Friday, February 05, 2016

Sir Julien Cahn, Sunshine and Sally

I first saw the name Sir Julien Cahn in the pages of various magic journals. It was his title that caught my eye. How interesting that a member of the aristocracy should also be a magician. I’ve only read bits and pieces about Cahn since then, notably the articles by Eddie Dawes in The Magic Circular, but just recently I came across a biography of the noble illusionist. Written by a granddaughter, Miranda Rijks, it’s titled The Eccentric Entrepreneur: Sir Julien Cahn Businessman, Philanthropist, Magician & Cricket-Lover. You can find it on Amazon here.

The book describes Cahn as an eccentric philanthropist who ‘managed a rapid ascent up the social ladder’ and was later embroiled in a scandal over the buying of honours. Will Goldston described Cahn as a ‘distinguished amateur magician.’ Goodliffe Neale thought of him as a less than outstanding performer and ultimately a ‘monied amateur.’

Nevertheless he did have a genuine passion for magic, helped establish a magic club in Leicester, becoming its first president, and constructed a state of the art theatre at his impressive home at Stanford Hall, Lutterworth. It was at this lavish theatre he gave magic shows, donating the proceeds to charity. He possessed an incredible collection of illusions, including those designed by Walter Jeans and Selbit. All were sold off at an auction in following Cahn’s death in 1944. The man in charge of the auction was Cahn’s estate engineer and assistant at the theatre Jack Chesham.  The auction turned into a fiasco as several of the illusions used the same the secret apparatus, the mirror tunnel, and yet were being sold as separate lots. Despite the chaos, Chesham made quite a fortune having purchased the apparatus at a bargain price from Lady Cahn and sold it as many times its cost.

One of the most interesting tricks that Sir Julien Cahn performed was with a canary called Sunshine. You could name any card and the canary would pick the card out of a deck as it was held in a houlette. The bird was ‘trained by and performed with another magician,’ says the author, ‘Cahn was so impressed by the bird that he persuaded the magician to part with him in exchange for £200 (equivalent to £8,500 in today’s money!)’

Ralph Delvin and Sally
That ‘other magician’ was Ralph Delvin who later advertised the Sally Trick in The Magic Circular (May, 1958) offering to share it with ’10 other magic men in the British Isles.’ He said he had previously sold the trick to Julien Cahn for £500. Ralph Delvin specialised in performing for ‘high society drawing rooms and functions’ according to a report on his and Sally’s (‘a budgerigar!’) appearance at the Unique Day of Magic in December of 1953. Goodliffe Neale thought him one of the stars of the show. Not bad considering that Chan Canasta was also on that bill. I believe Jeffrey Atkins was one of those who purchased the ‘Sally Trick’ though I don’t know if he ever used it.

The author of The Eccentric Entrepreneur draws on the work of Eddie Dawes for many of the details regarding the magic and gives a very interesting insight into one of the most curious figures on the 1930s magic scene. Stanford Hall was magic’s own Downton Abbey. You can get the book on Amazon.