Friday, May 6, 2016

Amazing But True: Orson Welles and The Mercury Wonder Show

Orson Welles produces Rita Hayworth from a steamer trunk, 1943

In 1943 world famous actor and filmmaker Orson Welles (who was born on this date in 1915) was eager to do something special for the war effort. Though he was a poor physical candidate for service - he rated a 4F - he could do quite a lot in terms of raising money and troop morale. So Welles wrote up a proposal for a circus-like revue that could travel around the country raising funds for the war effort and providing first class entertainment for returning or furloughed service members, who could attend at no cost. For civilians, tickets started at $1.65.

Welles himself was the master of ceremonies and, as The Magnificent Orson, its magician headliner. Welles' wife, the glamorous Rita Hayworth, also performed a variety of headline acts. Comic relief was provided by Jo-Jo The Great (whom we now know as Joseph Cotten). Other collaborators were the great French star Jean Gabin, who put his great shoulders to work moving scenery, and actor Keye Luke, who was tasked with the creation of culturally respectful Asian scenery and props. Later, after her boss at Columbia forced Hayworth to drop out of the show, Welles was forced to fall back on Hayworth's understudy, Marlene Dietrich (!).

Here's the entire advertised bill of fare for a performance of The Mercury Wonder Show:

The Mercury Wonder Show
For Service Men
Program

ORSON THE MAGNIFICENT
Defies the laws of science in feats of legerdemain never before presented in America. The occult secrets of antiquity and the present day reproduced for your delight and fascination in: Born In Flames, A Rabbit From a Headpiece, Le Chapeau en Pair, The Devil’s Orchard, Horticulture From Hell, The Strange Aquarium, Birds From The Blue, The Fourth Dimension, Audubon’s Dream, The Hindu Mango Mystery (as advertised), Fruit Under a Spell, and THE HAUNTED AVIARY with Invisible Pigeons and Transparent Doves.

THE MIRACULOUS CHICKEN FARM
Twenty-five (25) Living Hens Manufactured as You Watch , Without The Aid of a Single Egg. DE- and RE-CAPITATION: A Strange Feat of the Barnyard as Never Before Presented in the Western Hemisphere: Ballet of the Roosters: Chanticleer Takes It on the Lam: The Hens’ Delight.

Dr. Welles presents his
Original Experiments in Animal Magnetism
(All Nature Freezes at His Glance)

Psychic Readings

The Magic Crystal 
Due to the unbelievable strain on the practitioner of this incredible feat the  management must reserve the right to change this portion of the program without notice.

Secrets of the Sphinx
THE ANCIENT LORE OF THE DARK CONTINENT ASSEMBLED FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER CANVAS

CHAINED IN SPACE

WITCHES FARMYARD
An Incredible Assortment of Sortilege Not To Be Duplicated in the Most Famous Repertoires in the History of Thaumaturgy, presenting: Bovine Obedience; At the Shooting Gallery (including “Marksmanship’s Reward); Evaporation in the Mystic Diary; The Dalai’s Milk Pail (Direct From Tibetan Lamaseries); The Flight of the Hare; Fowl Elusive; La Rapiere du Diable; A Voice From the Dead; Faster Than Light; THE WORLD FAMOUS “BALSAMO’S SECRET,” and the CASKET OF COUNT CAGLIOSTRO.

PEKIN NIGHTS
An Interlude from Old Cathay
The Manchu Marvel; The cages of Han Lun; Enchanted Porcelain; Rain-making "Orientale"; Drought by Witchcraft (including Feats of Dexterity - a Dazzling Display); Hungkwel's Downfall; The Fan of Fu Ling.

THE CHEF'S SURPRISE
A Fantasy in Smoke; Shampoo Sorcery; The Indestructible Playing Card (Culled from the Secret Archives of Jared Higgenbottom); Humpty Dumpty Restored; Battledore.

$ TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS CHALLENGED! $
(Performed Under Rigid Test Conditions)

IMPROVISATIONS
THE GOOSE, THE GUINEA PIG AND THE LADY

THE GIRL WITH X-RAY EYES
An Extraordinary Demonstration by Miss Rita Hayworth of Strange Powers Recognized, but Unexplained by Science. Featuring Thought Transmission and Projection, Extra-Sensory Perception, Lightning Calculation, and Second Sight.

THE GREAT JOSEPH
The Wizard of the South Presents Split Second Escapology. The redoubtable J. Cotten Risks His Life at Every Performance.

THE DEATH OF THE SILKEN GORDS
FIRST TIME IN THE WEST

MILLION $ MYSTERY
Miss Hayworth and Mr. Cotten Make You Doubt Your Senses is a Bewildering Display.

INTERMISSION AND CONCERT

SCENES FROM A HINDOO MARKETPLACE

THE FAKIRS OF INDIA OUTDONE
THE WORLD'S FASTEST CANARY
(Three Surprises and a Miracle)

DEATH CASKET
THE FLIGHT OF TIME

PAINLESS SURGERY
Doctor-Sorcerer and His Apprentices Defy Laws of Dissection

THE HUMAN SEWING MACHINE
MUST BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED

PRINCESS NEPHROTITE
The Queen of Egypt Brought Back From the Dead. Her Materialization, Levitation, Evanishment and Lightning Reappearances.

GRAND FINALE
VOODOO!
A re-enactment of Mr. Cotten's Interesting Experiences Among the Witchdoctors in Dark Africa




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