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HomeMagicWilliam J. Hilliar Father of The Sphinx & Extra

William J. Hilliar Father of The Sphinx & Extra



William John Hilliar was born in Oxford England November twenty seventh, 1876. He's not to be confused with John Northern Hilliard with a D, who was well-known for the e book Better Magic amongst different issues. 

William J. Hilliar’s first publicity to magic was by way of the pages of Charles Dickens All of the Yr Spherical. This was a weekly British literary periodical, owned and printed by Charles Dickens. He would typically write of the exploits of magicians and his personal magic exploits as he was an newbie conjurer. As well as, William’s father instructed him concerning the fantastic theatre often called Egyptian Corridor and the fabulous conjurers there. 

It’s secure to say younger Hilliar was obsessive about magic. He devoured the magic books of the time, He bought magic props when he was in a position, and noticed varied magicians together with the celebrated Dr. Lynn of Palagenisia fame. Regardless of his father wanting him to change into a lawyer, younger Invoice Hilliar wished solely to change into a magician.  Some biographies of Hilliar point out he turned interested by magic when he noticed Bosco carry out. He mistakenly thought this performer was the famed Bosco. Nonetheless, Bartelomeo Bosco died in 1863, earlier than Hilliar was even born. The person who Hilliar noticed was probably an excellent or first rate copycat utilizing Bosco’s title. That is identified in nice particulars within the pages of The Conjurers Month-to-month Journal in an article by Houdini.

BTW, Hilliar’s personal audition earlier than Maskelyne and Devant was lower than earth shattering. Nerves set in when he realized that solely two individuals have been watching, the aforementioned Maskelyne and Devant. Hilliar dropped, knocked over, spilled, and flopped each routine in his audition. Rattling these nerves! Fortunately although he didn't permit this one scenario to destroy his resolve. He pushed ahead, practising and rehearsing and finally turning into, as you'll say, a really achieved magician.

Hilliar as a magician, first appeared on the December 1900 difficulty of Mahatma Journal. The article mentions he's 24 now however has had 9 years of expertise performing earlier than the general public.  Two of his specialties have been Shadowgraphy and sleight of hand. It isn’t well-known however he started his performing profession beneath the title Professor Lennox, this monicor didn’t final lengthy nonetheless.

Because the article in Mahatma reveals, Hilliar obtained his begin working with a touring vaudeville firm. And after two years of touring via England, he went out and created his personal touring firm. He additionally created a present stuffed with magic and novelty, together with: ventriloquism, juggler and mentalism. However particular point out has been made to his manipulative talent, particularly, his talent with cash. The articles says he's second solely to T.Nelson Downs in that space of conjuring. That’s excessive reward, certainly.  Here's a write-up on Hilliar from a number one English Society Paper, “

A younger magician named Hilliar, is working his manner quickly to the fore, and it suggests itself to me that in teh close to future he'll make a stir on this planet. He's a fabulous wonder-worker, and his sleight of hand is phenomenal. After witnessing his efficiency one begins to doubt whether or not what we see is a actuality. Who is aware of whether or not many of the issues of magnificence that delight our imaginative and prescient are however mere illusions? After trying upon the good legerdemain of this magican one is  so misplaced in amazement that one begins to doubt the truth fo existence. Who is aware of? Maybe its all sham. The longer one lives the much less sure one is of something. Mr. Hilliar final evening delighted the viewers of St. Georges Corridor with an exhibition that gave as a lot delight because it brought about curiosity. A time will not be far distant when this rising younger prestidigitator shall be hunted for by one of the best hosts in London who would give pleasure to their mates. As an addition to any evenings leisure, Professor Hilliar’s providers are an acquisition” 

We additionally study right here that Hilliar can be representing T. Nelson Downs as supervisor of his magic firm.  And talking of Downs, on my podcast on Tommy Downs, episode #23, you’ll hear me point out Hilliar a number of occasions in relation to Downs. One of many causes was as a result of it was William Hilliar who ghost wrote Tommy Downs e book on Coin Manipulation in 1901.

With the encouragement of T.Nelson Downs, Howard Thurston made the trek to England to carry out as The King of Playing cards. And he too turned a sensation. His act consisted of card manipulations, card scaling and a duck manufacturing. Apparently, within the press the emphasis was positioned upon his talent at palming playing cards and never on the ‘magical look’ of the act. This was frequent for the time. There isn't a denying Thurston was a talented manipulator. And to indicate simply how robust of a card man he was, he needed to finally pull the duck manufacturing as a result of it simply appeared so misplaced amongst such a robust card act.

As he had performed with Tommy Downs, Hilliar launched himself to Thurston and apparently supplied to ghost write a e book for him as effectively. Howard Thurston’s Card Tips was the title of the e book. Hilliar wrote the complete e book, even creating materials for the e book as effectively. 

A number of issues occur in 1902. For one, William Hilliar strikes to the USA. Two he writes his personal e book referred to as, The Trendy Magician’s Handbook.

In March of 1902, William j. Hilliar begins a brand new magical publication referred to as The Sphinx. He
selected Harry Kellar to grace the quilt of the primary difficulty.  Some of the wonderful issues on this difficulty is the inclusion of the Nice Gold Fishing Trick. He provides the whole historical past, mentioning that it was the creation of a fellow named ‘Professor Mingus’. He features a image of Minguses, letterhead, exhibiting the fish trick. and says the primary to do the trick after Mingus have been Robinson and Goldin. However what’s fascinating is that he says Mingus performed Tony Pastors for One week. and through that week Each Robinson and Goldin noticed the present. NO MENTION is givin of their getting Minguses permission to duplicate it. Solely that they constructed their very own. We are able to’t know both manner sadly. However simply as odd, after the trick appeared within the Sphinx, Mingus himself wrote two different articles concerning the trick for Mahatma, revealing the elements of the trick that have been unnoticed within the Sphinx article. So maybe Mingus was wanting to see his trick carried out by others in spite of everything.

Within the second difficulty of the Journal we discover our outdated pal Henry Ridgely Evans writing a column.  We realized a bit about him in Ep 62 of the podcast.

Surprisingly nonetheless, by Concern #7, it appears Hilliar was prepared to maneuver on. Concern #8 abruptly posted that “Mr Hilliar is not related with The Sphinx, however has kindly consented to furnish gratuitous an article every month, which shall be of nice curiosity to these interested by magic.”

What occurred? One assertion was the Hilliar simply abandoned The Sphinx, maybe in favor of one other job alternative. From a 1905 difficulty of The Sphinx we discover, “It was largely as a result of support and recommendation of Mr. Harry S. Thompson (afforded M. Inez and Co.) that The Sphinx was stored alive after its desertion by W.J. Hilliar, and it was Mr. Thompson who induced Dr. Wilson to take up the editorial work. BTW, in 1905, Hilliar was performing in Vaudeville within the U.S.. 

However get this, in 1902 Hilliar was beginning one thing he referred to as Hilliar’s Magicians Scrapbook. He even took superior orders on the challenge. This was an fascinating idea. It was mainly a e book with the chapters spelled out and a single trick in every part. Nonetheless, after the one trick there can be a number of clean pages. I believe it stated that every chapter would have 10 pages. The thought was this may be a subscription and every month, Hilliar would ship you the most recent trick(s) formatted to suit inside the e book. All you needed to do was paste the web page in place. Eddie Dawes, in his column, A Wealthy Cupboard of Magical Curiostities within the Magic Round 1993, uncovered that Hilliar solely obtained 10% value of superior orders, not close to sufficient to proceed with the challenge. He waited one other month, with no success. So he left the Sphinx and allow them to know the place to contact him to get refunds for the Magicians Scrapbook. Within the Jan 1903 version of The Sphinx, they point out that the Sphinx was by no means a part of this challenge, it was solely and utterly that of Hilliar’s. Then they point out, that he (hilliar) has talked about in a number of columns that if individuals contact him who've paid upfront, he'll return their monies. His deal with can be given as 493 sixth Avenue NY.

This subsequent piece comes from Richard Hatch who made me conscious of it. There's a concept, that the e book, The Knowledgeable on the Card Desk, by S. W. Erdnase, was really written by a person named Milton Franklin Andrews. This concept was held by at least Martin Garnder, Jeff Busby, and Bart Whaley. Andrews was a playing man however not a author. He may have created the content material, however not going written the e book with out assist. They consider Invoice Hillar both edited the e book or ghost wrote elements of it. The timing is ideal, because it was across the precise time that Hilliar got here to the USA.  Richard factors out that Hilliar, in his final difficulty as editor of the Sphinx does point out thusly, “A latest e book on playing methods has been printed by S.W. Erdnase, beneath the title The Knowledgeable On the Card Desk, it incorporates a chapter on legerdemain.” 

Richard factors out there isn't any point out of the place to get the e book or who has it on the market, however others level to this as a sign Hillar was concerned within the writing of the e book.  However it's one concept of many, and we're prone to by no means know the reality the place that e book is anxious.

In 1904 there may be this fascinating piece within the Sphinx. “Info involves us that the Nationwide Magical firm of Cincinnati OH, consists of William J. Hilliar and Mr. C. E. Wallace of the Customary Oil Firm. We additionally study that Mr. Hilliar is on the highway with the Dixie Amusement firm. Subscribers to Hilliar’s Scrap E-book could now be capable of talk with Hilliar himself.

My guess is that he made good with all of the advance consumers over time, as a 1906 difficulty of the Sphinx mentions assembly Hilliar in individual and being fairly taken along with his wonderful skills in sleight of hand, and no point out of any destructive emotions in direction of Hilliar. 

In Oct 1907, The Sphinx featured Hilliar on the quilt of the journal. And the editor Dr. A.M. Wilson revealed one thing that all the time made me marvel. He revealed that after they selected somebody for the quilt, that individual was supposed to supply a biographical sketch or write-up. And on this case, Hilliar didn't present one so his write-up was reasonably quick. And plenty of many many different points undergo from the identical downside. I may by no means work out why they’d function somebody on teh cowl after which not write about them. Now I see it’s as a result of the artist didnt present the mandatory info.

One piece of data that matches into the 1907 image is that Hillar was making ready to take out a very huge present. The present would function illusions and escapes, in addition to thoughts studying and manipulative magic. He shall be beneath the administration of Samuel Carter of Washington DC.

In September 1909 within the Sphinx it’s reported that W. J. Hilliar is now the supervisor of Barnum and Bailey’s facet present. He's accountable for all enterprise associated to that facet of the corporate. 

In 1912, we discover Hilliar performing on the Fifth Avenue Theatre. Here's a write-up from the Tennesean Newspaper. “Patrons of the fifth avenue throughout the week have loved the act of Hiliar, The Talkative Trixster. however most likely only a few have been conscious of the act that they've witnessed the efficiency  of a acknowledged authority on magic, and one whose popularity is world huge. Mr. Hilliar is the writer of a number of volumes on the topic: he began the journal often called The Sphinx, the oldest and most profitable magical journal printed, and has entertained along with his magic and shadows in all elements of the civilized world.”

In 1914 it's reported that Hilliar and his spouse are on the Hagenback Wallace Circus doing the Misers Dream and a Levitation. 

I want to interrupt off a bit and ask you one thing. Have you ever ever heard of Billboard Journal? It’s a really outdated periodical that's nonetheless printed as we speak. In truth, for those who noticed it as we speak, you’d suppose it was only a trendy journal. It covers primarily the music business. However in 1918, William Hilliar was the editor of the journal and based a magic part, referred to as Magic & Magicians,  in The Billboard. Again then the periodical was dedicated to the theatrical world, as a result of, that was all there was. The truth that Magic was considered so extremely to have it’s personal part is thoughts boggling to me. The column featured all the favored acts of the day, together with fairly a couple of ads from magicians and magic producers. Hilliar had his workplace within the Billboard places of work in Occasions Sq..  

In 1919, W.J. Hilliar strikes to California to open an workplace of Billboard Journal on the West Coast. Nonetheless, in July 1920 we study that Hilliar has retired from his job to on account of his well being. This reported within the Magic Bulletin. However within the Sphinx, July 1920, it additionally mentions Hillars retirement from Billboard, but it surely says, “in order that he can return to the stage.” And the August version of The Sphinx sheds extra gentle. Hilliar took a number of weeks to relaxation within the Hills of Wisconsin earlier than heading again on the highway.

I used to be curious as to Hilliars connection to Houdini. The bios on Houdini do no point out Hilliar in any depth if in any respect. Happily, I’ve realized that Hilliar met Houdini when Houdini first appeared on the Alhambra in London. Little doubt they crossed paths on the touring circuits. However in 1918 Houdini, serving as president of the Society of American Magicians, selected Hilliar to be a part of the everlasting leisure committee for the SAM Mum or dad Meeting. It’s clear within the MUM write ups that Houdini is kind of keen on Hilliar.  And hearken to what Hillar wrote about Houdini in his Billboard column…”Houdini’s prodigious presentation of excellent prestidigitation on the NY Hippodrome, the place twice day by day he causes an enormous elephant  to fade in skinny air in about ten seconds, has amazed New York….When a magician can change into the large function of the Hippodrome Present of Wonders, and he's billed like a circus, the artwork is definitely on the growth. What are you going to do subsequent, Harry?”

In 1921, in Hilliard personal column in The Sphinx, he writes, “don’t be in the slightest degree stunned when the announcement is made that HOUDINI will make a farewell tour of the world-elephant, eagle and all!”

However, my mates, that isn't all. You see Houdini selected Large Invoice Hillar (as many referred to as him) to be one of many people with whom he shared a secret code. This revealed within the e book The Secret Lifetime of Houdini by Invoice Kalush and Larry Sloman. Nicely, I say first revealed, as a result of Hilliar himself revealed a far richer story years after Harry died. In accordance with The Secret Lifetime of Houdini, Houdini himself went to go to Hillar in his workplace at Billboard Journal. He was delivering a present, a thesaurus. However inside was an inscription, the CODE. Houdini gave him directions to by no means reveal it to anybody.   Quick ahead to Houdini’s dying and we discover a couple weeks later, Hilliar opening the thesaurus to learn the inscription once more and the code was GONE. Sure, you learn that appropriately, it had vanished off the paper. IT had been written in pencil. Happily, they might see the indentation left behind from the writing and have been capable of hint it in to as soon as once more, SEE the code. However in response to Hilliar, the following day it was gone once more. 

And that isn't all. Invoice Hillar wrote MORE about Houdini within the pages of Billboard Journal from October 1933 to Jan 27, 1934. The article Hilliar wrote was referred to as, “Is Harry Houdini Making an attempt To Talk With Me?” This was uncovered by Diego Domingo and written about by John Cox on his Houdini weblog. John Cox even has a photograph of the Thesaurus Houdini gave to Invoice Hilliar. He covers the entire code/connection reasonably extensively on

IN January of 1921, the Sphinx studies that Hilliar is about to take outa  Large Present. The article says it can have a $10,000 manufacturing with the Nice Rubin and Cherry Reveals subsequent season. It goes on to say, “Hilliar says that's would be the most lovely demonstration of psychological and bodily mysticism ever tried beneath canvas. Rubin and Cherry are constructing Hillar a beautiful wagon entrance which can price over $5000 alone, and the entire present shall be constructed by Adoph Seeman, the solar of the well-known Baron Hartgiw Seeman. Mr. Hilliar can not resist the lure of the good outdoor, and feels that magic, correctly offered, is simply as dignified beneath a tent as it's in a theatre.”

I’ve talked about how Invoice Hilliar befriended Tommy Downs, Howard Thurston and Houdini. Now right here is one other huge title in magic, Harry Jansen. Apparently, it was Hilliar who first taught Jansen a number of the rudiments of magic. The subsequent story comes from the pages of The Magic Round in an article by Eddie Dawes. The date is round 1923 and Hillar simply witnessed one in all Dante’s reveals. He's a bit befuddled as a result of inside the present Dante presents a trick with a burning handkerchief. The half that confused him was when Dante offered the trick utilizing Hilliars patter phrase for phrase. In accordance with the article, “Afterwards he requested, “Harry, who gave you permission to make use of my authentic patter for that handkerchief trick and the way did you get it?”

“The place did I get it and who gave me permission to make use of it? That’s wealthy. Why Invoice, you wrote it out and offered it to me for $5 in Chicago in 1902 and probably the most treasured possessions I all the time carry with me is your authentic in your personal handwriting”.  Then Dante produced the unique, lol. 

Sept 1927, Hilliar is on the quilt the The Linking Ring.

In accordance with John Sales space in his column in The Linking Ring, “When the good melancholy started in 1929, present enterprise felt the pinch pretty shortly. Attendance fell off and a shadow began to cross over Large Invoice’s life. His well being had begun to fade, and it was getting harder to change to extra promising work. He turned more and more depressed. “

He dedicated suicide by gunshot just some days in need of his sixtieth birthday in Cincinnati Ohio.

Now hearken to this: There's a write up within the Sphinx by Invoice Bland, the Australian Illusionist, years earlier than, when he visited Hilliar in his workplace. He provides a short overview of his life and the ends with this, “When the time comes that Mr. Hilliar has to retire from enterprise worries he can lay his pen apart and say, “I've performed my obligation and fought fearlessly for the betterment of magic.”


Feels like an individual with a life effectively lived and a whole lot of accomplishments to look again upon. However on account of melancholy and well being points none of that mattered.

Within the Dec 1936 difficulty of Genii journal, WilliamLarsen Sr. writes, “I want to file a wierd factor. In going via the Houdini recordsdata at Payson Avenue, I ran throughout letters from Hilliar’s father in England to Houdini. I laid these letters to 1 facet and instructed Mrs. Houdini I used to be going to ship them to Invoice who would treasure them. The subsequent morning I realized of Invoice’s dying at his personal hand. I’ve positioned the letters again within the file. A showman is aware of when an act is completed. It takes nerve to ring down one’s personal curtain however I do know Invoice Hilliar was a showman!

William J. Hilliar was interred at Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Chicago IL.

Particular due to Richard Hatch who shared his info on the Hilliar Erdnase connection and to John Cox & Diego Domingo for the Houdini Code information. that Houdini had with Hilliar. And in addition to AskAlexander and Eddie Dawes who did a bunch of biographical work, some I discovered by myself, some I might have by no means discovered with out his writings.

This can be a transcript from Ep 65 of the Magic Detective Podcast.



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