The curtain will soon close on Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age—on view for just three more weeks. As our team prepares to return the fantastic objects we borrowed to their rightful owners, I find myself reflecting on what made it so rewarding for me.
I especially enjoyed meeting family members of some of the performers spotlighted in the exhibition.They shared amazing personal stories as well as priceless memorabilia. Les Arnold, who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather Leon Levy (known on stage as The Great Leon), shared a photo of Leon atop an elephant. Riding alongside him is his wife, Edythe Packard Levy (of the Packard Motor Car family), and an assistant.
The photo is inscribed “Simla, India, April 24th, 1908”—but as Les explained, “Simla” was closer to the Bronx Zoo than the Taj Mahal. Leon faked the photo to pass himself off as the great Hindu fakir “Kadan Sami” and to earn a spot on B.F. Keith’s hot-ticket vaudeville circuit. In another photo, Leon is pictured in an act he called The Fakir’s Supper, also designed to transport his audience to a mystical and mysterious foreign land. In this illusion, Leon would pull all of the items for a great banquet from the foulard over his arm! Leon passed on his love of magic to his grandson and great-granddaughter: Les and his daughter Alex continue to perform as the comedy magic duo Les Arnold and Dazzle. Continue reading