Published: October 17, 2012
Some viewers will no doubt be annoyed at having been misled by the title of “Lost Magic Decoded,” a frothy special Thursday night on History, carrying as it does the implication that the secrets behind some legendary illusions will be revealed.
But Steve Cohen, the program’s genial host, is an adherent to the magicians’ code; don’t expect to learn how to make a rope rise skyward out of a basket here. But do expect to hear some tasty stories about magic tricks of yore, and to see some pretty baffling modern-day magic by Mr. Cohen as well.
Mr. Cohen, who is known as the Millionaires’ Magician for his magic show at the Waldorf-Astoria, sets out to run down four illusions from the distant past. The idea isn’t to reveal how they were done but to see if they actually can be done or were really just embellished legends. Along the way Mr. Cohen finds some of history’s odder true stories and throws in a few bits from his parlor show.
The program begins with the chess-playing contraption known as the Turk, a machine — or was it? — famous in the 1700s and 1800s for beating skilled human players. (The original Turk was destroyed in a fire.) Then Mr. Cohen turns his attention to Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin’s light and heavy chest trick, in which a lightweight chest was mysteriously rendered too heavy to lift, a gimmick that helped the French defuse a rebellion in 1856.
Also explored are an illusion in which a rope rises from a basket and is somehow rigid enough to climb, and the bullet catch, in which a magician supposedly snags a bullet fired at him. Much more detailed examinations of each of these tricks are available — whole books have been written about them — and this program doesn’t peer too deeply lest it bump up against the word “hoax.” But as entertainment with a dash of history, it works nicely.
Lost Magic Decoded
History, Thursday night at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.
Produced for History by Sharp Entertainment. Carl H. Lindahl, executive producer for History; Matt Sharp, Peter Greenberg and Steve Cohen, executive producers; Robert Palumbo, co-executive producer. Written and directed by Mr. Palumbo.