The phrase “Sim Sala Bim” has no meaning, neither in English nor in the Danish language from which it arose. When uttered by Dante the Magician, however, those three nonsense words took on a majestical and magical meaning.
Not only did they serve as Dante’s signature phrase during his globe-trotting days as one of the 20th Century’s most famous illusionists, they advertised the show in its many incarnations, most frequently as “A Mystery Revue: Sim Sala Bim.”
This website is dedicated to the memory of Harry August Jansen, not the first Dante nor the last to ply his trade as a magician, but without question the most successful. As clever in marketing as he was in stagecraft, he wryly noted the difficulty he often had in booking his stage act throughout his long career. In a program guide prepared to commemorate his 35th anniversary, he conjured up a sample rejection telegram.
“Sorry we have no use for your attraction. We have played Magicians of every calibre: manipulators, illusionists, transformists, fakirs, such as the Great This and the Great That, King of Cards, King of Hdkfs, King of Coins, King of This and King of That. Most of them have shown no extraordinary results, therefore we do not believe that the public are interested in a performance of your kind, and we have no open dates to offer. We believe Magic is dead.”Theatrical Managers Everywhere.
Not one to take rejection easily, Jansen spared no adjectives in penning his reply to “Theatrical Managers the World Over”:
“DANTE is acknowledged as unrivalled in the realms of Magic, not alone as an illusionist, but as an artist with individuality that has not been approached. His performance bubbles with humor, his sensational illusions are dumbfounding, his individual skill surpasses anything that has ever been seen. He is a combination of Herrmann, Kellar, Thurston, Maskelyn and Devant, and is said to be the greatest showman of all time. He possesses youth, grace, poise and personality, together with a technique of his own, which most of those illustrious Magicians lacked. This added to the stupendous production with which he is surrounded, makes him the outstanding Magician of all time. …”The Management
This website makes no attempt to rank Dante the Magician among the other great magicians and illusionists of his age. That’s an argument which cannot be won, or lost, and in any event it is an argument best left to professional magicians, not amateur historians.
With that said, Jansen’s many accomplishments demand attention and respect more than 60 years after his passing. Even as the era of great stage shows ended with the advent of television, Dante argued against any skeptic who would declare that Magic is dead.
We, as his modern-day audience, can do no less. You are cordially invited to explore Dante the Magician’s legacy on these pages, including his larger-than-life personality, and to firmly rebuff skeptics and “Theatrical Managers Everywhere.”
Rest assured, the incomparable Dante the Magician was no illusion. Sim sala bim.