Dantini the Magnificent
Dantini has become a bit of a hero to me.
I never knew him and yet his life inspires me.
Two of the images for this piece are paintings by the great Paul Moscatt.
They are posted here by permission.
Dantini was born Vincent Cierkes in 1906.
He performed in Vaudeville at age 15.
He later played the sideshows at Coney Island.
He met his hero and inspiration Harry Houdini in a magic shop on 42nd Street New York.
He traveled with a carnival.
It is rumored that he never had a bank account.
It is also said that he walked with a limp from years of wearing second-hand shoes.
His act is reportedly featured in two films:
The Great Variety 1965
The Magic Moments 1966
I have not been able to get my hands on either film.
There was also a documentary biography called Dantini the Magnificent filmed in 1968.
I have not been able to find that film either.
He spent six years working on his own documentary called Our Baltimore.
On October 7, 1978, he rented the Civic Center and hired Denny and Lee to entertain for the premier.
Sixty people came.
The Civic Center seats over 13,000.
The Sun called him, “The Gentleman Magician”
William Rauscher refers to him as, “A key player in the history of Baltimore magic.”
Some say he was campy.
He was a friend of McCarl Roberts, George Goebel, Mark Walker, and the great mayor of Baltimore William Donald Schaefer.
His dream was to have a big illusion show like Houdini, like Blackstone, like George Goebel.
He had illusions built but he never produced the big show.
Many of his props were eventually purchased by George Goebel.
Dantini spent almost 20 years performing at the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube.
It is said that he did the same15 minute act 7 nights a week at 10 pm with a midnight show Thursday through Saturday for the entire 20-year run.
A Times Daily article of October 14, 1978, described him as a “72-year old magician who looks more like Rip Van Winkle than Houdini.” The article went on to say that, “he commands an honorary seat next to the mayor and other prominent officials at many functions in a city where eccentric figures are esteemed as part of the culture.”
When asked, “Will anyone inherit your legacy of magic?”
Dantini said, “I’ll be like Houdini. When Houdini went, nobody took his place.”
Chris Buchman said, “He approached each performance as if he were playing the Palace in New York.”
According to George Goebel, Dantini was totally committed to magic.
He believed in himself.
His last words were, “It’s my time to go on. I must go on now.”
He collapsed after performing his show.
He crossed over on March 14, 1979, at Mercy Hospital.
These are the simple facts and legends of his life.
He lived true to his dream and his calling.
He loved his art and dedicated his life to it.
He never made a lot of money, but money wasn’t what he worshipped.
He gave everything he had to give to his magic.
And he was one of the wealthiest and most successful human beings I have ever studied.
Would that we should all live so true to our calling.