Chung Ling Soo Comes to Life on Stage

Did Sue Seen Have Chung Ling Murdered?

“On March 23rd, 1918, in front of the usual packed house in London’s Wood
Green Empire, something went dramatically wrong. The bullets were fired as
usual, but the magician fell to the ground. With a gasp, he cried: ‘My God, I’ve
been shot. Lower the curtain.'”

The Scotsman (UK)
writes this morning of a new play to premiere this August in Edinburgh based on
the life and death of William Robinson a/k/a Chung Ling Soo. The writers and
producers of the play were hesitant to reveal their solution to the mysterious
and tragic death of the enigmatic performer.

Adam Koplan is the director of The Flying Carpet theater group: “I don’t want
to give too much away, but certainly the show will reveal that the truth really
is stranger than fiction.”

Chung Ling Soo was killed when his right lung was pierced by a single
projectile fired from one of the two rifles (the article mistakenly says pistols
were used). This ended the career of Mr. Robinson but began decades of
investigation into the reason and/or cause for his death.

The story has particular resonance for Scots as Mr. Robinson claimed to be
born of the Robinson and Campbell clans (on his father’s side) and a Cantonese
mother. Even this lineage was a facade. Mr. Robinson was actually born of
Scottish parents and had no ties to China beyond his willingness to swipe the
persona and effects of an authentic Oriental magician, Ching Ling Foo.

Houdini’s The Miracle Mongers noted the relationship between Chung
Ling Soo and Ching Ling Foo in Chapter Five:

Although seldom presenting it in his recent performances, Ching Ling
Foo is a fire-eater of the highest type, refining the effect with the same
subtle artistry that marks all the work of this super-magician.

Of Foo’s thousand imitators the only positively successful one was William E.
Robinson, whose tragic death while in the performance of the bullet-catching
trick is the latest addition to the long list of casualties chargeable to that
ill-omened juggle. He carried the imitation even as far as the name, calling
himself Chung Ling Soo. Robinson was very successful in the classic trick of
apparently eating large quantities of cotton and blowing smoke and sparks from
the mouth. His teeth were finally quite destroyed by the continued performance
of this trick

You gotta love the description of the deadly trick, “that ill-omened
juggle.”

Mr. Kopland claims to have read several books on the life and mysterious
death of Mr. Robinson but, unfortunately, there is no mention of Jim
Steinmeyer’s outstanding new biography, The Glorious Deception: The Double
Life of William Robinson, aka Chung…

Did Sue Seen Have Chung Ling Murdered?

“On March 23rd, 1918, in front of the usual packed house in London’s Wood
Green Empire, something went dramatically wrong. The bullets were fired as
usual, but the magician fell to the ground. With a gasp, he cried: ‘My God, I’ve
been shot. Lower the curtain.'”

The Scotsman (UK)
writes this morning of a new play to premiere this August in Edinburgh based on
the life and death of William Robinson a/k/a Chung Ling Soo. The writers and
producers of the play were hesitant to reveal their solution to the mysterious
and tragic death of the enigmatic performer.

Adam Koplan is the director of The Flying Carpet theater group: “I don’t want
to give too much away, but certainly the show will reveal that the truth really
is stranger than fiction.”

Chung Ling Soo was killed when his right lung was pierced by a single
projectile fired from one of the two rifles (the article mistakenly says pistols
were used). This ended the career of Mr. Robinson but began decades of
investigation into the reason and/or cause for his death.

The story has particular resonance for Scots as Mr. Robinson claimed to be
born of the Robinson and Campbell clans (on his father’s side) and a Cantonese
mother. Even this lineage was a facade. Mr. Robinson was actually born of
Scottish parents and had no ties to China beyond his willingness to swipe the
persona and effects of an authentic Oriental magician, Ching Ling Foo.

Houdini’s The Miracle Mongers noted the relationship between Chung
Ling Soo and Ching Ling Foo in Chapter Five:

Although seldom presenting it in his recent performances, Ching Ling
Foo is a fire-eater of the highest type, refining the effect with the same
subtle artistry that marks all the work of this super-magician.

Of Foo’s thousand imitators the only positively successful one was William E.
Robinson, whose tragic death while in the performance of the bullet-catching
trick is the latest addition to the long list of casualties chargeable to that
ill-omened juggle. He carried the imitation even as far as the name, calling
himself Chung Ling Soo. Robinson was very successful in the classic trick of
apparently eating large quantities of cotton and blowing smoke and sparks from
the mouth. His teeth were finally quite destroyed by the continued performance
of this trick

You gotta love the description of the deadly trick, “that ill-omened
juggle.”

Mr. Kopland claims to have read several books on the life and mysterious
death of Mr. Robinson but, unfortunately, there is no mention of Jim
Steinmeyer’s outstanding new biography, The Glorious Deception: The Double
Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the “Marvelous Chinese
Conjurer.”
Perhaps it is too new to have made the reference bibliography.

So whodunit? Was Soo’s death a hate crime? Or was it a crime of
passion? He was a philanderer with a wife, as well as a mistress and a secret
family. And why did his manager, William Robinson, mysteriously disappear on the
night Soo was shot? Was he the victim of the powerful Chinese Tong gangs who had
him killed to prevent the ancient secrets of the Orient from being revealed?

In The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo, Koplan promises he and his five-strong cast
will attempt to solve these riddles “with dazzling illusions in a phantasmagoria
that spins a real-life murder mystery topsy-turvy.

Thankfully, when the writer inquires as to the secret of the bullet
catch, Mr. Koplan admits he knows the secret but, “I’m not a super purist about
it, but there’s a sort of code among magicians about not revealing the tricks of
the trade. Was it foul play?

“There was a thorough police investigation – and a
verdict of death by misadventure was recorded. But there is still speculation
Soo engineered his own demise, perhaps because he was in debt. Then there was
his tangled love life – he and his wife had split up, although they maintained
the illusion of being together. Yet another conjuring trick!”

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