Showing posts with label Olive Robinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Olive Robinson. Show all posts

Friday, November 4, 2022

A Short Magical Diversion- Suee Seen/ Olive 'dot' Robinson


She was an integral part of one of the world’s most famous magic acts but died in obscurity in the United States. Suee Seen, Chung Ling Soo’s assistant was a sensation when she toured Australia in 1909 with her famous husband.

Augusta Pfaff also known as Olive Path, was born around 1863 in Cleveland Ohio. She was a short petite young girl and at an early age worked in a vaudeville chorus line. From this she met first, magician ,Harry Kellar and then, magician , Alexander Herrmann.  These men were legendary performers, and Olive, a small statured lady who stood under five feet tall, was an essential on stage assistant for both. She was skilled, discreet and deft, all vital characteristics for magic performance.  

Through Herrmann she met William Ellsworth Robinson, a man who specialised in making magical apparatus. Robinson had ambitions to become a magician,  but lacked charisma on stage. After seeing a Chinese Magician, Chung Ling Foo, Robinson decided to create an act capitalising on the fad for all things eastern. He also blatantly stole some of Foo’s tricks. In a classic example of Orientalism, Robinson became the ‘Chinese’ magician Chung Ling Soo, and Olive, who he nick named ‘Dot’ became his assistant as Suee Seen, and later, his second wife.

By 1909 . Soo was widely regarded as one of the most skilful magicians and illusionists in the world. Australian Tivoli Theatre owner, Harry Rickards, in an amazing coup, managed to persuade the magician and his assistant, Dot, to tour Australia and New Zealand that year. They were one of the most successful and popular acts ever presented on the Tivoli Circuit.

Chung Ling Soo decorated his set in elaborate Asian style, with heavy curtains and oriental accoutrements. His presentation was as Chung Ling Soo, a man of half Scottish, half Chinese ancestry, although he had no Chinese ancestry at all. Suee Seen, Dot, did not claim to be Chinese, but appeared as Mrs Chung Ling Soo, in long robes and plaited hair.

A postcard from Adelaide dated 1910 ( my collection)

Robinson and Olive had been together for a long time, and William was a bit of a playboy. In 1907 he met Louise Blatchford and they had a child together. Dot and William’s relationship was quite strained due to this. But when they travelled in Australia they mostly appeared together, with Dot stuck to William’s side.

Olive was an integral part of the Chung Ling Soo phenomenon. She palmed props, appeared and disappeared at the whim of the magician and played her role as Mrs Chung Ling Soo to perfection. She also appeared on several postcards alone as Suee Seen.

In Australia she appeared in almost all the on stage illusions.

There was the dice trick. A tower of large dice was stacked on a small table, Chung Ling Soo  covered it, and seconds later,  Suee Seen would appear magically from thin air.

In what Charles Waller called ‘a beautiful illusion’ Suee  appeared in a many sided crystal lantern floating above the stage by a chain,  and when covered by a cone she magically transformed into a blooming orange tree.

In the cauldron illusion, a large pot was placed on stage. The Magician poured buckets of water, a dead pigeon, rabbits and fowls into it. Then a fire was lit, the water boiled, steam poured out and from the haze stepped tiny Suee Seen

Then there was the arrow trick. Chung Ling Soo, hoisted an arrow attached to a string in a bow. The magician aimed at a target, pulled back the string, but  Suee Seen would run in front of him, and was accidentally shot with the arrow. The string was seen running through her stomach from front to back.

In the bullet catching trick. Where the magician would catch bullets fired from a gun in his teeth and spit them out into a plate, Dot was responsible for the sleight of hand that ensured the marked bullets appeared in the right place at the end of the trick

According to a New Zealand newspaper,

 When she is not hanging from a hook, she is bouncing from a trap- or being cooked in a cauldron- or changing costume in a moment, in the twinkling of a hook and eye

Undated postcard- my collection

Her role in all these illusions was essential to the success of the act. So much so , that after the marriage collapsed, Chung Ling Soo retained her services as his assistant at a wage of 25 pounds a week. A very generous sum for the time. The pair maintained a professional relationship as William continued his affair with Ms Blatchford. Although officially married, Dot and William did not share rooms on the road and had separate residences outside their touring schedule.

Dot worked with Soo and Company until a dark night in March 1918 in England. That evening, the bullet catch trick went horribly wrong, and Chung Ling Soo, magician and pretender died on stage from a bullet wound.

Dot was there that night and stayed by his side as he was taken to hospital. She was inconsolable when he passed away.

Dot stopped performing. Unfortunately she was barely remembered in Robinson’s will, inheriting only one third of the estate, the majority of which went to Louise Blatchford and her children with the magician.

Dot stayed in England until 1922, then moved to the US where she lived in relative obscurity until her death in 1934

She was originally buried in an unmarked grave. However, an online campaign  led by magic historian  Diego Domingo, resulted in her burial place being  recognised in 2016. Today she is regarded as one of the most famous and skilled magician assistants in history