August 21, 1929
|Died||January 8, 1964 (age 34) |
Robert Robbins (1929-1964), throughout his brief magic career, went by the stage name of Robert Merlini.
Robbins was adopted as a one-year-old by Herbert Robbins, a barber, and his wife Elizabeth.
He was captivated by magic from the time he was eight years old, when he saw a magician called Carter the Great perform his repertoire of tricks. He got to meet Carter backstage and the magician took a shine to the boy later sending him theatre posters from around the world.
At the age of 14, he was the youngest magician to perform at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney.
Having trained along the way as an industrial chemist, Robbins joined the army at the age of 18 and was a member of the Australian Occupation Forces in Japan when World War II ended. He was spotted by the English music-hall star Gracie Fields while doing magic tricks for his fellow troops and joined her with entertaining the occupation forces.
On his return to Australia, Merlini travelled around the country in a van, bringing his magic shows to outback towns where entertainment was a rarity.
On stage, Merlini wore the traditional magician's outfit of top hat, cloak, white tie and tails. Later he switched to a simpler outfit of cape and jacket with black trousers. He appeared on cinema newsreels and often travelled by train with his animals, who were regarded as members of the family.
Merlini was the first magician to appear on television in Australia, in 1957, when the new medium was in its infancy. He appeared on Cafe Continental, a program of light music screened on ABC TV, Review 61 and Review 62 on the Seven Network and made several appearances with comedy king Graham Kennedy on In Melbourne Tonight. Merlini delighted audiences with his work with animals.
Robbins died of heart disease at the age of 37.
The R. B. Robbins Collection of Stage Magic is now at State Library, New South Wales and contains over 900 books, trade catalogues, pamphlets and serials, dating from 1799 to 1962. A slim volume, Magic and pretended miracles and remarkable natural phenomena, published in 1799 is the oldest item in the collection. The collection also includes news cuttings, notes on magic tricks, performance programs and signed photographs of many of the world's greatest magicians.
His widow, Margaret Robbins Greenland, author of the book Magic, Mayhem, Merlini And Me.