Chinese magician and acrobat Long Tack Sam with his company of artists 1936
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection*
There was once a man who could ‘take needles out of his mouth for half an hour at a time’, who could make ‘beautiful vases appear’ from thin air. He was a magician, and the people of a Northern Chinese village would watch spellbound as he ‘performed a hundred magic feats’. One day a little boy asked him if he could turn stones into bread as food was scarce. The magician told the boy that he would only conjure bread in front of his pupils, so the boy pleaded with the magician to teach him. The boy was taught the art of magic and went on to become a great magician, revered by the likes of Harry Houdini and Charlie Chaplin and performing in theatres around the world.
This forms one of the many myths surrounding one of the most successful magicians of the early 20th century – the world renowned Chinese acrobat and vaudeville performer, Long Tack Sam. Lurking in the storage rooms of the museum, you’ll find a cabinet containing a black and white nitrate negative taken by another famous Sam. Samuel J Hood’s photograph depicts Long Tack Sam no longer a boy in 1880s China but a man in 1930s Sydney, posing with his company of artists reading The Telegraph newspaper.
When I first saw this image in the collection, I was curious. It remained a mystery until one of our Flickr followers identified it and opened up Sam’s amazing story. I got in contact with his great-granddaughter, writer and filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, who has worked tirelessly over the past several years to resurrect a story long forgotten. In her award winning film The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, and graphic novel of the same name, Ann Marie pieces together the story of her famous ancestor… Continue reading