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Mantle of Magic

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The Mantle of Magic is an honor which started on May 16, 1908 when Harry Kellar bid farewell to the stage with Howard Thurston at his side. With his retirement, Kellar began the tradition of what has become to be known now as the "Royal Dynasty of Magic".[1]
Lithographic used by Thurston promoting The Mantle being passed to him from Kellar

This Royal Dynasty is often given as Kellar, Thurston, Dante, Lee Grabel and currently Lance Burton. Some also recognize Alexander Herrmann as the predecessor to Keller in this line.

A "mantle" (from mantellum, the Latin term for a cloak) is a long, loose cape-like cloak worn from the 12th to the 16th century by both sexes, although by the 19th century, it was used to describe any loose-fitting, shaped woman's outer garment similar to a cape.[2] Thus the passing of the mantle is the figurative passing of the predecessor's cape to his successor.

The history of this line of succession is actually a bit fuzzy.

The truth of the first passing of the "Mantle of Magic" was that it was more a business transaction. As described in both "Hiding the Elephant" by Jim Steinmeyer and "Kellar's Wonders" by Mike Caveney, for about $5,000 around 1907, Thurston offered to outright buy Kellar's entire show. Prior to this Kellar was touring with Paul Valadon who some thought he was grooming as his successor. After a season together on stage, Keller officially named Thurston his successor at the Ford's Opera House in Baltimore on May 9, 1908, passing him his wand.

When Thurston was thinking of who to succeed him, he made plans to appoint MacDonald Birch as successor to the "Mantle". Thurston never got around to retiring and the prime theaters of the day were closing one by one during these depression years. Thurston eventually died in 1936 before personally naming anyone.[3]

The next in line was hotly debated among magicians of the day over Dante, Will Rock (both played under the Thurston banner), as well as Harry Blackstone.

Dante was away on a world tour, which started in 1927, when Thurston passed away. Efforts were made to persuade him to return by several magical societies, most notably that of the Society of Osiris in Baltimore, Maryland. They conducted a regular campaign on behalf of Dante as the successor of Thurston, urging him to come back to the United States.[4] In 1940, when Dante did return to America, probably based on these previous efforts, many press releases and newspapers were declaring him the successor to Thurston.[5]

Lee Grabel claims that Dante was in the process of naming Grabel his successor in 1954, but Dante died in 1955 before these plans were formally announced to the magic fraternity. Lee toured on his own and was one of America's highest paid entertainers at the time.[6]

On May 12,1994, Lee Grabel passed the "Mantle" on to Lance Burton at a black-tie affair. Taking part in the ceremony were Irene Larsen, President of the Academy of Magical Arts; Jay Marshall, Dean of the SAM; Moi-yo Miller and Arturo Montes, veterans of the Dante show. Also, a telegram was read from Jane Shepherd-Thurston, daughter of the Great Thurston.[7]

This "Royal Dynasty" was documented in the Canadian television series Grand Illusions: The Story Of Magic (Part II) created by Wilson Coneybeare.


  1. http://deancarnegie.blogspot.com/2011/01/fords-theatre-mantle-of-magic.html
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantle_%28clothing%29
  3. Memoirs Of A Magician's Ghost The Autobiography of John Booth CHAPTER 146 "MC DONALD BIRCH ATTRACTS HOWARD THURSTON", Linking Ring, December, 1979
  6. Lee Grabel Featured, Genii 1982 March
  7. Magic, June 1944.