WARNING! Do not attempt this. As you will see from this webpage, this is a very dangerous undertaking, no matter what the method, or what precautions are taken.
Here are just a few articles on the BULLET CATCH culled from many sources. These are various pieces of information about the stunt from our collection. In short order we will be expanding the site with more of our information.
Deaths Associated With the Bullet Catch
Coulen (1500s) beaten to death with his trick pistol
Kia Khan Khruse (1818) Indian magician- report of his death onstage may have been false
Madame deLinsky (1820) magician's assistant killed when real bullet loaded into chamber by mistake
Giovanni deGrisy son of Torrini, supposedly Robert-Houdin's mentor; could be a fictitious story; reportedly Torrini fired the gun that killed his son
Arnold Buck (1840) died when a volunteer secretly added nails to the gun barrel before firing at him
Adam Epstein (1869) his wand, used to ram home the balls in the rifle barrel, broke inside the gun; he was killed by wand shards
Raoul Curran (1880) killed by a member of the audience who jumped up out of his seat and shot him without warning
deLine Jr (1890) his magician father shot him onstage
Michael Hatal (1899) he failed to switch blank cartridges for the real bullets that killed him
Otto Blumenfeld (1906) he also failed to switch bullets
Chung Ling Soo (1918) killed by a faulty trick gun
H. T. Sartell he also failed to switch bullets
"The Black Wizard of the West" (1922) his wife purposely fired live bullets at him
Ralf Bialla (1972) fell off a cliff because of constant dizziness caused by injuries from bullet catching act
Doc Conrad (1977) killed during practice of the Russian Roulette trick, a version of the Bullet Catch
Fernando Tejada (1988) killed onstage during a performance in Columbia
Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin performed an apparently unplanned version of the bullet catch in Algeria, according to his memoirs.
HOUDINI. One illusion he never attempted was the bullet catch, of which his friend, Harry Keller warned Houdini that there were too many things that could go wrong and requested that he not do the stunt: Houdini had announced that would try the stunt after well known headlining magician Chung Ling Soo (also a Bro. Mason whose real name was William Ellsworth Robinson) had been killed performing it, but Houdini assented to Bro. Keller's sage advice. Houdini, as a youngester, had experimented with the bullet catch and throughout his life had a bullet loged in his hand from an accident.
The Glorious Deception - The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer"
by Jim Steinmeyer
This book is about the fascinating biography of Chung Ling Soo. A magician from late 19th and early 20th centuries who died on stage during a performance of the Bullet Catch trick. After his death many of the mysteries about this man began to unravel. He was not Chinese, but an American by the name of William Robinson. He was the husband of Olive Robinson (Suee Seen). But, he also kept a second family with a mistress in a fashionable home near London. This is probably the most complete biography of this amazing illusionist. It is entertaining, and above all, informative. We highly recommend it.
(Hardbound with dustjacket - 451 pages)
The Glorious Deception
Mystery of the magician who spent his life dodging bullets
WILL THE strange affair of the mysterious death of Chung Ling Soo - the inscrutable magician once as feted as his contemporary, the great escape artist Harry Houdini - finally be solved in Edinburgh this August?
Adam Koplan, the man who is bringing this bizarre tale of a Scots-American prestidigitator - who may or may not have been murdered while performing the signature trick that made him famous - is playing his cards close to his chest.
"I don't want to give too much away," says the New York-based director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Company, whose new physical theatre piece about the magician, The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo, will be staged. "But certainly the show will reveal that the truth really is stranger than fiction."
In fact, the bizarre story of the life and death of Chung Ling Soo sounds like something out of an Agatha Christie novel or one of those vintage Fu Manchu movies. For Chung Ling Soo was shot dead while "Defying the Bullets", his dicing-with-death illusion which he had been performing routinely on stage for decades. He would catch the bullets fired at him by two assistants in his teeth and they would rattle into a china plate he held in his hands.
When examined, the bullets had marks identical to those that were placed in the muzzle of the revolver, which had been inspected on stage by either the military or the police.
However, on 23 March 1918, in front of the usual packed house in London's Wood Green Empire, something went dramatically wrong. The bullets were fired as usual, but the magician fell to the ground. With a gasp, he cried: "My God, I've been shot. Lower the curtain."
One of the pistols, it was said, had malfunctioned and a bullet had pierced his right lung. He died the following day. Yet his story continues to exert an extraordinary fascination. It certainly captured the imagination of Paul Daniels, who co-authored a book about the history of magic in which Soo looms large. And - with the assistance of lovely wife Debbie - Daniels once recreated the trick on his popular TV show with the aid of one of Soo's original riflemen.
"Today, Soo's story stands as a cautionary tale for magicians," says Koplan, pointing out that Houdini himself wanted to emulate the bullet catch but was dissuaded by friends who worried that the great man would share Soo's bloody fate. "After the illusionist Roy Horn - of Siegfried and Roy - was mauled recently, Soo's story was for ever being recounted as the iconic example of the risks and dangers of performing magic."
Indeed, the gun that killed Soo now resides in David Copperfield's collection of magic paraphernalia. And yet, says Koplan, the legend and puzzling personality of Soo as a performer, with an grand knowledge of conjuring and legerdemain, eclipses the strange circumstances of his death. Many magicians still perform his tricks, while Orson Welles, a grand illusionist himself, even approached Soo's family about the possibility of making a biopic.
So whodunit? Was Soo's death a hate crime? Or was it a crime of passion? He was a philanderer with a wife, as well as a mistress and a secret family. And why did his manager, William Robinson, mysteriously disappear on the night Soo was shot? Was he the victim of the powerful Chinese Tong gangs who had him killed to prevent the ancient secrets of the Orient from being revealed?
In The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo, Koplan promises he and his five-strong cast will attempt to solve these riddles "with dazzling illusions in a phantasmagoria that spins a real-life murder mystery topsy-turvy".
So, who was Soo? Born on 2 April 1861 in New York, he grew up in Brooklyn. His real name was William Ellsworth Campbell, but he later changed it to Robinson. As a magician, he dressed in long robes and wore his hair in a pigtail and rarely spoke on stage. His performances were occasionally punctuated by the words, "much glad", in broken English and soon became a real celebrity.
Claiming to be a humble Oriental, Soo's image fitted snugly into the Victorian-Orientalist image of old China. But later, he had to contend with the prejudice fostered by the Boxer rebellion, an event that he dealt with in his defying-the-bullets routine, which he called his "Condemned to Death by the Boxers" trick to demonstrate his loyalty.
He revealed that, although born in America, he was actually Scottish and was photographed wrapped in the Saltire. He also announced that his engineer father was a descendant of the Campbell and Robinson clans.
In an interview, he said his Scottish father had married a Cantonese woman. He claimed his father had died when he was seven and his mother when he was 12. As an orphan, he had been apprenticed to a Chinese magician named Arr Hee, with whom he moved to South America. When Arr Hee died, Soo travelled the world perfecting the art of illusion, combining old Chinese tricks with more modern European methods. But the half-Cantonese apprentice of Arr Hee was in fact an illusion - as was the woman that Soo would conjure in an empty glass cage, or produce from a boiling cauldron - this petite Chinese woman was actually his very English wife, Dot Robinson. It has since emerged that both Soo's parents were actually Scots.
He worked extensively as a performer, assistant and illusion builder, first billing himself as Robinson, the Man of Mystery, before reinventing himself as Chung Ling Soo.
He made a stellar career for himself - he was a celebrity in the way that David Copperfield is today," says Koplan. "Along with Houdini, he was the highest-paid star on the Vaudeville circuit, although he maintained that he wasn't interested in money.
"After he died, rumor was rife because he was so famous. Much like Bruce Lee, it was thought the Chinese Mafia had done it. Then, of course, it came out that he wasn't Chinese, that he was actually Billy Robinson and had hoodwinked the public for 20 years. So his greatest trick of all was this grand deception. The idea of living a life that is this wonderful, beautiful trick that becomes both your real and your stage persona fascinates me."
Koplan and his company spent two years researching and creating the show, scripted by Seattle-based playwright Amy Boyce. Koplan first came across the story of Soo when he staged another play about magic, The Dancing Handkerchief, a creation with Pig Iron company member Geoff Sobelle, who coincidentally brings his own new Beckettian two-hander, All Wear Bowlers, to Aurora Nova this August.
"I started reading all these books about magic, about which I knew nothing," says Koplan. "The most vivid chapters in all of them were on Chung Ling Soo, because his life was as dramatic and magical as any of his tricks. You really couldn't make his story up."
The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo comes to Edinburgh in association with New York's 78th Street Theatre Lab, which under the artistic directorship of Eric Nightengale has created the innovative From Page to Stage series developed in the tradition of the living newspaper.
Their productions, frequently premiered in Edinburgh prior to opening in New York, draw theatrical inspiration from real events pulled from news stories and developed through extensive research, experimentation and improvisation. Past Theatre Lab productions in Edinburgh include Man in the Flying Lawn Chair, Snatches, Kenneth, What is the Frequency?, and Boy Steals Train. They've won two Fringe Firsts and the Stage's Best Ensemble award. So was the bullet trick all done with smoke and mirrors? Koplan hesitates, before confessing that he does know the secret. "I'm not a super purist about it, but there's a sort of code among magicians about not revealing the tricks of the trade. Was it foul play? There was a thorough police investigation - and a verdict of death by misadventure was recorded. But there is still speculation Soo engineered his own demise, perhaps because he was in debt. Then there was his tangled love life - he and his wife had split up, although they maintained the illusion of being together. Yet another conjuring trick!"
Ä The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo is at C, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, 3-29
Milbourne Christopher did variety magic specials on TV
Magician Milbourne Christopher performed in the first magic show on national TV. He promoted his specials with a grand effect at the end, making people stay tuned to the end of the show. In this photograph he's doing a dangerous bullet catch.
Penn Jillette & the Bullet Catch
"Things can horribly wrong, even in reasonably safe tricks," Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) once remarked. "Chung Ling was shot in the chest and killed by an assistant in 1918... when his fake gun f---ed up. In 1880, Raoul Curran was doing his medicine show featuring the bullet catch. A heckler in the audience stood and shouted, 'If you can do that, catch this!' Curran caught the slug from the heckler-murderer's non-trick gun square in his forehead. I had a few gang-bangers in L.A. yell to me, 'Hey, man, are you that guy who can catch bullets in your teeth?' I threw my hands up and screamed, 'It's a trick, I can't do s..t! I can't do s..t!'"
When the celebrated performers Penn & Teller last played Jones Hall, they spent some of their free time with BANACHEK at his home. While they were together, BANACHEK showed the fellow magicians a videotape of his "Bullet Catch" act.The feat is explained:"Two people from the audience are brought on stage. One scratches initials into the bullet: the other uses a black marker to make initials. The bullet is loaded into a 38.caliber gun. The gun is fired though a glass plate and I catch the bullet in my teeth."The bullet removed, initials are checked by the two audience members and everyone breathes again.Penn & Teller, upon hearing that BANACHEK no longer performs the effect, bought the "Bullet Catch" conundrum for a nice piece of change. "I was compensated well," is the way the British
In the 1950s german magician Ralf Bialla started to perform the bullet catch, for a salary of 2.000 DM a day. He wore bullet-proof glasses, strong gloves on his hands with which he covered parts of his face, and his front teeth were made of steel. A .22 rifle was fired, and the bullet had to go through three glass panes before Bialla caught it with his teeth. He was seriously wounded nine times, but survived. He was portrayed in the 1972 documentary film "Wer schießt auf Ralf Bialla?". 1975 he died by falling off a cliff, supposedly because of constant dizzyness caused by the injuries.
In 1980, Carl performed his death-defying "bullet catch" on the television show, "That's Incredible!" Carl earned notoriety that has remained with him to this day, even earning mentions from several celebrities on VH1's "I Love the 80s," and a mention from "Ripley's Believe It or Not" published column. Carl subsequently performed this same stunt on the international shows "Super Sabado" (Puerto Rico), "Fantastico" (Venezuela), and "We're Number One!" (Japan), and his "That's Incredible" stunt re-aired in 2004 on the "That's Incredible! Reunion." Carl's other grand stunts include driving blindfolded, and escaping from a straightjacket while dangling from unbelievable heights!
Dorothy Dietrich, first and only women in history to catch a bullet in the mouth. She has also performed the second most dangerous stunt in magic, the escape from a straight jacket while suspended high in the air from a burning rope.
MAGIC OF MAGICIAN:
Another historic event. Dorothy Dietrich becomes the first women in history to catch a bullet in her mouth. Each time she has done it, it was done under strict conditions with a commitee from the sponsor of the event instructed to buy the bullets ahead of time, keep them under guard and bring them to the even to assure that live ammunition was in play. It is a stunt that has killed twelve men and injured many others. Houdini said he would try it after well known headlining magician Chung Ling Soo was killed doing a bullet catch.
From the Collection of Scranton's Houdini Museum.
Houdini then backed out. Houdini even received a letter from the then Dean of Magic, Harry Keller requesting that he not do the stunt. Keller warned Houdini that there were too many things that could go wrong. Houdini, it seems, heeded his advice. Houdini had also experemented with the bullet trick as a youngster. Due to an accident all his life Houdini had a bullet loged in his hand.
Picture on national TV of first bullet shot in wall that Dorothy stands in front of...
MAGIC OF MAGICIAN
The Bullet Catch at Resorts International in Atlantic City
Magician Ben Robinson after meeting with Dorothy Dietrich and others researching the bullet catch for a book, ending up doing it, as he probably planned. it is now a rare collectors item, "Twelve Have Died!"
In a recent press release from Criss Angel, magician and star of A&E's series Mindfreak, he expresses his concerns about the network possibly not wanting to air an episode of this show in which Korn's Jonathan Davis took part. Here is why:
"I did something that is a famous effect that 12 magicians have tried to do and died" to catch a bullet in your teeth. I wanted to devise a way to really try to do it. I had a ballistics expert fabricate a metal cup for my mouth designed to absorb the .223 bullet. And I had a sharpshooter, a guy who is an incredible shot - Jon Davis from the band Korn. And we were successful in doing it. We did it and I didn't kill myself! I want to show people."
This quote appeared in USA Today.
Angel's presentation seems to be similar to the presentation done by Dorothy Dietrich many years before using "ballistics expert fabricate a metal cup for my mouth" and "a sharpshooter".
One added to this list is David Blaine who did a version of the Bulllet Catch, along the lines of Carl Skenes and Dorothy Dietrich, on his special "Dive of Death!"
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