One of Las Vegas’ hidden gems is famed illusionist David Copperfield’s private museum of magic, located in a warehouse off the Strip, which has been visited over the years by Taylor Swift, Guillermo del Toro, Hugh Jackman and the producer. Jason Blum.
Now Copperfield has published a book that documents his immense treasure trove of memories, from Harry Houdini’s water torture cell and Richiardi Jr.’s rotary saw to the rifle that killed magician Chung Ling Soo after an unsuccessful attempt. to make his famous bullet capture. feat.
In David Copperfield’s History of Magic (Simon & Schuster, $ 35), he uses items from his collection as jumping off points to tell the stories of the fascinating, sometimes evil and always inventive wizards who came before him and why they deserve attention.
Among other items, her collection contains a dress believed to have been worn by Adelaide Herrmann, the self-proclaimed queen of magic in the 1800s; Expanding Die by Buatier de Kolta, a “fiendishly difficult feat to achieve … that really goes from eight inches to three and a half feet in the blink of an eye”; Howard Thurston’s “The Disembodied Princess,” a trick in which his assistant’s head and legs would stay in place while her midsection was removed.
Copperfield spoke with Hollywood journalist about his future plans for the museum, including its long-term preservation, why he never attempted the bullet-catching trick, and how his own magical secrets ended up on the moon’s surface.
Which Holy Grail item would you like to get for the museum?
The holy grail would be the conversations with these people. Objects open doors but stories are the point.
You made the Statue of Liberty disappear in 1983. In recent years, a number of people have tried to explain how you did it, including having the onlookers all stand on some kind of lazy Susan. giant that was spinning so slowly that no one noticed. What do you say to that?
Well, you know, it’s amazing. There are so many versions of the way I do my things and people are surprised when they go on the internet – “Well, someone is revealing your secrets.” Guess what? Do you know who did that? I made these misdirected method videos. People actually believe these methods were real when in reality they are some kind of fantasy to get rid of people.
Have you ever wanted to take the bullet catching tour?
No, because you don’t want a child to copy you. I did a lot of dangerous things. I escaped from an imploding building but it’s a difficult thing for a child to copy. I did an underwater escape in a water tank and performance in a straitjacket and walked through Niagara Falls. Difficult to duplicate.
It’s amazing to me that you have pennies in your museum that President Lincoln was holding in his hand.
They went through his hand. It is a classic of magic. We don’t do it that much today, where we penetrate through objects. In this case, it’s by someone’s hand. It went through Lincoln’s hand. Lincoln loved magic and I loved it.
Have you recently made any changes to the Museum of Magic?
It has become incredible. We have built a whole library, a whole research center. Just had a visit last night for a guy who worked at Tannen’s magic store when he was 14 in 1954. I recreated the store at the museum. People start to cry and get very emotional. It’s kind of a lost world that has really shaped the lives of a lot of people. Much of the culture has been informed by the idea of shared wonder.
Your whole museum started because of a collection of objects that was given to you, didn’t it?
At the very beginning there was a guy named John Mulholland. He was a friend of Houdini’s but a historian of magic and an interpreter. He also worked for the CIA on the use of magical techniques during the Cold War and even before. Her collection was sold, was donated to the Players Club in New York, and sort of sat there. People kept getting things secretly out of it. Finally, another guy bought it. He got into legal trouble and he was auctioned off by the government. What happened was I was brought in to buy it. He was going to be separated. Someone said to me, ‘You can’t let this happen. The collection is very important. I bought it and really didn’t look at the history of magic much at the time. I was really inventing new illusions. I was moving forward. I never looked back.
So what has changed in your eyes?
Looking back, I really should have looked back. After purchasing the collection to save it, I learned the stories of all of these individuals. These are those amazing stories of people who really changed history and changed the world using technology and techniques that were not there before. They first existed as magical effects and society benefits from their use in everyday life.
What kind of inventions?
The first smart home to exist was by magic. Now, in every grocery store, the door opens by itself. It started as a magical effect. The films, the cinema were magical effects. You were going to see a train arrive on you and it was the magician George Méliès who decided that we were going to tell stories with that. He buys the theater from Robert Houdini and exercises his magic then embraces this new technology. If you saw the movie Hugo, that tells the story very well.
One of the first illusions created was that of Houdini, called ethereal levitation. Ether, the chemical that can put you to sleep, was a whole new thing in the 1840s and people were talking about it. Wow, a chemical you can put right up your nose and people fall asleep. Oh my God. An incredible thing. He incorporated it into the show by levitating his young son and projecting ether through the audience. He layered that idea on top of levitation to give it the current conversation. Twenty years ago, I was in France and some French historians put in my hand the gadget of this ethereal levitation, the original made by Houdini, and I started to cry. It was the start of everything I was involved in. Just like Guillermo del Toro came to the museum a few years ago and saw all of Méliès’ stuff. He got very emotional and he said, ‘Well, that’s the very beginning of everything. That’s why I do what I do. Because Méliès started this whole culture of using cinema technology to tell stories.
Do you intend to continue to expand the museum?
The next steps are all magic sets. I have the most amazing collection of magic sets. We’re going to be making a collection of these and puppets, all of the stuff owned by Edgar Bergen and Shari Lewis and Paul Winchell, who was the voice of Tigger, and more. I have all of these things.
How are you going to preserve the collection in the long term?
I’ve spent three decades putting these stories together and my goal is to endow it, to make sure there is enough money to create a foundation that preserves it. And to ensure that people can pass through it on a basis that will preserve its secrets. I can’t really do public tours of the museum. There are so many secrets involved.
So you’re saying there are secrets of other magicians that you don’t want to reveal that are in the museum?
Thousands and thousands of them. This is all that. There are more books on magic than they say about anything but medicine. It’s the amount of literature there is. Magicians love to preserve their heritage and secrets through books and these things are very precious and maintained.
And are all the secrets of your illusions also somewhere in the museum?
My stuff is actually in a very special place. We put all my secrets etched into nickel discs that will last forever. Nickel will last for billions of years. Everything is miniaturized and you need a microscope to see it. And we blew it up in space and it actually crashed on the moon with a lander last year. And so my secrets are literally on the moon. This bundle of knowledge could be found someday. It’s pretty amazing to walk out of your house and think, “My things that I have touched and worked on all my life, I have kept them in a non-degradable form on our moon, which is pretty amazing.
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A version of this story first appeared in the November 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.