Although not its original inventor, the illusion was developed and performed by one of the greatest geniuses in the history of magic, William Ellsworth Robinson. Before he became famous as Chung Ling Soo, Robinson and his wife Dot worked in both the Kellar and Herrmann magic shows, putting the couple smack in the middle of the intense rivalry between the world’s two greatest magicians. Harry Kellar and Alexander Herrmann both wanted to (and did) feature in their own shows Robinson’s stunning illusions, including Astarte and Black Art.
Astarte is perhaps the most astonishing and breathtaking illusion I’ve ever seen. Like all levitation effects, the assistant rises into the air, but Astarte blows away all the others. It begins with a lovely lady standing on the stage and suddenly rising vertically. She then flies all over the stage, rotating both vertically and spinning around horizontally. She walks upside down, swims through the air and even somersaults through a solid hoop that she holds. After she finally lands, she walks forward, demonstrating that she’s attached to – nothing.
Adelaide Herrmann was magically levitated countless times in her career, but she never performed the role of this floating lady. This was tiny Dot Robinson’s illusion, and it required great skill and strength as well as great acting ability, looking effortlessly blissful, while actually enduring extreme muscle strain and an infamously uncomfortable secret magic method. (This is true of most levitation illusions, but Astarte is in its own league, discomfort-wise.)
While she didn’t perform this illusion, Adelaide definitely witnessed it, just as I did in L.A. I wonder if she was amazed as I was. Even when you know how it works (as I kind of sort of do), it looks like real magic. What a thrill to see it with my own eyes.