– 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
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
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.
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 II July 1952
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.