The Maharaja of Magic

By Milbourne Christopher, Past President, Society of American Magicians, November 1965, New York City, USA

China's greatest magician was Ching Foo. France's most famous conjuror was Robert-Houdin. England's master illusionist was David Devant. India's all-time star of stage sorcery is Sorcar. No other Indian wizard, past or present, comes close to matching his reputation, his honors or his tours. And it is not only in India that the dazzling deceptions of Sorcar have delighted audiences, but also in Japan, Australia, England, Russia, the United States and elsewhere.

Sorcar is, to the best of my knowledge, the only illusionist performing today who has his own complete production center. His scenery and his illusions are designed, built, painted and rehearsed on his premises in Calcutta. Through the years his presentations have been constantly improved and arranged more artistically. His understanding of stage lighting, music and basic human appeals is impressive. As a fellow illusionist I am constantly delighted by his advance in these areas.

He is also an ingenious advertiser, a shrewd publicist and an astute business man. His promotional material matches the propaganda deviced by Hollywood's ace press agents and the promoters of the world's outstanding stage, opera and concert attractions.

I met him for the first time fifteen years ago in Chicago. He had flown there from India to appear at the Combined Convention of the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. In his gold coat, jeweled turban and shoes with turned-up toes he stood out like a flash of fire among the conventional dinner jackets, evening clothes and business suits. His reputation had preceded him. Everyone recognized India's Maharaja of Magic on sight.

On stage and off Sorcar made friends quickly. Blackstone, dean of America's Stage Illusionists, sketched plans for him of two of his principal feats. Okito, the father of Fu Manchu and the fifth generation of Holland's court-magician bamberg family, swapped secrets of celestial wizardry.

We were close in age, Sorcar and I, and close in thought. We talked for hours about how to make our ancient art more intriguing and more popular in our widely separated parts of the world. Then back and forth our letters went half way around the globe. I followed avidly his ventures and kept him posted on mine.

In my reference files in New York are thousands of letters, lithographs, playbills, reviews and other memorabilia covering the careers of Pinetti, Anderson, Herman, Thurston, Carter, Houdini and other luminaries of the world legerdemain. The section devoted to Sorcar is the largest of any living illusionist.

Here are clippings, photographs, programs and first-hand accounts of his journeys to Cairo, Melbourne, Paris, Tokyo and London. Here are the heralds and broadsides used by him in Moscow and Leningrad, in Tehran and Tanganyika.

Sorcar, like keller before him, is a citizen of the world; at home in different cultures, in distant climes. He is an ambassador without portfolio of India, bringing with him wherever he goes the traditions and heritage of "the home of mystery".

In 1957 Producer's Showcase invited me to arrange monumental NBC television program featuring the great magicians of the world. I was soon on the trans Atalntic telephone to Calcutta and Sorcar was soon on his way to New York to play an important part in the hour-and-half production. It was televised in both color, and black and white, and was seen by more than 33,000,000 viewers in the United States and by more millions in Europe when it was televised there.

A note here about Sorcar's artistic integrity. When it was suggested that he might bring his key assistants, that other could be engaged in New York, he answered that he could present his magic properly only with his regular staff. It was his own precision-trained company that appeared with him on the show.

A few nights after the telecast he appeared in person before the Society of American Magicians during its Convention in Hartford, Conn. As an added treat, he included in his routine several feats that had not been seen on video. He received a standing ovation when he made his bow at the Banquet.

We met again in England when The Magic Circle celebrated its Golden Jubilee in London. Then later when I toured the British Isles with my illusion show I was pleased to hear managers and stage hands in several cities reminisce of Sorcar's British tour and the impact his buzz saw illusion had on BBC-TV.

Our paths crossed again in Boston and several times he has visited me in New York. On the most recent trip, when he came to the World's Fair, he brought with him two more P.C. Sorcars, his sons.

Last year I arranged several television and live appearances in Hollywood so that I could stop off and see him in Las Vegas, that strange desert city which is the center of the world's night club show business.

He has lost none of his enthusiasm. His eyes still sparkle as he sketches a device to make one piece of overhead stage rigging do the work of two, or outlines the way he has tied in current events with modern magic. His rocket illusion is complete with assistants in astronaut grab and appropriate cloud like settings.

To the public Sorcar is flamboyant, his trappings are lavish, his publicity is bold and eye-catching. In private life he is another person - quiet, scholarly and unassuming. He is an active Rotarian and has attended their luncheons in such far-flung places as Dar-es-Salaam, and Nairobi. Here he meets the important civic leaders of the places, he plays and here he talks to them about the fascination of magic in the world of today. When I joined him one afternoon in Las Vegas at a Rotary meeting I had to scan the room several times before I picked him out. There was nothing theatrical about his cloths or demeanor.

There is a difference between the magicians who offers a short program and the illusionist who carries tons of paraphernalia and many assistants. One masters a brief routine, the other is an executive who runs a complete business enterprise. The successful illusionist must not only be a dynamic showman, but also a master in public relations. He must be thoroughly versed in the problems of logistics, stage craft, international monetary systems and world commerce. He routes his attraction with the skill of a diplomat, following the temper of the times in the areas of the world which are his arenas.

When, Sorcar a scholar from Calcutta University, began his career as a professional wonder worker, the world at large knew Indian Magic as something a traveler had seen in a sultry, crowded street. In all of the fabled land of mystery there was not one illusionist with credit of an established international full evening show. Sorcar dreamed of the spectacles of Thurston and Dante and strove to establish magic as a cherished part of India's cultural life. Prodigious study, experimentation and an unrelenting drive to succeed brought him to the fore. Woven in the rich tapestry his current productions are not only baffling illusions, but authentic Indian art, costume and ritual as well.

It has been said that a prophet is without honor in his own country. Not so with Sorcar. The Government has awarded him PADMASRI, he is the perennial president of the All India Magic Circle and he breaks theatre box-office records in Calcutta's New Empire as well as in theatres abroad.

Just a few moments ago I put a reel on my tape machine, threaded it and pressed the switch. On the other side of the globe Indian musicians played his overture. A burst of applause, then the familiar voice acknowledging his reception. In my mind's eye I conjured up the scene, his smile, his costume and the settings of the New Empire Theatre. I relaxed in my chair and listened. It was as if I were in the audience myself enjoying the magic of Sorcar. (Signed, Milbourne Christopher, November 1965, New York City, USA)