Chung Ling Soo’s costume

14 January 2022

All is not as it seems in one of magic’s most tragic and fascinating stories. In March 1918 this extremely popular and highly paid Chinese magician was performing his popular bullet catch illusion at the Wood Green Empire in North London. As the rifles fired, Soo fell to the stage, mortally wounded and gasping in English: “Something’s wrong. Close the curtain.” The inquest into his death revealed to the public that Chung Ling Soo was in fact an American named William Robinson who had lived his professional career pretending to be Chinese. At this period anybody from the Far East was considered to be mysterious and exotic. He faked his life story, even to the extent of using a Mandarin interpreter when conducting press interviews. Cultural imitation such as this would not be acceptable today. Even so Chung Ling Soo’s magnificent posters, many of which are on display around the building, are highly prized.  He is buried in East Sheen Cemetery, London.

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