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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 John Nevil Maskelyne (1911).
Devant lived in Hampstead, London, where a blue plaque commemorating his residence was affixed to the house in 2003.
David Devant was an inventor and performer whose stature as a stage entertainer had himself billed three times for Royal Command Performances. The wit of his patter marked a departure from the pseudo scientific angle taken by many of his earlier predecssors. His humour can still delight by reading the stage lines he includes in the book he wrote with partner John Neville Maskelyne, "Our Magic". It is said that 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.
The Magic Circle in London has used his name for their magic theater. Even though they kicked David out of Circle twice! Both times for articles from his books were published in magazines of the day which they considered exposure. The more controversial ousting was following publication of his book Secrets of Magic in 1936, when he was in the Putney Home for the Incurables. However he was let back again about a year later when the hierarchy agreed he should be readmitted.
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.
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 afterward. 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.
The Mascot Moth
Devant considered The Mascot Moth to be his masterpiece. In full view of the audience and in the center of a lighted stage, he makes the lady disappear. As soon as the conjurer attempts to grasp the moth-girl, she immediately vanishes out of sight, although the figure is not concealed in any way during the trick. In performance the illusion was spectacular. The children's writer E. Nesbit featured it in her 1912 play, The Magician's Heart. It was reconstructed nearly a hundred years later for Doug Henning's show Merlin by Jim Steinmeyer and John Gaughan. There is a story about it in Steinmeyer's book, Art and Artifice.
- "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
- Our Magic (with Maskelyne) (1911)
- Secrets of My Magic (1936)
- The Best Tricks, and How to Do Them (1931)
- My Magic Life (1931)