The Sunday Magazine

The women of magic are much more than 'lovely assistants'

Sawing a woman in half on stage is a classic magician's illusion, and a classic role for women in magic — the "lovely assistant" helping men as they dazzle and enchant their audiences. But women are busting out of the boxes.
British stage magician Jasper Maskelyne (1902 - 1973) prepares to saw assistant Maisie Wright in half at the Whitehall Theatre in London, 1948. (London Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

On the darkened stage, a spotlight illuminates a long rectangular box. A woman's head protrudes from one end, her feet from the other.

A large circular blade hangs suspended over her imprisoned body. The man in the black tuxedo waves his hand, and the blade begins to rotate and descend, its sharp teeth ripping through the box.

The whirling blade stops. The audience gasps. Something has gone terribly wrong. The woman is motionless. The astounded onlookers cringe as the magician walks over to the box and unfastens the lid.

Ropes and cards, accessories for magic tricks, are pictured at the Magic Academy in Pullach near Munich, southern Germany. (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

The "lovely assistant," now smiling, hops out of the box. The relief is palpable. Bows are taken. Applause is vigorous. Presto! The show goes on.

Sawing a woman in half, a hemicorporectomy, is a classic illusion. And a classic role for women in magic — the pretty helpmeet, assisting men as they dazzle and enchant their audiences. But women are busting out of the boxes.

Frank Faulk's documentary, which was first broadcast a decade ago, is called "The Amazing and Astounding Invisible Women of Magic."

Click 'listen' above to hear the documentary.


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