David Devant

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David Devant (February 22, 1868 – October 13, 1941) born David Wighton in Holloway, London was an English magician, shadowgraphist and film exhibitor. His name is sometimes incorrectly spelt with a trailing 'e'.

He was a member of the famous Maskelyne & Cook company and performed regularly at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London. In 1905 he became a partner with John Nevil Maskelyne. He was succeeded by Oswald Williams.

Devant introduced the theatrograph into the show, acquiring one of the first projectors ever made out of his own pocket. The theatrograph was invented by Robert Paul.

David Devant was the author of several manuals on conjuring, including Our Magic: The Art in Magic, the Theory of Magic, the Practice of Magic with Nevil Maskelyne.

Devant lived in Hampstead, London, where a blue plaque commemorating his residence was affixed to the house in 2003.

David Devant is revered in the annals of magical history as an inventor and performer whose stature as a stage entertainer had him billed three times on Royal Command Performances. He was droll,engaging and a master of grand illusion and platform magic. The wit of his patter marked a departure from the pseudo scientific angle taken by many earlier conjurors. This humour can still delight, as can be attested by reading the stage lines he includes in the treatise he wrote with partner John Neville Maskelyne, "Our Magic". It is said that even Queen Alexandria laughed aloud during Devant's "A Boy, a Hat and Some Eggs" routine at the first of his command performances, where an assistant from the audience was given the (losing) task of keeping track of a bewildering number of eggs plucked from thin air by the magician.

To British magicians, he is considered the consummate exponent of entertaining magical theater. The illustrious Magic Circle in London has used his name for their magic theater. His words about his own priorities in magic have often been quoted to budding young magicians - when confronted by a boastful magician who claimed he knew hundreds of tricks, Devant gently replied that he knew only a few dozen, but he was able to perform them very well.

Among Devant's signature routines was his Magic Kettle, which produced, on demand, any alcoholic beverage called for by the audience, and "The Moth and the Flame", an instantaneous vanish of a winged assistant. Students of magic would perhaps view many of the items in Devant's repertoire as rather elaborated sketches in which the magical element was insufficient to justify the staging. In its day, however, Devant's magic was the talk of London. He was already a top of the bill music hall star when he began sharing the stage with John Neville Maskelyne in 1893. In 1904, the two moved to St George's Hall, and their official business and professional partnership was established soon afterwards. It was to prosper for ten years.

Makelyne and Devants House of Magic became famous all over the world, and was the showcase for the premier magicians of the day, including Paul Valadon, Charles Bertram and Buatier de Kolta. In My Magic Life, Devant says quite reasonably that their theatre was "the veritable headquarters of the conjurer's art".

"David Devant, most British magicians agree, was the master performer of his time" according to Milbourne Christopher in his standard textbook on conjuring history, Panorama of Magic. He was a fixture in British entertainment, and it was he who was selected to represent "the world of wizardry" at King George V's command performance at the Palace Theatre in London on July 1 1912. The conjuror made headlines not long after when an escaped mental patient cornered him in London and insisted that the magician pull coins from the air as he had been seen to do on stage. Devant did so until attendants arrived from the hospital to take the disturbed spectator away.

Devant was still at the peak of his profession when his health began to fail during the war years, until the consequences of "paralysis agitans," as he identifies it in his autobiography, forced him to retire in 1920.

Quotes

  • "Nothing must be left to chance in a magical performance. Everything conducive to enhancing the mystery of the illusions must be arranged with painstaking care and thought." -David Devant, Sachs sleight of hand
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