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Around the World with The Great Nicola

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Around the World with the Great

By Charles Vance and The Roberts
Charles Vance and Eddie and Lucille Roberts traveled
with Nicola for sixteen months. They toured many
well-known countries, and also tramped into many
remote regions. They played modern metropolitan areas,
and visited exotic lands whose fabulous histories are
steeped in legendary antiquity. Their memories are stored
with a number of thrilling and exciting adventures, as
well as many fascinating and amusing experiences.
We have been asked to pen our
impressions of Nicola after our close
association with him, and to tell how he
appears to us as a traveling companion,
as a boss, and as a showman. We'll take
them up in that order.
We had been warned by Nicola not to
consider joining his company if we
entertained any thoughts of its being a
"Cook's Tour." There would be plenty
of hard work, we had been advised, and
unless we could absorb that in large
quantities, we were certainly looking
for the wrong job.
Traveling with Nicola around the world
is especially interesting because of his
great wealth of information concerning
Mrs. Nicola and
each place visited, and because of his
The Great Nicola
vast store of fascinating experiences
culled from the memory of former tours.
No mention of Nicola as a traveling companion would be complete
without our personal tribute to his qualities as a man. It is one thing to (1 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

admire a man for his showmanship on the stage; it is quite another

thing to respect him as a personality off the stage. We sincerely
respect Nicola as a friend whose admirable traits of character are an
inspiration to those who work with him. We admire his sincerity,
honesty and fairness in all his dealings.
As pleasant as it was traveling with Nicola the guide, it was of course
necessary that we never lose sight of the primary purpose of the
trip--our responsibilities in connection with the show. In this regard
we come to Nicola the boss.
The Nicola show, crated, consisted of over fifty tons of equipment. It
required two long baggage cars to accommodate the equipment, and
each of these was loaded to the roof. Upon stages which were
adequate to set up the entire production, 54 sets of lines were required
to fly the large number of draperies, curtains and various other illusion
and scenery effects. In many theatres additional lines had to be added,
and unless the back stage room was unusually ample, it was not
infrequent that we had to move the crates down stairs or even out of
the theatre after unpacking them, in order to have sufficient room for
all the illusions.
As one might judge, it was no small undertaking to set-up a show of
this magnitude and complexity. There could be no compromise with
efficiency or such a production could never have operated
successfully. When Nicola the boss walked through the door of the
theatre, Nicola the traveling companion remained outside.
There is a quiet dignity about Nicola the boss which commands
respect. The term "boss" is not quite correct, as we always felt we
were working with him, rather than merely for him. It was more as
though he was the captain of a team, a team which had a difficult job
to perform and of which he confidently expected perfect co-operation
to achieve our common objective.
This air of dignity and quiet confidence earned our devotion to the
task before us. Nicola is exacting and a stickler for detail. Laxity could
not be tolerated. Without these qualities his huge, elaborate show
could never have operated at the amazing speed which was marveled
at by every newspaper reviewer.
The success of the Nicola organization can be stated in one
word--Precision. We were never allowed to forget that perfection was
our eternal goal, and that we were expected to achieve it at every
Nicola inspired his team, as every good captain should, by setting the
example of what was expected of them. Every theatre and every stage (2 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

presented different problems. He was always on hand to see that these

problems were solved in the most efficient manner possible Each
individual in the show had his own list of duties to perform, illusions
to help prepare, and properties to set. These each of us was to carry
out without any checking from Nicola; and the responsibility for every
detail was solely ours.
It took a full day, working at top speed, to set up the entire show.
Sometimes, in the smaller theatres of small towns, the amount of stage
space would not permit us to use some of the more elaborate illusions,
and the time required would be less. Whatever the situation, Nicola
was always on hand, checking the many details that did not fall to any
of us in particular. Now he would be in the orchestra, now in the
gallery, again he would pop up in the boxes, or perhaps in the
wings--analyzing and checking every conceivable angle of many
things we are not at liberty to divulge.
We feel that a word should be said at this point about Mrs. Nicola.
Marion has been Nicola's leading lady on several tours, and it is not
detracting one bit from the credit due Nicola to say that a great deal of
the success of his show is accounted for by the presence of his
charming wife. Marion was a constant source of inspiration to all of us
because of her almost unbelievable efficiency in handling and
preparing an enormous number of small properties, and we found
ourselves constantly endeavoring to emulate her excellent example. It
seemed impossible for any one person to handle the responsibilities
which Marion cheerfully shouldered, and it was his confidence in her
and the realization that she always had everything under control which
permitted Nicola to avoid any worry about the situation backstage and
to concentrate his efforts exclusively to the showmanship of his
presentation. In all parts of the world her hosts of friends rival in
number those of Nicola. She has been the toast of Princes and
Potentates Sultans and Maharajas. No woman in the field of magic can
approach Marion's extensive knowledge of the art of magic and the
principles of showmanship-and there are relatively few magicians
even among the men who can top her in this category, for that matter.
For this reason, as well as for her gracious personality, her beauty, and
her charm of manner, we sincerely believe Marion Nicola merits the
distinction of being the First Lady of Magic.
In discussing Nicola as a showman it is probably best that we "look at
the record." Since our owl, personal opinions might conceivably be a
bit partisan because of our great regard for Nicola, we're willing to
leave the verdict to the impartial record as found in the cold black type
of the newspaper reviewer, and in the irrefutable evidence of box
office statistics. (3 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

Nicola with the late Ching Ling Foo in the latter's carriage
in front of the Fun Ming Theater in Tientsin, China

Everywhere he went Nicola broke box-office records of long standing.

Time and again the S.R.O. sign was out in front of the theatre long
before curtain time. It seemed funny to us, when leaving the theatre in
late afternoon after the matinee, to see the queue already forming for
the evening performance! Only the earliest comers stood a chance of
gaining admittance to the relatively small section of unreserved seats.
In several cities the management ran, in the advertisement columns of
the newspapers, a public apology for his inability to seat all of the
people who sought to gain admission to his theatre!
In one area of about a million inhabitants, where we encountered the
stiffest kind of competition in many other fields of entertainment, the
Nicola Show played for twenty consecutive weeks. Five months! This
would be the equivalent of a forty month season in New York, where
there are eight times as many people or a run lasting over three years!
This makes an interesting comparison with the maximum runs other
magicians have had in New York.
Everywhere the show merited newspaper reviews which frequently
ran one or more columns in length. Through all of these the same
theme was apparent--one of enthusiastic bewilderment. These
reviewers, as exacting in every respect as the New York and London
critics whom they emulate, and accustomed as they are to seeing only
the finest purveyors of the mystical art, thumbed desperately through
their mental dictionaries for words to express their reactions.
We come now to a review of the extravaganza which ran for nearly
three hours, operating with a speed and precision which was the result (4 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

of years of planning and preparation.

As the last notes of the overture die away, a fanfare from the orchestra
builds to a crashing climax--and the Great Nicola steps through the
curtains. Briefly, he introduces his gorgeous "Revue of Magic of the
Universe," in which he will impersonate some of the famous conjurers
he has met on his tours around the world. First, he announces, he will
take his audience with him to the Emperor's Royal Court in Pekin,
China, and impersonate an eminent Chinese wizard.
Nicola had appeared in full evening dress and cape for his
introductory remarks. He steps momentarily into the Wings, the
dazzling silver curtains open, the orchestra has struck up a Chinese
medley, and Nicola steps immediately onto the stage, clothed in the
costume of the Chinese necromancer.
The scene which greets the audience is truly one of Oriental splendor.
All of the scenery, including the borders and leg curtains, are of the
finest embroidered Chinese design and material. All the assistants who
appear on the stage in this scene are likewise clad in luxurious
Oriental garb. And the illusions blend unmistakably into the Chinese
setting, having been designed to do just that.
In rapid succession Nicola performs "The Elastic Lady," "Aerial
Fishing," "The Chinese Water Jar," and the "Dream of the Chinese
Chop Suey Restaurant Keeper"--this latter being a bewildering series
of related effects which bring the scene to a startling climax, and as
Nicola steps to the footlights the silver trailer closes in behind him as
the audience before him invariably pays thunderous tribute. The show
has started rapidly--but the pace increases.
Announcing that he now proposes to take his spectators to India,
Nicola again steps momentarily into the wings, the silver curtains part,
and Nicola steps back on the stage. He is now dressed as a Hindu
Fakir, the orchestra is contributing Indian music--but most startling of
all, the entire stage setting has been changed from China to India. The
close-in had been but a matter of seconds, yet the Royal Court of
China has been transformed into a street scene in Hyderabad, India.
Again, all of the curtains blend into the Indian scene, and all the
costumes are likewise Indian.
Nicola's own version of the famous "Indian Basket Trick" opens this
scene. Introducing several new principles, Nicola has made it a new
trick entirely, in everything except name. "The Indestructable Turban"
follows, and the scene closes with the "Levitation of the Princess of
After the inexplicable disappearance of the Princess into mid-air, the (5 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

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curtains once more whip together for an instant as Nicola, at the

footlights, turns the Magic Carpet in the direction of Egypt. In the
twinkling of any eye the curtains part, and Nicola is back on the stage
almost simultaneously-this time in the native dress of the Royal
Egyptian Sorcerer. The entire stage has again changed, and this time
the scene is laid in the interior of an Egyptian temple. All the costumes
are Egyptian, as is the music, and of course so are the illusions. "The
Priest, the Mysterious Shawls and the Beautiful Maidens," is a
lightning-like series of transformation effects, and this is followed by
the "Egyptian Mummy Mystery," a somber and weird ritual with an
unusual twist.
For the fourth time the scene changes almost instantly, as do all the
settings, costumes and the music. This time Nicola appears as a
burlesque magician from the Argentine. A series of small feats all
have a comedy twist, interjecting the lighter vein to relieve the array
of miracles which have paraded so rapidly before the eyes of the
Into this series of Hobo Hocum rabbits and ducks appear and
disappear, gravitation is defied, and the Wonder Screen produces a
huge semi mechanical pig eight feet in height, which promptly goes
into a dance and brings down the house. As a climax to the act Nicola,
by way of explanation to show how his costume changes are effected,
appears as, three different people in three different parts of the stage at
almost one and the same time and he turns up at the finish at the place
he would least likely be expected, a situation which brings the biggest
laugh of the entire show.
This concludes the review of magic, and by this time the audience is a
little breathless in trying to keep pace with the rapidity of the
extravaganza. The brilliant settings, contrast of costumes and subtle
blending of illusions has provided the first act which literally
overwhelms the audience. But this is only a start. A specialty follows
in which the antics of a comedian divert the attention of the audience
sufficiently so as to bring them back with brains relatively cleared for
the second act. This can be described more briefly because it is
Nicola's presentation of American magic. Again the audience is
treated to a change of scene each time the curtains open, and all of
these scenic effects are different from those they saw in the first act. It
is not necessary to go into these in detail. Each scene also finds all the
girls in different costumes.
Nicola is first produced magically in his "A-B-C Blocks" illusion
which is followed by an unique comedy mystery, "The Vanishing
Chocolates." The "Pillory Escape," a rice effect, and the billiard balls
precede one of Nicola's newest and greatest achievements- (6 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

"Masterpieces." In this unusual and magnificent illusion, which fills

the entire stage with one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole
show, the illusion evolves around sixteen large scale reproductions of
famous paintings by the old masters. At the finish of the series of
bewildering changes, one of the paintings designated by the audience
comes to life right before the eyes of the spectators. In our humble.
opinion this is -one of the finest and most beautiful illusions ever
"My Lady's Birthday Presents," the "Traveling Salesman and the
Farmer's Daughter," "Furnishing a Flat," and the "Rising Cards"
brings us up to the feature of the closing illusion of the second act.
This Is the famous "Prison Escape Mystery" which has long been one
of Nicola's most baffling illusions, not only for laymen but for
magicians also.
The setting is the reproduction of a real prison, with three cells, (all
elevated from the floor, of course) occupying the entire stage.
Introducing the "Invisible Cloak" Nicola twice performs before the
very eyes of the audience a miracle which approaches the absolute
limit of magical ingenuity and effectiveness.
An interval follows the Prison Escape, and to begin the final portion of
the performance Miss Lucille Roberts demonstrates her remarkable
mind-reading powers in a featured specialty act. This is followed by
Nicola's elaborate "Wizard's Dream."
In this sequence, which opens upon yet another unique stage setting,
Nicola explains how he fell asleep one evening while working in his
studio and dreamed of several great mysteries which had been thought
by magicians impossible to perform. The "Dream" is reproduced in its
entirety, complete with the performance of the "impossibilities."
Because of its unusual conception and its dramatic development, the
"Wizard's Dream" was especially praised by newspapers everywhere it
was performed.
Next came the "Eggs from the Hat," and this was followed by Nicola's
20th Century version of "Noah's Ark." At this point Nicola takes the
audience behind the scenes and demonstrates just how it is done-but of
course the ending works out differently than any one had imagined.
Nicola's version of the "Chinese Rings" followed and was always well
received. A "Spirit Cabinet," with Manifestations and materialization
of spirits, provides good background for both mystery and comedy,
and this is followed by the "Borrowed Rings."
"The Indian Rope Trick" is the feature which fills the next part of the
program. It is difficult to describe the effect this amazing feat has
upon the audience. In Nicola's version, the "Wizard" throws the rope (7 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

into the air and it remains suspended. The boy climbs the rope almost
to the top but not quite. Both rope and boy are out in the middle of the
stage, away from all curtains, and the top of the rope is in plain view.
At no time is there any covering of any sort. And there is no flash of
flame or smoke. At the command of the "Wizard," the boy disappears
and the rope, always completely in view, falls to the ground. That is
exactly the way it looks to the audience nothing more and nothing
less. It embodies several principles never before used by magicians.
As one of the large metropolitan newspaper reviewers exclaimed, "It
is an illusion which in all its elements has never been equalled on the
stage in this country."
After a giant "Three-card Monte" effect Nicola nears the end of his
performance by presenting his unique "Seeing through a Woman."
Although this effect has -- been attempted by some other stage
magicians, Nicola is still the only magician who allows a legitimate
committee from the audience to come up on the stage and sit behind
the sentry box before the young lady is mutilated. When the vicious
blades have been thrust through her neck and thighs, the doors are
opened to show her head and feet but the middle section of her
anatomy has disappeared. The back of this middle section is
completely removed, and the committee is asked to "look right
through the young woman" from the back. The young lady's torso is
recovered and returned to her at the conclusion so that the committee
returns to the audience relieved, but just as bewildered as those out
The "Human Pincushion," or "Iron Maiden," is presented just before
the closing number. Here is another exclusive Nicola miracle which
has been victimized by various copyists, but no one has as yet
successfully duplicated the Nicola version. It is by far the most
effective and convincing spike illusion, and the various original
features of its presentation render it a classic of magic in every aspect.
The performance is brought to a conclusion by Nicola's inimitable
"Substitution Trunk Mystery." It has been many years since Nicola
first became associated with this illusion when, as a small boy, he
assisted his father in performing it. Since those early days many
magicians have used the substitution effect in one form or another. Yet
our humble opinion is that you've -- never seen this transposition done
until you've seen Nicola do it.
Now that it's all over we can say that not only did the tour come up to
what we had hoped it would be, but that it actually surpassed our
fondest expectations--and that's saying something!
It is naturally a disappointment that The Great Nicola's tour could not (8 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

Around the World with The Great Nicola

have ended as he had wished it. Originally, the plans had been for the
world tour to be climaxed by a triumphal swing through the United
And a fitting climax it would have been, too. For The Great
Nicola--the man who has set box-office records all over the world, the
man who has had more command performances before kings, queens,
emperors, maharajas and sultans, than any other performer on earth,
the man whose name is, in 58 countries, synonymous with magic and
all things mysterious--this quiet and unassuming standard bearer of
fine magic wanted nothing more than to conclude his greatest tour
before his fellow-countrymen in his native land. (9 of 9) [4/23/2002 4:04:39 PM]

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