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Magician's assistant

A magician's assistant (or famulus) is a performer in a magic act who is not billed as the magician or principal name in the act. The role of an assistant can include holding the props that are used by a magician, shifting props onto and off the stage, and serving as a living prop in illusions that involve manipulation of the human body. Other aspects of the role can include dancing or acting as visual ornamentation, sometimes for simple aesthetic purposes and sometimes to misdirect audience attention. The figure of the glamorous female assistant has become a stereotype or icon in art, popular media and fiction.

Although magician's assistants appear to play a supporting role and receive a lesser billing than the magician who appears to be the source of illusions, the assistant is often the one making the mechanics of the illusions work. In the words of Joanie Spina, who worked for 11 years as principal assistant, choreographer and artistic consultant to illusionist David Copperfield:

...I did find fault with the term "assistant" because it sounds like someone rolling props on and off stage when many of us were highly trained actors and dancers.

Assistants have been part of magic shows for most of the recorded history of magic as a performance art. Despite their often crucial role in magic acts they, and the work they do, have suffered from negative public perceptions. The assistant's role has often been stereotyped as consisting of menial tasks and having the primary purpose of adding a visually aesthetic element to an act. This is associated with the perception that assistants are usually female and often dressed in revealing costumes. Although there have been plenty of instances of male assistants throughout the history of magic, the glamorous female stereotype has made a particular impact because female assistants were a prominent feature of illusion shows during the 20th century, when magic began to reach huge new audiences, first through the burgeoning of live vaudeville and variety shows and then through television. The glamorous female assistant has become an iconic image that continues in modern media and literature.

  • The novel The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett follows the character Sabine who was assistant to her magician husband Parsifal. After Parsifal's death Sabine is left to unravel the secrets of his life.
  • The movie The Prestige (2006) features Scarlett Johansson as an assistant to a magician who is involved in a deadly feud with a competitor. In addition actress Piper Perabo plays the wife and performing partner of another magician.
  • The movie Rough Magic (1995) features as its central character a magician's assistant played by Bridget Fonda.
  • One of the central characters in the movie Leprechaun 3 is a magician's assistant called Tammy Larsen, played by actress Lee Armstrong, who appears in stage costume for much of the duration.
  • The Disappearing Girl Trick (2001) is a short comedy film written and directed by David Jackson Willis, starring Susan Egan as a television producer who goes undercover as a magician's assistant to expose his method of performing the trick in the title.
  • The DC Comics character of Zatanna is based upon the idea of a woman frequently being the glamorous assistant by flipping the trope and making her a main character in her own right.
  • Box Jumpers (2004) was a two-part radio documentary series about magician's assistants that was made for BBC Radio 4 and presented by Debbie McGee.
  • Women in Boxes (2007) is a feature-length documentary film featuring many of the magic world's most famous assistants and planned for theatrical release. It was made by Blaire Baron-Larsen, Harry Pallenberg, Phil Noyes and Dante Larsen.
  • "Women In Magic", an article by Dennis Regling at BellaOnline.
  • Jan Jones (editor), The Magician's Assistant, pub. 1982
  • Frances Marshall (editor), Those Beautiful Dames, pub. Magic Inc. (1984), ASIN: B00072FQ5U


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