Dante the Magician began his storied career on Labor Day, September 3, 1923, in Pittsfield, Mass. This news alone is reason to remember and honor Harry A. Jansen as the 100th anniversary of the first U.S. tour approaches. For all his globe-trotting success, Dante the Magician was a truly American showman, illusionist and entrepreneur. We collect, share and celebrate memories of his career on this website.
Dante the Magician was a joint invention of Howard Thurston and Jansen. A good portion of Dante’s origin story may be found in the forward of Dante’s “35th year book.” It reads as follows:
“In 1922 at the McAlpin Hotel, New York City, while addressing the members of the Society of American Magicians at their Annual dinner, Howard Thurston said: “After 25 years I feel the time is nearing when I must retire. – I have spent the past ten years looking for someone whom I consider capable of succeeding me and with all due respect to the four hundred or more amateurs as well as the professionals who are present this evening, I have found no one whom I considered capable, that is, with one exception: his name is Harry A. Jansen; a man who knows more about practical Magic than anyone in the World today. Altho still a young man he has travelled extensively with his own show, has had his own factory of Magic, is a great builder and inventor of tricks and illusions, as well as a great artist, and I hope one day to make him my successor.”
This, spoken by Howard Thurston then the Master Magician, threw a blanket of dampness over the entire assembly, for almost each and every member of the assembly had secret aspirations to wear the crown of the Master, and the Great Jansen as he had been known professionally for 20 years was the dark horse.
Even the late Harry Houdini who was then President and presiding became noticably nervous when he heard that there was a man present who knew more about practical magic than any other man in the world; so much so that he interrupted with a sudden sound of the gavel and introduced the next speaker, the late Mr. Donaldson of the Billboard. But the words had been spoken.
The Great Jansen’s success had already reached the stage where there were no less than three Jansens falsely using the name of Jansen, as well as his printing, and exploiting themselves to Managers with their wares of inferior quality. Mr. Thurston had knowledge of this and within the next few days, when negotiations were completed, pointed out this fact and expressed his liking for the name of DANTE, and further said that he himself would have adopted it in 1906 if it had not been almost simultaneous with the death of Oscar Eliason who was accidently shot in New South Wales, Australia, after having gained a reputation under the name of DANTE the Magician. However more than fifteen years had now elapsed and no one had perpetuated or adopted the name of Dante as a Magician, so Mr. Thurston as well as the Great Jansen thought this the opportune time and the logical title for the coming Master of Magic to be. Hence Dante the Magician Inc. came into being with Howard Thurston as the owner of the title. The DANTE show was built and produced by the Great Jansen, and an artistic success was registered with the first curtain.
Three years later at the Astor House, New York City, Mr. Thurston in appreciation of Jansen’s efforts, presented him with the title, that has since been made famous by its owner Harry A. Jansen, in every civilized part of the world; so where Magic is popular, DANTE is known, and where Dante is known, Magic is popular.
Now as we go to press to tell the World of DANTE’s triumphs it is well to point out that unscrupulous copyists are still at work. There are at the moment no less than three would-be Dantes. One especially by the name of Angus in Sydney, Australia, who has been retarded through two judgements in favor of H.A. Jansen, was stopped on the grounds of impersonating, and a second judgement against him was for the display of printing and lithographs produced by Dante.
DANTE takes this opportunity of thanking Howard Thurston for the co-operation, inspiration, and encouragement extended, and for a very pleasant association, lasting almost ten years.
Dante is now sole owner, producer and Manager of the greatest Mystery Show the World has ever seen, and bids you scrutinize carefully the following pages, which represent 35 years of constant endeavor and which he proudly refers to as his 35th year book.”
Where 1922 falls on this 35-year timeline is tough to say. Harry A. Jansen was a man of many talents, having toured vaudeville as the Great Jansen and Jansen and Herr, sharing billing for a time with his stage assistant and future wife, Edna Herr. He also co-owned a Chicago company where he manufactured illusions and props as his young family grew. Thurston’s desire to launch a second touring show, coupled with Jansen’s desire to return to the stage, gave birth to Dante the Magician.
The idea of celebrating the Dantennial of Jansen’s career pivot is at least as practical as it is sentimental. Like most magicians of his era, Dante’s legacy is irrevocably tied to his written and visual history … and there is precious little of either. The timelines, the tour dates, the personal triumphs and tragedies, can be found in broad brush strokes, but a lot of the detail has been lost in the past 100 years.
The idea of a Dantennial celebration that spans several touring seasons and destinations is born of practical and historical necessity. We can rebuild Dante’s U.S. performance timelines starting in 2022-23, using crowd-sourcing and data-mapping tools. With any luck, those experiences will inform additional crowd-sourcing from other continents and countries. Dante’s 35th year book does a decent job laying down timelines and major ports of call, but many specifics are lacking.
For now, here in the U.S., we can use the Dantennial to inspire young magicians to literally follow in Dante’s footsteps by “adopting” future performance dates in the small towns and cities where he played. It took hard work and skill to stage a magic show on the road. The Dantennial provides us with a welcome and timely excuse to explore how Dante’s early shows were staged. Our first opportunity to do so is Sept. 3, 2023.