The Maharaja of Magic
By Milbourne Christopher, Past President, Society of American Magicians, November 1965, New York City, USA
China's greatest magician was Ching Foo. France's most famous conjuror
was Robert-Houdin. England's master illusionist was David Devant. India's
all-time star of stage sorcery is Sorcar. No other Indian wizard, past
or present, comes close to matching his reputation, his honors or his tours.
And it is not only in India that the dazzling deceptions of Sorcar have
delighted audiences, but also in Japan, Australia, England, Russia, the
United States and elsewhere.
Sorcar is, to the best of my knowledge, the only illusionist performing
today who has his own complete production center. His scenery and his illusions
are designed, built, painted and rehearsed on his premises in Calcutta.
Through the years his presentations have been constantly improved and arranged
more artistically. His understanding of stage lighting, music and basic
human appeals is impressive. As a fellow illusionist I am constantly delighted
by his advance in these areas.
He is also an ingenious advertiser, a shrewd publicist and an astute
business man. His promotional material matches the propaganda deviced by
Hollywood's ace press agents and the promoters of the world's outstanding
stage, opera and concert attractions.
I met him for the first time fifteen years ago in Chicago. He had flown
there from India to appear at the Combined Convention of the Society of
American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. In his
gold coat, jeweled turban and shoes with turned-up toes he stood out like
a flash of fire among the conventional dinner jackets, evening clothes
and business suits. His reputation had preceded him. Everyone recognized
India's Maharaja of Magic on sight.
On stage and off Sorcar made friends quickly. Blackstone, dean of America's
Stage Illusionists, sketched plans for him of two of his principal feats.
Okito, the father of Fu Manchu and the fifth generation of Holland's court-magician
bamberg family, swapped secrets of celestial wizardry.
We were close in age, Sorcar and I, and close in thought. We talked
for hours about how to make our ancient art more intriguing and more popular
in our widely separated parts of the world. Then back and forth our letters
went half way around the globe. I followed avidly his ventures and kept
him posted on mine.
In my reference files in New York are thousands of letters, lithographs,
playbills, reviews and other memorabilia covering the careers of Pinetti,
Anderson, Herman, Thurston, Carter, Houdini and other luminaries of the
world legerdemain. The section devoted to Sorcar is the largest of any
Here are clippings, photographs, programs and first-hand accounts of
his journeys to Cairo, Melbourne, Paris, Tokyo and London. Here are the
heralds and broadsides used by him in Moscow and Leningrad, in Tehran and
Sorcar, like keller before him, is a citizen of the world; at home in
different cultures, in distant climes. He is an ambassador without portfolio
of India, bringing with him wherever he goes the traditions and heritage
of "the home of mystery".
In 1957 Producer's Showcase invited me to arrange monumental NBC television
program featuring the great magicians of the world. I was soon on the trans
Atalntic telephone to Calcutta and Sorcar was soon on his way to New York
to play an important part in the hour-and-half production. It was televised
in both color, and black and white, and was seen by more than 33,000,000
viewers in the United States and by more millions in Europe when it was
A note here about Sorcar's artistic integrity. When it was suggested
that he might bring his key assistants, that other could be engaged in
New York, he answered that he could present his magic properly only with
his regular staff. It was his own precision-trained company that appeared
with him on the show.
A few nights after the telecast he appeared in person before the Society
of American Magicians during its Convention in Hartford, Conn. As an added
treat, he included in his routine several feats that had not been seen
on video. He received a standing ovation when he made his bow at the Banquet.
We met again in England when The Magic Circle celebrated its Golden
Jubilee in London. Then later when I toured the British Isles with my illusion
show I was pleased to hear managers and stage hands in several cities reminisce
of Sorcar's British tour and the impact his buzz saw illusion had on BBC-TV.
Our paths crossed again in Boston and several times he has visited me
in New York. On the most recent trip, when he came to the World's Fair,
he brought with him two more P.C. Sorcars, his sons.
Last year I arranged several television and live appearances in Hollywood
so that I could stop off and see him in Las Vegas, that strange desert
city which is the center of the world's night club show business.
He has lost none of his enthusiasm. His eyes still sparkle as he sketches
a device to make one piece of overhead stage rigging do the work of two,
or outlines the way he has tied in current events with modern magic. His
rocket illusion is complete with assistants in astronaut grab and appropriate
cloud like settings.
To the public Sorcar is flamboyant, his trappings are lavish, his publicity
is bold and eye-catching. In private life he is another person - quiet,
scholarly and unassuming. He is an active Rotarian and has attended their
luncheons in such far-flung places as Dar-es-Salaam, and Nairobi. Here
he meets the important civic leaders of the places, he plays and here he
talks to them about the fascination of magic in the world of today. When
I joined him one afternoon in Las Vegas at a Rotary meeting I had to scan
the room several times before I picked him out. There was nothing theatrical
about his cloths or demeanor.
There is a difference between the magicians who offers a short program
and the illusionist who carries tons of paraphernalia and many assistants.
One masters a brief routine, the other is an executive who runs a complete
business enterprise. The successful illusionist must not only be a dynamic
showman, but also a master in public relations. He must be thoroughly versed
in the problems of logistics, stage craft, international monetary systems
and world commerce. He routes his attraction with the skill of a diplomat,
following the temper of the times in the areas of the world which are his
When, Sorcar a scholar from Calcutta University, began his career as
a professional wonder worker, the world at large knew Indian Magic as something
a traveler had seen in a sultry, crowded street. In all of the fabled land
of mystery there was not one illusionist with credit of an established
international full evening show. Sorcar dreamed of the spectacles of Thurston
and Dante and strove to establish magic as a cherished part of India's
cultural life. Prodigious study, experimentation and an unrelenting drive
to succeed brought him to the fore. Woven in the rich tapestry his current
productions are not only baffling illusions, but authentic Indian art,
costume and ritual as well.
It has been said that a prophet is without honor in his own country.
Not so with Sorcar. The Government has awarded him PADMASRI, he is the
perennial president of the All India Magic Circle and he breaks theatre
box-office records in Calcutta's New Empire as well as in theatres abroad.
Just a few moments ago I put a reel on my tape machine, threaded it
and pressed the switch. On the other side of the globe Indian musicians
played his overture. A burst of applause, then the familiar voice acknowledging
his reception. In my mind's eye I conjured up the scene, his smile, his
costume and the settings of the New Empire Theatre. I relaxed in my chair
and listened. It was as if I were in the audience myself enjoying the magic
of Sorcar. (Signed, Milbourne Christopher, November 1965, New York City,