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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Magicians of old » » Bart Kennett: The Imp of Satan (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

SJMiller
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Was wondering if anyone had ever come across a picture of an African American magician named Bart Kennett. He performed in the 1910's and 1920's under the tag line "The Imp of Satan". Was referred to as a black Howard Thurston. Have been looking for one for a year and a half with no luck. Need one for illustration in an upcoming book. The lack of illustrations has kept book on the shelf all this time.

Thanks,
Sammy Miller
Bill Palmer
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He is not listed anywhere in the Ask Alexander database.
"The Swatter"

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SJMiller
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I am not surprised by that fact. The only way I became aware of him was by stumbling across some reports about him while I was searching an old African American newspaper for information on Black Carl Dante's real name. Found a lot of African American practitioners of the dark arts that were not listed in Magus' Magical Heroes and so probably are unknown to most people (and databases). For instance Pamplin the Devil and his gun juggling act, Myrtle Evans, a female escape artist from the 1930s, and M.C. Maxwell,a magician and star of early race films, just to name a few.
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You might want to contact some of the African-American newspapers of the time.
"The Swatter"

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My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

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mtpascoe
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One such paper is the Chicago Defender. They had an article about him on September 6, 1924.
mtpascoe
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Sammy you mentioned in a different post that Bart Kennett was one of your favorite magicians. I can't find him in Haskins book. Is he mentioned in Magus' book?
SJMiller
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No, he is not. I "discovered" Kennett while using a digitized version of the Chicago Defender. I searched the paper from 1905 until 1950 for "magician". Kennett was one of the names that appeared more often than most. It was in a review of one of his shows that he was said to be the Howard Thurston of black America.

Although he is very difficult to track, what I have found out about him is really fascinating. I do know that he was working as a laborer in a saloon in the spring of 1910 but by 1913 he was working as a professional magician with his own troupe and playing to sold out crowds. January of the next year, he appeared in "white vaudeville" for the first time as part of a special show of black and white performers. The summer of 1917 found him being declared by a critic "the Race's greatest magician who does things that reminds one of the best days of the lamented Professor Hermann."

By December of 1920, Kennett was touring the white Gus Sun Vaudeville circuit and appearing on the same bill as actress Billie Burke (Glinda in the Wizard of Oz).
His star continued to rise. It was in 1922 when he was compared to Thurston. In September of 1924 he decided to retire from the stage because he took a job with the Colored Actors Union which was dedicated to fighting for better working conditions for blacks entertainers, a subject Kennett felt strongly about.

His last reported performance (that I have been able to find) was November of 1924 in Detroit.

In regards to his performances the following are a couple of quotes:

From The Lethbridge Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada) Sept 18 & 20, 1920

from the 18th
"Vaudeville of a metropolitan variety will be featured at the Colonial Theater on Monday and Tuesday when the new Hippodrome show will be the attraction.

Starred on the bill is the season's biggest mystery act entitled "The Imp of Satan". Presented by Kennett and Company, an aggregation of the stage's most clever illusionists, "The Imp of Satan" is a baffling and mystifying performance."

from the 20th
"Baffling illusions, clever sleight of hand, and mystifying tricks will make the act a popular one with Colonial patrons."

And in reference to the earlier posts, I have still never seen a picture of Kennett.
mtpascoe
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Thank you so much for that. I pride myself in knowing all about magic history, but I have to say I am ignorant of the wonderful black magicians that graced our art. My favorite magician as a teenager was Goldfinger. It just never occurred to me at that time that there was a segregation in the entertainment business when it came to magicians. I was first aware of it when I read Frances and Jay Marshall’s The Success Book Volume 2.

In it they have a section on the Black Magician. It was there I first heard of Marcelliee. They showed a picture of Frank Brents, but by then it was more common to see a black magician on TV.

But, it seems that there was no segregation from the magic industry itself. I have never seen any of our brethren act in a racial manner. Being white I have a distinct advantage because other whites think they can confine in me but don’t realize that I am bias towards African Americans.

The only time I have heard of anything was one time. Victor and Diamond was in a competition and someone sabotaged Victors fire glove with gasoline. He was lucky it didn’t ruin his career.

Thank you Sammy for doing a good job in letting us know more about all of the wonderful performers like Bart Kennett.
SJMiller
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Thanks for the kind words.
houdinisghost
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George White was Howard Thurston's chief assistant for almost his entire career. Mr. White performed the S.A.M. broken wand ceremony over Thurston's casket in 1935. Only Mr. White couldn't be a member of the S.A.M. "Any person of the white race, over twenty-one, with a sincere interest in magic is invited to join the S.A.M."
In the late forties, war hero, Tuskegee Airman, Emile Clifton registered for an I.B.M. convention, prepaid the fee and the hotel. The I.B.M. was always open to all races. That's what the S.A.M. said was wrong with the I.B.M. Only the guys running the convention in a Jim Crow town (they all were) and at a Jim Crow hotel (they all were too) weren't hip to the I.B.M.'s traditional tolerance. They threw the war hero (DFC) out bodily.
Emile Clifton never let race dictate what he did or thought, but, after that, he just wouldn't join any magic organizations.
The racists and the white supremacists are mostly gone now. The new kids aren't like them. There is no color line or race line in magic today.
mtpascoe
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Quote:
On 2009-12-17 19:53, houdinisghost wrote:
The racists and the white supremacists are mostly gone now. The new kids aren't like them. There is no color line or race line in magic today.


That's good. As far as George White, I have been trying to research him and find him a true man of mystery. He lived in the San Fernando Valley for awhile then disappeared. It's a shame that there is no record of him; where he came from or how he came about leaving his family to work for a strange white man, etc. David Bamberg gave him a lot of credit for running the Thurston show and deservedly so.
Bill Palmer
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Interestingly enough, the Texas Association of Magicians was founded by an African-American, Herman Yerger. Most people didn't know he was African-American. There never has been a racial barrier in the TAOM. Bruce Elliott would not join the IBM or the SAM because they had a line in their applications asking the race of the applicant. He stated this in the Phoenix.
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SJMiller
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That is an interesting piece of information and answers a question I have wondered about for awhile now. The question was how Fetaque Sanders got a trick published in the March 2, 1945 issue of The Phoenix (#79). Bruce Elliot's advanced (for the time) racial views have answered that question.
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