionals with his quest for knowledge, they gradually took him 'under their wing' teaching him the 'real work'; how to open locks without keys; how to fashion lock-opening tools and how to crack safes. Around age sixteen, a separate interest in magic began to blossom.

To Solomon, the modus operandi of most illusions and stage magic ran parallel with his interest in mechanics. He began experimenting with a magic act of self-working mechanical apparatus and sleight-of-hand. In Milwaukee, then Chicago, Solomon first presented "The Great Escape," a show combining magic with one escape from a locked chain in which he demonstrated lock-picking. The nightclub, sensing potential asked Solomon to drop the magic and concentrate only on escapes. As a marketing ploy, the nightclub asked participants to bring whatever they wanted to the theatre (handcuffs, locks, and straitjackets) to challenge the magician. It is said that over the course of three years, he never failed.

Throughout this time, he retained steady performance gigs at Café LaBoehme, John Hawkes Pub and El Sombrero where he honed his sleight-of-hand while attending school. Summers he spent working at the locksmith shop and performing his magic act at Milwaukee’s ethnic festivals. In 1982, he caused a stir, receiving national press when he attempted an underwater escape in Lake Michigan at the South Shore Yacht Club.

Now living in New York City, he has performed his award-winning handcuff act (2000 World Magic Awards, PAX Television) at The Roxy, The Magic Castle, Bally's and many others. He has performed aboard ships for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line traveling throughout Bermuda and the Caribbean. He has entertained twice at The White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and later George Bush where he escaped the handcuffs of the Uniformed Secret Service. His trade show clients include Ford Motor Company, State Farm Insurance, Proctor and Gamble, Absolut Vodka, Winston/Salem Cigarettes, Compaq Computers, Deutsche Bank, Birdseye Frozen Foods, Black and Decker and many, many others. He has had two Off-Broadway shows and numerous television credits.

To date Solomon has escaped from more than 5000 pairs of handcuffs of all different types from all times in history. Among them: Solomon is the only escape artist to have escaped from the handcuffs that held the Lincoln assassination co-conspirator, Lewis Payne (Powell). Also, he has escaped the leg irons that imprisoned Billy the Kid at the Lincoln County Courthouse in 1881. Solomon has escaped two locked safes in his career, one of them underwater for the British television show, Thomas Solomon: The Escape Artist.

Solomon has escaped 19 jails throughout his career in New York City, London, Philadelphia, Chicago, Trenton and others. Most notable were his escapes from the maximum security prison Pentonville in the UK (that houses IRA prisoners) and from Al Capone's personal cell at Eastern State Penitentiary for his show, No Jail Can Hold Me on The History Channel. He has accomplished hundreds of straitjacket releases, most notably an escape from the all-leather straitjacket specifically created to thwart him by Menkes Leather Works. He escaped a tightly bound straitjacket in the pouring rain hanging upside down from a tower crane 150 feet above the street in Portland, Oregon in December 2006. Subsequent accomplishments include his escape from a twenty pound ball and chain at the bottom of the Hudson River; his escape after being chained to a weighted chair in the East River; underwater escapes in the Mississippi, Boston Harbor, Long Island Sound, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and many others.

Further credits for Thomas Solomon:

Stage— Theatre of the Macabre Off Broadway 1995-1998 (1500 performances), Ellusions Off Broadway 2002-2003.

Television— World Magic Awards 2000 PAX Television,
Thomas Solomon: The Escape Artist 2003 Channel Four Great Britain,
The History of Magic 2004 BBC Great Britain,
The Secret World of Magicians 2005 Channel Five Great Britain,
No Jail Can Hold Me 2007 The History Channel.

Published Works— "Diaries of an Escape Artist" (1999), "Escape!!!" (2003) and "Escape Velocity" (2004).

 
William Larsen Sr. Print E-mail

1905-1953

William was born and raised in Green Bay, WI   Inspired and learned magic from tricks bought by his father, who owned Green Bay Canning Co.

He moved to Pasadena, CA in 1922 to be a criminal attorney. He later gave up his practice to become a full time magician at resort hotels and other venues.

William contributed a number of routines, both in his name and a pen name, J. Mark Hall, to SPHINX in the early 20s. One idea of his was called "Finger Prints" which would later become the "Out to Lunch" principle.

In 1936 William founded GENII Magazine along with his wife Gerri, who was a magician in her own right.  The magazine is the longest running independent magazine devoted to magic and magicians in the history of the art.  Richard Kaufman is the currently publisher.

In 1939, he toured the USA with a full evening magic stage show with his wife and their two sons, Bill, Jr. and Milt.

1942-1947 purchased and operated Thayer Magic company.

The Academy of Magical Arts was created by William in 1952, in the pages of Genii.  For many years he dreamed of building a meeting place for magicians and a home for the Academy.  He died a year later, of a cerebral hemmorage due to alcoholism, never realizing his dream.  In 1963, Milt and Bill took took their fathers idea and opened the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA.

William wrote and published manuscripts, mostly on mentalism. His son Bill, Jr. put some of the manuscripts together to create The Mental Mysteries of William Larsen, Sr. (1977)

 

 
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