Magician of the Month
by Leslie P. Guest
(MUM, Vol.46, No.12; May, 1957)
The Year was 1912, and the place was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a brash youth with short pants, and with still shorter purse, I had just been given the brush-off at the historic Yost Magic Shop on Filbert Street. Still clutching my small change for magic, I located the Philadelphia Magic Shop, and many happy visits followed. There I met Theodore Deland, who then sold his famous Phantom Card Trick for five cents, and a good pack of strippers for twenty-five cents. But I was most impressed by the dapper chap behind the counter, who took the small sums I had to spend, and who supplied me with good, simple gimmicks, plus a wealth of kindness and personal attention. I did not realize that he was only a few years older than I was, for he had skill - and poise - and I thought he was just wonderful! I still do, after all these years, and I am talking about my friend, Bob Sherman.
This is a short history of a man who has lived, and continues to live a life 100% devoted to magic - Robert Sherman, also known as "Sherms, Inc." of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Bob Sherman was born in Minsk, Russia, about June 15, 1892; there are no official records. At the age of two he brought his parents to the U.S.A., they settled in Brooklyn for a few years. Then they moved to Paterson, N.J., where, at the age of eight, Bob saw a pitchman do the Diminishing Card. That was the start of his nefarious career. Then his family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, which has been Bob's home ever since.
But for many years he saw little of his home town. He quit school while in the seventh grade, and in 1906 joined the Barlow & Wilson Minstrels. He played two years of one night stands, mostly in vaudeville, and usually "for peanuts," as the old saying goes.
While playing Philadelphia he saw a small magic store, got the urge to merchandise magic, took charge, and built it into a three-story building of magic. While there, he hired a mechanic to turn out brass specialties. That man was Carl Brema, who later had a shop and a manufacturing plant of his own.
After a couple of years Bob pined for the road, and returned to vaudeville with an unique single, entitled, "Sheroma." He then met Cliff Green, and they worked up a double as Green & Sherman. While playing theaters in Canada, Bob saw the possibilities of starting a magic shop in Toronto. It was called the Jap Novelty Store, and did quite well; but Bob had to return to the States to serve in World War I.
Returning to civilian life, he opened magic shops in both the Grand Central Station and downtown Hudson Terminal in New York City, enterprises which he continued for 15 years. Concurrently he was running a magic and puzzle factory in Bridgeport, having as many as 40 people on the payroll.
Bob Sherman saw the end of the old Martinka Shop on Sixth Avenue. Harry Houdini and Alf Wilton wanted it put back on a profitable basis. Bob did succeed in bringing the old shop up to date, and breaking even. But the location was poor, and it was finally agreed that it was best for all to close it up for good. Now, only the Martinka name remains, owned by Al Flosso.
For the past 20 years Bob has devoted most of his time to manufacturing and wholesaling magic and puzzles, with only short excursions on the road. He and Hardeen Jr. have a large stage show entitled, "Houdini Lives again" in which they use several numbers passed on from Houdini to Hardeen, to Hardeen, Jr.; as well as some of Bob's own illusions. Also, reaching back into the past, Bob set up complete routines for Ed Wynn in his "Simple Simon" and "Perfect Fool" shows; arranged some effects for Ziegfeld; handled the Eddie Cantor Magic Club, a radio promotion for Pebeco Toothpaste; and a similar promotion for the Howard Thurston series for Swift & Co.
Yes, Bob has a wonderful collection of memories, having been well acquainted with Kellar, Cunning, The Great Richards, Nicola, Horace Goldin, P. T. Selbit, Will Goldston, Adelaide Hermann, Mysterious DeBiere, Carter the Great, The Great Raymond, Harry Houdini, Hardeen, Howard Thurston, and many others. Mention any of these names, and you will start Bob Sherman into his fund of memories and experiences.
Horace Goldin? That brings to mind, "Sawing a Woman." According to Bob, Horace dropped into Martinka's and asked what P. T. Selbit was doing in London. Bob showed him the sawing effect as described in Hopkin's "Stage Magic" - which gave Goldin the idea for his own version. But Bob credits Selbit with being the first to create the stage effect of the actual sawing.
Howard Thurston? Remember all the talk of "successors?" Bob tells of a letter from Thurston, inviting him to use his name - that if he took a big show out, it should be under the Thurston banner.
Harry Kellar? That reminds Bob of a bruise he still has on the base of his right foot. It happened this way. When Bob was about nine years old, he saw the Kellar Show in Bridgeport, and came up on the stage for 'The Witch, The Sailor and The Enchanted Monkey" illusion. He was permitted to examine the large cabinet, and tried to put his fingers into a large crack (where the minor was concealed). He tried to pull the panel open, and yelled, "Look, Mr. Kellar, here it is - look, here it is!" Kellar had a long curtain pole in his hands. He slid this along the floor of the cabinet until it reached Bob's foot, which he hit real hard, and several times. Bob got the idea, and stopped yelling about the secret panel. While the bruise remains, there were no hard feelings. Many years later, after his retirement and on a trip east Kellar visited Bob in the Philadelphia Magic shop, and did his famous Torn and Restored Strand of Wool for him.
Yes, Bob Sherman had been identified with magic for many, many years. He is one of the oldest members of our S.A.M. from the standpoint of continuous years of membership, holding Card No. 330, and is affiliated with the Parent Assembly.
A few credit lines in magical invention would not be amiss. Bob claims the Vanishing Alarm Clock (Tray Method with Stand Ringing angle); the Second Load Gimmick in the Uncanny Silk Casket; the first to develop and market what we call The Chinese Wands, originally the secret of the Hang Pang Royal Pekin Troupe. He created the cast Rice Bowls, which may be tossed in the air with no risk of spilling water. His spectacular illusion, "Noma, the Woman of 1000 Lives," is a bewildering butchery of a girl in a small cabinet. He is very proud of his, "Levitation of Princess Adel." The girl rises over five feet from the back drop. Bob uses a short ladder in order to pass a hoop over her. This illusion can be set up in 30 minutes and packed in 15; but Bob would have to ask at least $1,500 to build a duplicate of the illusion for you!
I asked Bob if based on his long experience, he had any advice for young magicians. He replied: "For those who hold to straight manipulative acts, that is O.K. But for most magicians, it's best to acquire apparatus - showy tin cans, showy boxes, flashy eye-appealing boxes. The display is more dramatic than just the everyday angle of plain, commonplace things. After all, it's theater - not common things.
"Every chance you get, try to obtain programs, photos, news items and all things magic, and keep your own scrapbook from the start. Only in later years will you realize the enjoyment you have in looking over your collection."
Reprinted from M-U-M