Mercedes Talma (1861 to July 13, 1944) was her stage name. She was born Mary Ann Ford in England in 1861. She fell in love with and married Belgian magician Servais LeRoy and together with Leon Bosco they formed the magical touring company known as “LeRoy, Talma, and Bosco,” or sometimes, “The Comedians de Mephisto Co.”
Her specialty was coin magic and she performed for three decades from 1899 until retiring in 1930. She came to be known as “The Queen of Coins” doing what many believe to be the most challenging form of magic, a coin manipulation act.
She would have been a contemporary of Thomas Nelson Downs, also T. Nelson Downs, one of the most famous manipulative magicians in the history of the art, known for his coin manipulations. Downs was the King to Talma’s Queen. The work of T. Nelson Downs is the stuff of legend and students of the art still study his work. One can only speculate how Talma compared to Downs. As far as I know, no visual record of her performance remains but she lived in a time when stage work was the center of the entertainment universe and when performers were able to hone their act over decades of daily shows.
She learned sleight-of-hand while working with Servais LeRoy, gaining a great deal of experience as a part of the trio “LeRoy, Talma, and Bosco.” Houdini said, “Talma is without a doubt the greatest female sleight of hand performer that ever lived.”
While she adopted the name Mercedes Talma she was generally known just as Talma. The team of Le Roy, Talma & Bosco created the Asrah Levitation illusion, which Le Roy and Talma first performed in London in 1914.
I saw George Goebel perform the Asrah Levitation live on stage in 1971 and it had a profound effect on me.
As the description goes, “The magician hypnotizes an assistant and commands them to recline on a table or couch. The assistant is then fully covered with a cloth and levitated under the cloth. The form of the assistant is still visible while levitating. Moments later, the assistant slowly floats down. As the magician pulls off the cloth, the assistant vanishes instantly. The assistant sometimes reappears in a different location, often in the audience.”
In the case of Goebel, she came running down the center aisle from the back of the theatre toward the stage. It is an illusion that is breathtaking to see, and we have Mercedes Talma and her husband Servais LeRoy to thank for it.
While researching her life, I came across an odd story on the Magic Café. Apparently, the story if from the book, Servais Le Roy Monarch of Magic Mike Caveney and William Rauscher 1999. Loving the blend of performance magic and the real thing as I do, I cannot resist including it here. As the story goes, “It was about the Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Thaw and Stanford White affair, a love triangle and murder, that occurred in 1906. The murderer Thaw was sent to the State Hospital for Criminally Insane, but he escaped in 1913. The World’s News (November 22, 1913), reported that after receiving “a mental impression,” Talma notified the police that the fugitive Harry Thaw was near Sherbrooke in Quebec. The following morning, Thaw was picked up by the police in that city.” Pretty cool yes?
The material world lost Talma on July 13, 1944. She crossed over in Keansburg, New Jersey. Her body is buried in Middletown, New Jersey at Fair View Cemetery Section 8, Grave 322
The Magic Circular, Vol. 39, No. 427, November 1944, Obituary, “Talma”, Queen of Coins, page 5
The Magic Circular, Vol. 47, No. 529, September 1953, SERVAIS LE ROY, by Milbourne Christopher, pages 403-407
Genii Magazine, Vol. 24, No.3, November 1959, Dave Price Writes from Egyptian Hall Museum, Nashville, Tennessee, page 90
M-U-M, Vol. 91, No. 3, August 2001, MAGIC POSTERS, Triple Alliance – “Mile Le Roy Portrait” (ca. 1898), page 43
Bio-bibliographisches Lexikon der Zauberkünstler Edition Volker Huber, April 2002, Talma, Mercedes eig. Mary Ann Ford, engl. Zauberkünstlerin (*1868 London; †13.07.1944), page 334
All About Magicians/Mercedes Talma
Illusions: Secrets from the world of magic by Roy & Andrews (1985), Methuen, ISBN 0-423-01300-9
Monarch of Magic The Story of Servias Le Roy by William V. Rauscher 1984
Servais Le Roy Monach of Magic Mike Caveney and William Rauscher 1999