Burling Hull (September 9, 1889 - October 19, 1982) (also know as "Volta, "Volta the Great", and "The White Wizard" ), born Burlingame Gilbert Gault Hull, was an inventive magician, self-styled "the Edison of magic," specializing in mentalist and psychic effects. During the greater part of his life he lived in DeLand, Florida.
In his earlier years he performed a skillful manipulation act, making billiard balls and silks vanish, multiply and reappear, while dressed entirely in white. Under the name Clif Westfield, Hull performed professionally in his teens with magic, chapeaugraphy, shadowgraphy, ventriloquism and dancing.
Hull claimed to be, and is generally credited as, the inventor of the Svengali Deck, which he patented in 1909. He was a prolific writer, with 52 published books to his name. He wrote on a wide variety of magical subjects, including card tricks, mentalism, escapes, razor blade swallowing, sightless vision, billiard ball manipulation, silk magic, publicity and showmanship. His 33 Rope Ties and Chain Releases, written in 1915, is still popular today.
A shrewd businessman and marketer, Hull not only produced many titles about magical effects, he gave talks to magic conventions on business methods for entertainers. He was active in the movement to protect magic trade secrets by both patent on the gimmicks and copyright on the texts, as applicable, but he undercut his own ethical stance against plagiarism by publishing secret material from other magicians who had stolen from him, in order to get revenge for having been plagiarized.
Hull's weighty three-volume Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mentalism, published in 1961, was the largest compilation of mentalism sleights, gimmicks, effects, patter, and illusions in one collection up to that date. This work was also notable as the venue in which Hull carried out his excoriating feud with the equally famous mentalist Robert A. Nelson, whom he accused in print of teaching mentalism to gamblers and racketeers in order that they might commit what Hull called "thievery of the public", and whom he criticized for selling hoodoo folk magic curios that Hull said were used in rituals of "black magic and Devil worship".
In the late 1950s he published a sort of newsletter called The G-d D--n Truth About Magic, mainly for the purpose of criticizing Nelson and supposedly written by one Gideon ("Gid") Dayn, but it didn't take much imagination to know what the first words actually stood for.
In his final years he lost his eyesight, a loss he never learned to accept, and he died at the age of 93 in a nursing home.
Hull used many pseudonyms and stage names over the years including "Clif Westfield" (1907), "The White Wizard" (1912-18), "Gilbert Galt" (for pulp magazines c1916), "Gilbert Gault" (fictional editor in 1930s), "Sylvester Walters" (fictional editor of Sealed Mysteries), "Volta" (stage name since 1932), "Lou Hall" (fictional agent in 1950s), and "Gid Dayn" (1959-61).
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