After two epic round the world tours as a magician in the late 19th century, the American-born Carl Hertz styled himself ‘the Modern Mystery Merchant’ in his autobiography. And just to read the 1896-1898 itinerary – from Southern Africa, through Australia, New Zealand, then to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), India, China, Japan, the Fiji Islands and Hawaii – is enough to inspire awe.
But even more impressive was Hertz bringing ‘animated photography’ to all of these countries, having managed to take one of Robert Paul’s early projectors on his travels, along with a batch of films, which he somehow supplemented along the way. His show would feature what he billed as the ‘Cinematographe’ – no doubt reckoning this was the name most widely known. And amid all the other illusions he offered, it seems to have attracted most attention. The report of its first night in Melbourne in 1896 recounted in local papers is still wonderfully vivid (see my full account at http://filmalert101.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-animatograph-hits-australia-ian.html as well as in Robert Paul and the Origins of British Cinema).
And what about the early model Paul Theatrograph he used, and the films he’d shown? Given that Hertz had to learn how to project while on the first leg of his journey, it’s hard to imagine that the projector and prints, a mixture of early Paul and Edison subjects, were in usable condition by the end of his gruelling three-year tour. But perhaps they were?
Early film historian Deac Rossell, author of an impressive recent Chronology of the Birth of Cinema 1833-1896, recently spotted a brief London advertisement, which he suspects may be Hertz selling off his kit after returning to England, and kindly shared with me. Underpinning the early film business was a flourishing trade in ‘used’ prints, which made their way through its many layers until they were unprojectable.
Hertz seems to have had no continuing interest in film after his 1890s tour, devoting himself to debunking mediumship and spiritualism like many other magicians of the era. He would no doubt have approved of Paul’s Is Spiritualism a Fraud?, subtitled The Medium Exposed (1906 ). And selling off his now outdate machine and combustible film collection would have made good business sense for this shrewd ‘modern mystery merchant’. When he died in 1924, the New York Times reported his estate of $200,000 as a ‘record performer’s fortune’.