Tuesday, March 11, 2014


   When magician Jim Steinmeyer offers guests a drink they cannot be
sure what they will get. One of his tricks is to pour a variety of
different coloured, multi-flavoured drinks from the same container.

    Since he first created it for television it has become a popular
party piece for those in the know.

   But when he poured water from a jug for me in his kitchen, it was
just iced water. Disappointingly, there were no tricks. Although, as
someone who has spent his life devising and creating illusions, Jim
has plenty up his sleeve.

   Some of his latest magical creations will be among the spectacular
highlights of Aladdin, the Disney musical extravaganza which opens on
Broadway next week.

   The show has given Jim massive scope to create startling new
effects involving Aladdin, his magic lamp, the genie who appears from
it, the villain who becomes trapped in it and, of course, a magic
carpet which flies without the use of wires. "Twenty years ago it
couldn't have been done," he says enigmatically.

     His name may not be widely known to the general public, but
55-year-old Jim Steinmeyer is something of a legend in the world of
magic. He has designed and created illusions for leading magicians,
including Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Ricky Jay, Siegfried and
Roy and Lance Burton.

   For Copperfield he created the now-famous illusion of making the
Statue of Liberty vanish, which was featured on a live television
special; he has made animals disappear for Siegfried and Roy, whom he
calls "the royalty of the entertainment world" and both Copperfield
and Henning have performed Origami, his illusion in which the
magician's assistant steps into a box which folds into a small cube
which is penetrated by three swords before being unfolded, and the
assistant emerges unharmed. Alice Cooper used one of his effects on
his recent tour, in which the singer was confined in a metal torture
device then impaled with a rack of sharp spikes.

    Steinmeyer is also a historian of magic with a particular interest
in Victorian and Edwardian-era performers and has written dozens of
books and papers about magic and magicians although, he says: "It's a
profession that's dying. It started dying when vaudeville died and
there is a feeling we just missed the good old days."

   He takes me though to his magician's cave---in reality, a bright,
airy office in the garden of his home in Burbank, California, just
down the road from the Disney headquarters, where he worked for a
while developing theme park attractions for their Imagineering

  His office is lined with bookshelves containing books on magic; his
many awards, including one from Britain's Magic Circle, are dotted
around the room; posters of old-time magicians adorn the walls and, intriguingly, two boxes, one metal and multi-coloured and the other resembling a wooden coffin, are at one end of the room. Both have been used in performances for the same trick although, says Jim, "There are literally dozens of different
ways to saw a woman in half."

   Jim Steinmeyer has the look of a magician, with a neatly-trimmed,
pointed grey beard and piercing eyes, yet he is modest and
self-effacing, preferring instead to be the brains behind the stars of
the shows.

  "I have always had a fondness for stage magic but working with other
performers has always been more interesting to me," he says. "I always
felt my job was to support really good performers and I've never had a
hankering to perform myself, although I've done a little bit now and

  But when it comes to magic, there is very little new under the sun
and nearly all magic tricks and illusions have been performed before,
sometimes centuries ago, he says. The Haunted House in Disneyland uses
an illusion based on Pepper's Ghost which was first performed in
England by Dr. John Pepper in 1862. And a woman has been sawn in half
on stage ever since British magician P.T. Selbit did it in January
1921 at the Finsbury Park Empire.

  Jim Steinmeyer keeps the secrets behind many of his illusions to himself, although, he says: "Magicians are guarding an empty box because everything is an illusion. The reason I won't tell you how most tricks are done is because you would be so disappointed.

   "You really don't want to know."

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