Articles by Ben Robinson
AShe was calling my agent to see if she knew of any magician’s who pulled rabbits from hats because the feat was recently scripted by one of their writers (who coincidentally went to the same college as I). My agent said, “It’s for you” and handed me the phone. I appeared in five episodes of the famous series (where Barny the clown returns as Erica Kane’s father) and my rabbit (named Willie) joined me shortly after I was booked. We began rehearsing and I was delighted. We were mostly well received by cast and crew. Willie was even sent his own scripts! My agent negotiated my fee, plus daily carrots and feed for Willie. One day after work, one fan of the show demanded Willie put his paw print on a script the fan had somehow obtained.
In August, Willie and I were booked to appear on the TV show Good Day New York, an early breakfast show. The production people told me to be on the set with Willie at 6am sharp. At 4:30am I woke, and went to get Willie breakfast and ready for the show. When I opened his cage door, I fell backward and shrieked. In the cage were two small baby rabbits covered in fetal sac! I called the producer of the show and told him Willie had given birth! “Mazeltov” he replied, “What’s the mother’s name so our newscaster can wish the good mother well?” I explained that Willie had given birth and could not appear. “Oh so his name is Wilhemenia? Listen are you doing the show or not?” I shot down to the pier where the outdoor live, remote telecast was broadcast and sped back to take care of Willie. Shortly thereafter Soap Opera Digest ran a small story.
The headline: RABBIT FOOLS MAGICIAN WITH ALL HER CHILDREN.
All My Children (ABC-TV), 1989.I make a rabbit appear for Susan Lucci and Walt Willy, who disliked all the attention my rabbit got. My rabbit, named Willie, was given his own script, and was even directed to his own dressing room!
Willie’s magical rabbit babies, “Presto” and “Pronto,” aptly named by my witty mother.
It’s all done with mirrors. That’s not two rabbits , just one, Willie. Here she is artfully posed by photograhper Steve Clarendon (who is also seen in the background of the reflection).
The rabbit in hat has as much fame as Houdini. Like Houdini’s talent, it is rarely seen. Why?
Possibly because the secret is well-guarded and top hats have gone out of popular fashion. Another reason may be that a magician’s job is to surprise their audience, and since the feat is so well known, the appearance of the top hat and the resultant rabbit might be anti-climactic.
A very rare depiction of a magician from the ealry 1900’s. Note the devil plucking the magician who plucks the rabbit, incorrectly by the ears. After all, how would you like to be held by your ears? Always gently cradle or hold a rabbit by the scruff of the neck.
A flyer announcing my appearance (along with many others) at the 1993 New York City Buskers Fare, also utilizing the classic icon of the magicians trade, unfortunately depicting the rabbit held improperly.
The great film comedian Harold Lloyd, a lifelong magic aficiando, accidentally makes a rabbit appear in his 1932 comedy “Movie Crazy.”
Lloyd’s fan picture from 1924
What to do with the unexpected bunny?
The earliest record of the feat was discovered by Milbourne Christopher. He cites A. B. Engstom’s 1836 volume The Humorous Magician Unmasked as the first record of the conjurer’s performance of this notable feat. Why does the icon, if not the feat, persist? Why has this become the hallmark of the magician’s trade?
Perhaps it has something to do with the basic semiotic elements of black and white commingling, that touch us deep in our soul? Or maybe it is just such a great image?
Oddly enough, the original story may continue because of the improbability of the original claims that spurred the illusionary comment. The miracle of…birth?
Today you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who performs this illusion with any regularity. Yet, when I am asked what I do for a living, my reply is sometimes met with, “Oh, what instrument do you play?” I clear up the confusion by saying “No. Magician. You know, rabbits and hats.” Then they get it.
Two of my closest magical friends: (Above)Willam V. Rauscher and (below) World Champion Magician, Johnny Ace Palmer.When the image of the rabbit appearing from the hat is depicted by an artist, the rabbit is held by the ears. Here, Reverend Canon William V. Rauscher cradles his bunny.
“I am the Light of the World” dedicated to Reverend Rauscher. Window designed by Kenneth Crocker for Willet Studios, Philadelphia, PA.
This is a very distinguished honor for a man of the cloth. The center panel shows the window.Above, perhaps the most rare rabbit in hat of all . This close-up from the upper third of the beautiful stained glass window dedicated to Rev. Rauscher, Christ Church, Woodbury, NJ.
The origin of the illusion itself seems to have been a visual comment on a woman named Mary Tofts of Godalming, Surrey, England who told the tale of giving birth to several rabbits in 1726. About 100 years later, Scotland’s great world traveling Wizard of the North, John Henry Anderson borrowed a topper from one member of his audience. He likely remarked along the following lines concerning Mary Toft “Why it is as improbable that Mary Tofts should birth a bunny as this gentleman’s hat!”
World Champion Magician Johnny Ace Palmer producing Blitzen the bunny at The Magic Castle in Hollywod after a series of rapid appearances and disappearances of a carrot.
“Now you stay put Blitzen,”the bearded wonder worker says, as his furry companion leaves the stage.
Johnny Ace & Susan Palmer’s birth announcement of their first child, inspired by an advertisment for the “FFFF” magic convention.
Upon that utterance, one of the first rabbits made it’s valiant appearance on stage, thereby setting forth the legend that multiplies through the ages, much like the animal itself.
Ben Robinson introduces a rabbit and hat puppet to a new generation at a recent dinner party.
A 19th century stock image produced for magicians advertising. Notice the succession of bunnies pouring forth from the top hat on the stage.
The March 18, 2002 edition of the venerable Business Week magazine using the famous icon to signal a surprising economy.
21st century magician Criss Angel’s NY Daily News review mentions the icon, though there is no rabbit or hat in the show!The two artists meet after Angel’s Times Square show Mindfreak.
Research assistance and thanks to: The Christopher Collection, E. A. Dawes, John DiRe, Johnny Ace Palmer, Criss Angel, Dan Stashower, Diego Santamarina and Henry Davies.