Cover image for The glorious deception : the double life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo the "marvelous Chinese conjurer"
The glorious deception : the double life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo the "marvelous Chinese conjurer"
Steinmeyer, Jim, 1958-
Personal Author:
1st Carroll & Graf trade pbk ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, 2006.

Physical Description:
x, 451 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: 2005.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1547.S56 S74 2006 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In a biography woven from equal parts enchantment and mystery, master illusion designer and today's foremost magic historian, Jim Steinmeyer, unveils the astonishing secrets behind the enigmatic performer Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" -- a magician whose life of intrigue and daring remains unparalleled to this day. He learned his art during a revolutionary era in show business, just as minstrel, circus, and variety saloons were being stirred together and distilled into a heady new concoction: vaudeville. Soo's infamous death in 1918 astonished the world: he was killed during a performance of "Defying the Bullets," his popular act in which he caught marked bullets on a porcelain plate. After his death, the deceptions began to unravel. It was discovered that he was not Chinese, but rather a fifty-six-year-old American named William Ellsworth Robinson, a former magicians' assistant, and the husband of Olive Robinson. But even William Robinson was not who he appeared to be, and for the first time, Jim Steinmeyer has uncovered the truth behind Robinson and the magic world's most glorious deception.

Author Notes

JIM STEINMEYER has created the defining illusions in contemporary magic, such as David Copperfield's vanishing of the Statue of Liberty. He has created special material for the programs of many leading magicians around the world--from Ricky Jay to Siegfried & Roy. He has also designed illusions for six Broadway shows and numerous other productions, such as Mary Poppins, which is currently on the British stage. Steinmeyer was a writer and producer of the A&E network's four-hour history of the art, THE STORY OF MAGIC, and is the author of HIDING THE ELEPHANT. Jim Steinmeyer lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Frankie Glass, an independent television producer.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the boisterous heyday of the vaudeville music hall-an era that featured renowned magicians like Herrmann the Great and Harry Houdini-the mysterious and exotic Chung Ling Soo was considered among the greatest. Thus, his shooting death on a London stage in front of a packed house in 1918 was cause for scandal and rumor. In this affectionate and informed biography, Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant) tantalizingly picks along the trail of the magician's life back to his birth-not in China but New York. As a stunned public would discover, Soo was really William Ellsworth Robinson. That Robinson was able to maintain the fiction for so many years in the relentless spotlight of worldwide fame might have been a delicious tale. Unfortunately, there's no rabbit in this hat. Steinmeyer quotes Robinson himself to the effect that the public probably suspected and didn't care. Fans of the magic arts will appreciate Steinmeyer's intimate and colorful portraits of craft. The author is less successful in unraveling the complex riddle of Robinson's personal life; his forensic speculations and judgments are underexplored or simplistic. Who was William Ellsworth Robinson? That question remains unanswered. B&w illus. Agent, James Fitzgerald. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

He billed himself as "the Original Chinese Conjurer," but in truth Chung Ling Soo was William Ellsworth Robinson (1861-1918), born in New York City. Rob, as he was known to his friends, spent years learning the trade of magic, working for conjurers in vaudeville and performing his own tricks before small crowds. It was a famous conjurer truly from China, Ching Ling Foo, who prompted Robinson to offer his own version of magic from the East, crafting the identity that made him a star. Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned To Disappear), a noted designer of magical illusions, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at both the world of performers and their illusions that made conjuring so popular at the dawn of the 20th century. A previous biography, The Riddle of Chung Ling Soo, kept back details that might have been harmful to Robinson's family and to the magic profession. Now Steinmeyer can give a full portrait of Robinson with his powerful yet nuanced depiction of a man whose life ended tragically while performing the notorious "Catching the Bullet." Suitable for public libraries and the leisure reading sections of academic libraries.-Dan Harms, SUNY at Cortland Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.