The China Variety Theatre, Stockholm, 1937-1963

CHINA THEATRE STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

– an important leg on the European variety circuit

By Christer Nilsson & Jan BA Janson

This article is based on research done by Christer Nilsson about the China Theatre, which was published in his Swedish book: “Trollare och andra underhållare” Halmstad, Sweden 1990. He has also the largest Swedish collection related to magic (go to www. Magiarkivet.se, it’s partly in English!)) and all illustrations are from his collection. Jan BA Janson grew up in Stockholm during the 1950’s and gives some personal memories from this golden magic era in Stockholm.

Stockholm Sweden was the right place to be if you were a teenager interested in magic in the 1950’s. Everything happened here. Stockholm was the site of Swedish Magic Circle (founded 1946) with an associated Junior Magic Club and all Circle meetings and congresses took place here. Stockholm also had one regular magic shop – Swings, which was the natural meeting place! This was all Swedish local magic stuff, but there was also a very international magic event taking place every summer in Stockholm:

The China Variety Show

In the centre of Stockholm, next to the green oasis, Berzelii Park, a new movie theater was built 1926-28. The architect, Albin Stark, was the second westerner to visit the “Forbidden City” in Beijing in 1922 and from this visit he took inspiration to build the new cinema with a strong Chinese theme. Numerous wooden intarsia and original oil paintings had Chinese motives and the name was of course CHINA. It had a two tired salon with 1250 seats and the unique feature was that there were no pillars and every seat had an unobstructed view of the stage, which was huge.

China was inaugurated in October 1928 with the silent movie “Anna Karenina” with Greta Garbo and in a few years’ time there were also various stage shows and odd variety shows. In 1937 a regular variety show was started during the summer months, i.e. May – September each year and the format was a two hour show with some 10-15 fast-moving specialty acts, a chorus line of beautiful Swedish girls  with two showings per evening. China became a natural leg in the European variety circuit: Palladium in London; Lido in Paris; Hansa Teater in Hamburg and numerous international stars visited Stockholm for their one month’s engagements.

After WWII in 1948 Eskil Eckert-Lundin became the manager for the show after starting as conductor in the orchestra ditch. He was very interested in magic and a magic act became a natural part of the total show and many times he allowed the magic to be the closing act and run up to 20 minutes in length.

When CHINA variety closed in August 1963 there had been a total of 142 shows of which 70 had a magic act included. The show was very successful and for example the record 1951 season had 265.000 visitors!

SOME AMERICAN PERFORMERS AT THE CHINA THEATRE

 

 Kodell August-September 1951

 

Celeste Evans September 1959, Jay Palmer & Doreen May 1955

Here is a chronological list of all magicians performing at China Theatre:

Aug 1937                      Iso Beite (Sweden)

April+May 1938         Cortini (Germany)

May+June 1938         Cardini (UK)

May 1939                    El Fahali Gali Gali (Egypt)

June 1939                   Keith Clark (France)

April 1940                   Rani (Sweden)

Sep 1940                     Marvelli (Germany)

May 1942                    Viggo Jahn (Denmark)

May 1943                    Original Remons (Germany)

Aug 1943                     Haakon Edeling (Denmark)

June 1944                    Viggo Jahn (Denmark)

July 1944                     Haakon Edeling (Denmark)

July 1946                     Mr Miller (Sweden)

Aug 1946                      Crochet (Holland)

June 1947                     Howard de Courcy (UK)

Aug 1947                       Voltaire (UK)

April 1948                     Glen Pope & Georgette (USA)

May l948                       Roxy (Sweden)

June 1948                      Menito & Michele (France)

Aug 1948                       Borra (Serbia)

April 1949                      Hector el Neco (Sweden)

May 1949                       Haakon Edeling (Denmark)

June 1949                      Lu Chang Fu (China)

Aug 1949                       Max Hofzinser (Sweden)

May 1950                      Shalimar (Sweden)

June 1950                     Viggo Jahn (Denmark)

July 1950                      Donald B. Stuart (UK)

Aug 1950                      Truc & Cie (France)

May 1951                      Tornedo (Sweden)

Aug+Sep 1951             Kodell (USA)

May 1952                     Rolf Hansen (Austria)

May 1952                     Tornedo (Sweden)

July 1952                     Borra II (Serbia)

June 1953                     Donald B. Stuart (UK)

Aug+Sep 1953             Howard de Courcy (UK)

May 1954                     Cortini (Germany)

July 1954                      Frakson (Spain)

Aug 1954                      Paul Arland (Denmark)

May 1955                     Jay Palmer & Doreen (USA)

June 1955                     Richiardi Jr (Peru)

July 1955                      Salminen (Finland)

Aug+Sep 1955              Eterno (Austria)

July 1956                       Channing Pollock (USA)

Aug 1956                       Tornedo & Meta de Soto (Sweden)

Sep 1956                       Inge Pedro (Sweden)

May 1957                      Truxa (Denmark)

July 1957                      Viggo Spaar (Denmark)

May 1958                      Marvin Roy (USA)

June 1958                     Kalanag (Germany)

May 1959                     Tonny van Dommelen (Holland)

June 1959                     Donald B. Stuart (UK)

Aug 1959                      Los Tornedos (Sweden)

Sep 1959                      Celeste Evans (USA)

May 1960                    Bengt Bergöö (Sweden)

June 1960                   2 Eternos (Austria)

July 1960                     Gerd Maron (Germany)

Aug 1960                      Jerry Bergman (USA)

May 1961                      Fred Kaps (Holland)

June 1961                     Les Andreanos (France)

July 1961                      Christine France (France)

Aug 1961                       Dany Ray (France)

July 1962                      Brahma (France)

Aug 1962                       Richiardi Jr (Peru)

June 1963                     Los Waltinos (Austria)

Aug 1963                       Viggo Jahn (Denmark)

This is the corresponding list by nationality:

Austria:                   Eterno (twice); Rolf Hansen, Los Waltinos

China:                      Lu Chang Fu

Denmark:               Viggo Jahn (4 times); Haakon Edeling (3 times); Viggo Spaar; Truxa; Paul Arland

Egypt:                     El Fahali Gali Gali

Finland:                   Salminen

France:                    Brahma; Dany Ray; Christine France; Les Andreanos; Menito & Michele; Keith Clark, Truc & Cie

Germany:                Cortini (twice); Kalanag; Marvelli; Gerd Maron; Original Remons

Holland:                   Fred Kaps; Tonny van Dommelen; Crochet

Peru:                        Richiardi Jr (twice)

Serbia:                      Borra; Borra II

Spain:                        Frakson

Sweden:                    Tornedo (4 times with different partners); Bengt Bergöö; Inge Pedro; Shalimar; Max Hofzinser; Hector el Neco;  Roxy; Mr Miller; Rani; Iso Beite

UK:                             Cardini; Voltaire; Donald B. Stuart (3 times); Howard de Courcy (twice)

USA:                          Celeste Evans; Marvin Roy; Channing Pollock; Jay Palmer  & Doreen; Kodell; Jerry   Bergman; Glen Pope & Georgette

SOME FRENCH PERFORMERS AT THE CHINA THEATRE

 

Dany Ray August 1961, Keith Clark June 1939

 

Christine France July 1961, Pierre Brahma July 1962 

GERMAN & AUSTRIAN PERFORMERS AT THE CHINA THEATRE

Cortini May 1954

 

Rolf Hansen May 1952, Marvelli September 1940

Gerd Maron July 1960

The variety acts in the show sometimes had some related themes to magic, and for example paper tearing was performed very successfully on two occasions by Albert Sturm, producing ladders, palm trees, flowers and like paraphernalia. In august 1948 Senor Carlos appeared with the novelty, balloon sculpturing, which was very well received and started this craze which is still with us today. Jugglers and ventriloquists were common features.

Cardini was the second foreign magician hired by China and he did two months in 1938, May and June. He was already some ten years into his international carrier and his act was already perfected.

He was a treat for local magicians and of course we later had some performers trying to do his act or parts of it with little success. The great lesson from him to the Swedish magicians was his endless looking at details to get it perfect. His act was of course very well received both by press and the locals.

The war put a lot of restrictions on the availability of foreign performers for the show. After the peace the show flourished and a number of great magicians would appear in Stockholm.

SOME MORE PERFORMERS AT THE CHINA THEATRE

 

Frakson July 1954, Los Andreanos June 1956

 

El Fahali Gali Gali May 1939, Crochet August 1946

Borra August 1948

 

Eterno August-September 1955, Glen Pope & Georgette April 1948 

 

Tonny van Dommelen May 1959, Iso Beité August 1937

SOME SCANDINAVIAN PERFORMERS AT THE CHINA THEATRE

 

Hector El Neco April 1949, Max Hofzinser August 1949

Inge Pedro September 1956

 

Paul Arland August 1954, Salminen July 1955

   

Truxa May 1957, Shalimar May 1950

Rani April 1940

Mr Miller May 1946

Big closing illusion shows were Richiardi Jr and Kalanag, and of these two Richiardi’s was the most memorable.

In June 1955 Richiardi Jr and his nine people crew were in Stockholm and presented 20 minutes of classical illusions with some new twists from his normal 2½ hour show.

The broom levitation was very impressive the first time you saw it and he also had a very good Asrah levitation. You were very impressed by his tempo, energy and positive atmosphere. Also China was very happy and hired him for an encore in August 1962. 

 

Kalanag’s show June 1958 was preceded by at lot of hype. He was given the full two hours time slot to do his full show SIM SALA BIM.

The vanishing car was of course the big one in his show together with the beautiful Gloria. The show was a mix between big illusions and smaller tricks done in a good tempo with numerous assistants. Gloria’s telephone book mental trick was a hit and I also remember being impressed by his rainbow billiard ball manipulations! However his show was not at all well received neither by the press nor by the audience and during the progress of the month China had to put in several supporting acts!

 

 

Channing Pollock July 1956 was a great hit with the press and also with all local magicians. With his elegant, slow and deliberate pace he and wife Naomi performed the following act: Kane to table stand and top hat on top as table. Silks from assistant’s dress – production of several doves – put into cage. Silk wrapped and hold between hands – production of two doves. Card manipulations – card fans – card catching. Bare handed vanish of one dove – changes to silk. Dove cage is covered by big silk – vanishes standing up front.

His act was completely new and very, very impressive and I remember standing outside the stage entrance at midnight after the second show, waiting to ask for a signed photo, which you can see here. He went back in to fetch it for me.

Marvin Roy & Carol May 1958 brought with him his new electrical show, which was a great novelty at that time.  It was very well received by press and audience.

The act in Stockholm was: Catching of lighted bulbs. The egg bag with light bulb. Billiard ball trick with rainbow bulbs. Production of silks – ending with a lighted chandelier. Production of light bulbs from mouth. Vanishing milk – retrieved from functioning light bulb.

 

Fred Kaps, one of my all time favorite magicians, did China in May 1961. He was a rather frequent visitor to Stockholm, because a close friend of his, a Dutch merchant in flowers, bulbs etc and a great card guy, was living there and therefore I had several opportunities to watch him in private evening sessions and also lecturing for the Circle. For me he is probably the best all-round magician I have even seen. Fabulous stage show, great card work and close-up! The first time I saw his stage show was in 1956, when he was the closing act at The Swedish Magic Circle’s 10 year Anniversary Show and it was new and an eye-opener, so elegant, such a great pace with a fantastic presence on stage. His show at China, now five years later, was just as great. You had seen it before (vanishing and appearing canes, manipulations, thumb smoking, salt pour etc) but you just sat there and fully enjoyed fantastic artistry.

Going to the show May 1960 was a very different experience. Instead of sitting, admiring and enjoying the artistry, you were sitting on nails and keeping all your fingers crossed. My close friend and mentor Bengt Bergöö was on the show and since I had seen the rehearsals many times and talked about it with him, I did know that parts of it were a bit technically difficult and things could go wrong. After eight minutes of agony – relief! I did see the act once more and could then relax and enjoy at bit more.

Still I remember he did the dancing cane, a trick which I hate. It is not a trick – a circular rhythmic motion, where you can easily identify the epicenter of the movement. Not a trick! – so what is it?!

We also take this opportunity to dwell a bit on some of the Scandinavians who appeared on the China stage.

Tornedo, here with assistant Meta de Soto in Aug 1956, played China four times over the years, was a kind of whiz-kid when he first appeared late 1940’s. He was an extremely gifted classical manipulator doing cards, billiard balls, coins, and cigarettes. With this act he took first prize in manipulation at the world congresses 1950 in Barcelona, 1951 in Paris and Prix Hors Concours 1952 in Geneva. He turned professional and in October 1952 he did Palladium in London and had a successful time on the big stages all over Europe as well as in the night club – cabaret scene. In the mid 50’s he did three months at Radio City Hall in New York. His early signature stage trick was a great substitution trunk and he later added the Broom suspension and the Doll House illusions. He retired in 1962 and become impresario for major European stages and casinos.

Haakon Edeling was the grand old man in Scandinavian magic, being for most of his life the Court Magician to the Kingdom of Denmark.

He did a standard classical “parlour style” act done to perfection. Having seen him many times I have never seen him make even the slightest mistake. He also won numerous awards in Scandinavian competitions.

Viggo Jahn played China four times from 1944 and he was the last magician in August 1963.

He was famous for his great thimble routine in black gloves, which was very often copied by other.

After the regular variety program closed in 1963 of course the movie theatre continued as before and over time there have been various efforts to revive this summer event, however the times had changed and with television as a major competitor, these efforts were in vain. The movie theatre was restructured in 1989 into a convention centre, but the original interior and all fittings were perfectly restored. Today it is utilized for bigger events like business conferences as well as private parties.

It was a great privilege for Swedish magicians to have this opportunity to see real international stars performing in Stockholm and in between see the best Scandinavian artists, to evaluate how far we had come in this discipline. Cardini’s two months in 1938 must have been very inspiring and started a following. Channing Pollock’s doves started a whole genre and Fred Kaps showed the young generation how it should be done, how a single performer with the right attributes could fill and dominate a large stage as well as the audience. The big shows gave you a clear insight, to what it takes to perform and travel around with an illusion show and numerous assistants. That is a part of the magic scene that is only for a very select few.

These foreign visits to Stockholm were accompanied by an invitational dinner by the Swedish Magic Circle, which gave you the opportunity to meet and hear the visitors talk a little about their lives and their magic. However being a teenager at that time, you had to more or less beg to be there and then sit quietly in a corner. BUT it was still an experience of a lifetime.

A typical newspaper ad for the show. This one from July 1946.

23 kommentarer till The China Variety Theatre, Stockholm, 1937-1963

  1. Mikael Vanheden skriver:

    Oj så intressant!

    Äntligen får jag se bilder och läsa lite om många jag bara hört talas om.

  2. Conny Ray skriver:

    Vilken nostalgitripp. Intressant att läsa om artisterna och roligt att se deras artistfoton igen. Många av artisterna såg jag på Cabarethallen som låg på Liseberg. Tyvärr revs denna fina teaterlokal 1966.

  3. En fin upplevelse att få se alla dessa bilder av tidigare omtalade magiker.
    Bilderna är talande och beskrivande och jag blir nyfiken på att få veta mer om alla dessa gentlemän och vackra senoritor.
    På många sätt är bilderna mer beskrivande och spännande än dagens reklam för motsvarande verksamhet.
    En sann kulturgärning, att arbeta fram allt detta matrial.

  4. Verkligen jättekul att se alla dessa fina gamla artistbilder med intressant text. Jag gick på massor av dessa varietéföreställningar och njöt av och lärde mig av de stora stjärnorna.
    Tack Christer för denna fina exposé!
    Hälsningar,
    Holger

  5. Jahn Gallo skriver:

    Tack Christer

    Underbara bilder och likaså text från en tid som tyvärr inte kommer tillbaka!

    Hälsningar
    Jan

  6. Bev Bergeron skriver:

    I enjoyed the trip through the China Theatre. What great memories.
    Bev Bergeron

  7. Geoffrey Hansen skriver:

    I really enjoyed your research and material on the CHINA theater in
    Stockholm. This is really wonderful.
    Geoffrey Hansen
    Las Vegas
    U S A

  8. Zarro-Zarro skriver:

    Magiske, kulturelle och respekterade CHRISTER – Tack för ännu ett kulturellt storverk !!!
    Trolleri-artisten TRUC ET COMPAGNIE, kände jag väl, egentligen: SERGE BOURDIN, Paris. Han hade som bravur-nummer en framtrollning av en slags vägg med flaggor, dessa förvandlades upprepade gånger, nya flaggor etc etc. Numret blev aldrig kopierat. Han berättade om det storartade mottagande de fick på China med blommor, flott loge etc – han bevarade det bästa minne därifrån. När han drog sig tillbaka från artist-livet under 1970-talet, öppnade han en fotostudio i Paris, där han 1978 tog det artist-foto av mig med stegen, coathangers och en duva på huvudet, jag var då 46 år – du har säkert detta foto. Han editerade cirka 1968 L’ANNUAIRE DES MAGICIENS / ett slags Who’s who in magic, på franska, med främst franska artister, även andra, jag är med / foto 1966 med två duvor på en käpp /som i bästa fall försvann …. / Serge Bourdin var även en framstående vin-kännare.
    Detta är ovärderligt material till framtida forskning, men få har förståelse för sådant.
    Magiske hilsner fra et lunt efterår i Paris – 16 C – og fra gamle vennen ZARRO ZARRO

  9. George Kidd skriver:

    Vilket härligt och underhållande material d.v.s. bilder texter, fakta och historik. Nu ber jag till en högre makt att detta material blir en bok… jag skulle köpa den på stört.

    Magin och trollerihistorik anser jag vara något viktigt för alla trolleriutövare att känna till. Tänk på att många av alla fina illusioner kommer från en tid som flytt!

  10. John Houdi skriver:

    Fantastiskt och oerhört fascinerande, Christer.
    Tusen tack!

  11. Spännande och väldigt intressant att få läsa om detta. Åt lunch med Jan BA Jansson i Stockholm för några veckor sedan. Både du Christer och Jan har ju stort kunnande om vår magi historia.

  12. wim de jong skriver:

    The act LES WALTINOS comes from WIEN/VIENNA and is later sold to THE NEW HOUDINYS also from WIEN/VIENNA
    Regards from Amsterdam

  13. Jan BA Janson skriver:

    Thanks to Wim de Jong for the information about Les Waltinos. We will add this information to the article, which has been accepted for publication in next issue of Perenial Mystics.
    Best regards from Cagnes sur Mer France

  14. Pingback: China Theatre in Stockholm | Sveriges Magi-Arkiv

  15. Wittus Witt skriver:

    Wonderful – Super! Fantastic!

    thank you

  16. Pingback: China-Varietén i Stockholm | Sveriges Magi-Arkiv

  17. Magic Christian skriver:

    What a nice information about fantastic performers.

  18. Tack Christer!
    Det var intressant att få reda på vilka trolleriakter som gästat Chinateatern. Jag hade inte tillfälle att se showerna live, men några program visades på TV. Jag minns Viggo Jahns repknutar och Dany Rays presentation av ”gipsy thread”.
    I en revivel show upplevde jag LosTornedos, en liten tröst.
    Delgado

  19. Rolf Carlsten skriver:

    I början v 60-talet var jag anställd vid Dramaten. När Ingmar Bergman blev chef flyttade han skolteaterverksamheten till China-teatern, som ju ägdes av SF. Ingmar var kung på SF och fick som han ville. Efter ett par år på China, där jag lärde känna Eckert-Lundin – en verklig gentleman i ordets alla goda betydelser. Ingmar B var däremot ingen gentleman och jag lämnade Dramaten, som varit mitt ”hem” i femton år. Det blev television i stället.

  20. Thanks for the information
    Best regards from GREECE
    KRISTOFER MAGICIAN

  21. Mike skriver:

    Great job Christer, thank you for all the research on these artists. Besides, i would love to know if someone knew or had seen jay palmer doing his kettle act, if someone remembers any details on the act or about his kettle. It seems to have vanished from the planet. They played the china theater on 1955…
    Feel free to contact me by e-mail

    Best wishes, Mike

  22. Börje Fredriksson skriver:

    Mycket arbete nerlagt, Tack!

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