The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer"

Jim Steinmeyer, Author . Carroll & Graf $26 (451p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1512-1

In the boisterous heyday of the vaudeville music hall—an era that featured renowned magicians like Herrmann the Great and Harry Houdini—the mysterious and exotic Chung Ling Soo was considered among the greatest. Thus, his shooting death on a London stage in front of a packed house in 1918 was cause for scandal and rumor. In this affectionate and informed biography, Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant ) tantalizingly picks along the trail of the magician's life back to his birth—not in China but New York. As a stunned public would discover, Soo was really William Ellsworth Robinson. That Robinson was able to maintain the fiction for so many years in the relentless spotlight of worldwide fame might have been a delicious tale. Unfortunately, there's no rabbit in this hat. Steinmeyer quotes Robinson himself to the effect that the public probably suspected and didn't care. Fans of the magic arts will appreciate Steinmeyer's intimate and colorful portraits of craft. The author is less successful in unraveling the complex riddle of Robinson's personal life; his forensic speculations and judgments are underexplored or simplistic. Who was William Ellsworth Robinson? That question remains unanswered. B&w illus. Agent, James Fitzgerald. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 05/30/2005
Release date: 08/01/2005
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