I first heard about Howard Thurston's mantra from Jim Steinmeyer and became obsessed with it. What did he say? Why did he say it?
Audley Dunham met Howard Thurston and in his youthful enthusiasm, asked Thurston,
"When the curtain rises and the music stops and you raise your arms halfway—you say not a word and you look up at the gallery, then the balcony, then the main floor and you look like you're going to say something, but you don't till you start the show."
Thurston interrupted Dunham and said,
"Oh my boy, I DO say something. From the gallery to the main floor I am saying across the footlights,
'I love you. I love you. I love you.'
I am sending my love across the footlights each and every show I do."
Excerpt from Conjurors and Cornfields: Magic on the Indianapolis Stage By Thomas A. Ewing
Howard Thurston was one of the famous and successful performers alive in his day. Very few people remember him today yet there is an ongoing debate in the magic world whether he was as famous or even more famous than Harry Houdini when they were both alive.
Why was the first thing
he did when he came out on stage something that no one in the audience knew about or ever realized?
Why did he tell people who would never hear him that he loved them?
Let's see what people who knew him had to say...
"I have stood in the wings many times as he began his performance. When he appears on the stage, the music is playing loudly. Quickly, and seemingly from nowhere, Thurston produces huge, dripping fish-bowls, bouquets of flowers, and ducks that quack and flap their wings. Dur-ing this first assault upon the attention of the crowd, Thurston is looking smilingly across the footlights and saying
"I love you all — every one of you."
No one out front hears him, but he has a theory that the emotion which he evokes in himself spills out over the orchestra pit and establishes an instantaneous entente cordiale. It sounds sentimental, but Thurston's box-office receipts are quite realistic."
Excerpt from Illustrated Magic By Ottokar Fischer
According to Ottokar Fischer the reason why Thurston whispered inaudibly, is that it
had an effect on his audience.
"Dad would stand in the wings as our overture was being played by the orchestra, jump up and down to "rev" up his psyche, and quietly tell his waiting audience,
"I love you. I LOVE YOU!"
Then he'd stride joyously onstage to stand in the spotlight exuding that love...
and his audience loved him right back!
Jane Thurston (his daughter) in M-U-M
He not only did this onstage but also
behind the curtain
the same effect!
Thurston's daughter, Jane believed that the audience could
and that they responded by
loving him back!
"Many people recalled his graciousness on stage; he was, after all, famous for standing behind the curtain, just before each performance, whispering over-and-over, "I love you" to his audience, an effort to express his affection, drawing them in from the first moments of his show."
Jim Steinmeyer in Genii
He stood behind the curtain during each overture, hidden from the audience but whispering to them his pre-show mantra, "I love you all.... I love you all...." He realized that his success was expressing that love on the stage.
Jim Steinmeyer in Hiding the Elephant
What was happening here?
How is this possible?
In a presentation by Jim Steinmeyer at the 75th Anniversary Genii Bash, Jim recounts this story about Howard Thurston but goes into more detail.
Howard would not only say that he loved them but explain to himself why he loved them.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
I love you for coming to my show this evening or I wouldn't even have a show.
I love you for allowing me to do what I love to do for a living.
I love you for letting me travel the world and make my own dreams come true.
Thurston would find reasons to love his audience
During my research into Thurston I stumbled upon his presentation for the Levitation of Princess Karnac which shed some light on all of this...
The effect is simple. Thurston covers the princess with a cloth and magically makes the her float. At the height of dramatic tension he pulls quickly at the cloth to show that she has vanished in mid-air.
Here is a short partial video of Thurston performing this effect from the 1930s.
"Thurston's presentation of the Levitation is one of magicdom's all-time highspots.
Settle back and visualize Thurston walking to the footlights.
"On the seventh day of the seventh month in Allahabad, in Agra and Delhi, a High Priest in the Temples of Love places a young lady in the air just as I shall place this young lady in the air. Then lovers, lovers from all over the country who are not satisfied with their love affairs, who would like some mystic spell cast over the one they love or the one who loves them, gather into these temples for the blessings of the High Priests.
"We have brought with us from Allahabad, by special arrangement with the British Government, a High Priest from the Temples of Love. Hitherow, Abdul, Hitherow.
(Abdul enters from second left entrance.)
"Speak, Abdul, speak as you spoke in the Temples of Love in Allahabad, and around you and this young lady I cast the mystic spell. Speak.
(Abdul makes a speech and kneels down.)
"Rise, Fernanda, rise.
In the name of the Yogi and the wise men of the Orient, I command you to rise.
Safely, securely, rise Fernanda. Rise,
(Abdul makes short speech. I walk under Fernanda and pointing to her say—)
"Rest, Fernanda, rest. With nothing above, nothing below, rest.
(Then usual talk on Levitation, passing hoop around and then out to the audience.)
"For more than ten years I have presented this marvel in public and I have learned that a great many people believe that the young lady is held in place by means of wires, that wires are holding her up there, or that electromagnets are holding her or that she is a dummy figure inflated.
None of that is true.
This is such a strange weird wonderful affair and I am so anxious to convince you that she actually floats in space without any support that this evening I shall ask on the stage a number of ladies and gentlemen.
Anyone may come.
Lawyers, doctors, scientists,students, those interested in the occult or mysterious. Come right down the aisle and on the stage. Come as quietly as you can please. Start right away for in a few moments there will be so many coming, you can't come.
(Committee on Stage.)
"Now if I can convince these gentle-men that this young lady actually floats in space with nothing above and nothing below, that she rests in air like a balloon, does it not resemble a miracle? I ask you? If we drop a feather from our fingers no known power will prevent that feather from eventually coming to the ground.
This young lady weighs more than a hundred pounds and she could remain there as long as the mystic spell is over her.
"Now, if I can do one wonderful thing, why not another? I say this for the reason that the old High Priest in Allahabad with whom I spent three years in study in the mountains, said to me
'Thurston Sahib, Thurston Sahib,
keep it a secret for ten years and remain true to the faith, mind, I say true to the faith
and you shall have the Surakabaja blessing!
among other things,
that those who love shall be loved.
That any one touching the mystic ring placed on the finger of the young lady by the old High Priest in Allahabad
and mentioning the name of the one they love
and saying 'I love you'
as I say Surakabaja three times,
and that person will love you and you will love them as long as you live.
It is true in India, true here.
"Give me your hand, sir
(Man walks to me)
What is the name, the first name of the young lady you love? Don't laugh. We are all in love, everyone of us, whether we love our wives, our husbands or our sweethearts. Come sir, what is her first name? Alice.
The young man will step forward, touch the mystic ring, raise his right hand and say 'Alice, I love you' as I say Surakabaja three times and Alice will love him and they will love each other as long as they live. True in India, true here.
(Lead man to the ring.)
"The ring, sir, placed on her finger by the old High Priest in Allahabad. The ring of love, the ring of life, the ring of luck, the ring of health. Touch it gently. Touch it. Now place your hand above her, below her. Raise your right hand in the air. I want you to walk around her. Look up, look below, look everywhere. Now face the audience, raise your right hand in the air and say as loud as you can 'Alice, I love you' as I say Surakabaja, Surakabaja, Surakabaja. Give my regards to Alice.
(Man takes his position at side of stage).
"Now this concerns everyone in the audience, so hear what I say. As the next person touches the ring, raises his right hand in the air and mentions the name of the one they love and says I love you, then everyone in the audience who are in love, and we are all in love, every one of us whether we love our wifes, our husbands or our sweethearts, mention earnestly the name of the one they love and they just say to themselves 'I love you' then that person will love you and you will love them as long as you live. True in India, true here. Give me your hand sir,
(Repeat the action of the first man with the second.)
(When man raises his hand in the air I say)
Hear me, hear me,each of you, I bring to you now the love blessing from India. Now is the chance to cause the one you love to love you. Seal your love for eternity by mentioning the name of the one you love, when I say Surakabaja, Surakabaja, Surakabaja
(Man takes his place)
"Now if you gentlemen have any idea or explanation as to how the young lady is kept in space, I ask you to explain it to the audience, and if you would like to examine it further you may do so, I say this with the knowledge that you cannot, not unless you have lived in India and understand the Yogi philosophy.
(Have the committee walk to left side of stage and say—)
Abdul, Abdul, Hitherow. Speak. Abdul speaks and gives your love blessing to all those who have gazed upon this wonderful sight.
(Girl is lowered and brought to life while Abdul speaks. Girl remains on stage and I say—)
"For more than twenty years I have searched this world in every civilized country and most uncivilized countries looking for mystery for I have learned by experience that the American public demands of a magician mystery bordering on the supernatural. We have searched diligently. Been blessed by the old High Priest in Allahabad and now, ladies and gentlemen, comes the hour of my ambition, to present to you a miracle or what resembles a miracle right in the center of this stage surrounded by these gentlemen on all sides and challenge them to discover any deception.
"Allow me to present Fernanda. Many of you have read of Fernanda. She has been the subject of the discussion in scientific circles for several years. No one knows the secret. Born of Italian parents, raised in the Temples of Love in India and the only white woman ever permitted to leave those temples with a knowledge of the Yogi power. Come, Fernanda, Come.
"Rest Fernanda. Dream Fernanda. Sleep Fernanda. Dream of the banks of the Ganges. Of the wise men of the Orient. Rest, Fernanda.
(Try to put her to sleep. Step behind her expecting her to fall. She stands still. Shake her gently by the shoulder. She looks in the audience and nods her head.)
A very sensitive young lady. A wonderful psyche. She can scent your very mental conditions. She says there is a disturbing influence in the audience. Someone is thinking to themselves and probably saying, 'That's one of Thurston's tricks. Nothing supernatural about that". We don't ask you to believe there is anything supernatural about it. We would be amazed if you did. But there is something mighty strange and mysterious about it and I want you to watch carefully and closely.
(Bring two men from committee and stand them in front of Fernanda)
Now gentlemen I ask you to watch carefully and closely. Try to discover, if you can, anything that looks like deception or illusion and if you do, raise your right hand and stop the performance and I'll give you $1,000 and I'm going to present a miracle right in the center of the stage.
Fernanda sleep, sleep Fernanda. By the power of my right hand, I command you to rest and sleep.
(Fernanda falls back, caught by two assistants)
"Rest Fernanda. Dream of the banks of the Ganges, and sleep Fernanda, sleep. Watch Fernanda's face, gentle-men, watch her face. Rest Fernanda, rest. While your spirit flies out over the mountains and seas back to the Temples of Love in India. Dream of the banks of the Ganges, of the wise men of the Orient. Rest. Rest
Give me your hand, sir. I want you to see that she is breathing naturally. Careful, don't disturb her. She is half dead, half alive. Gentlemen, I want you to form a human circle around the young lady. Take hold of one another's hands and walk right around coming a complete circle.
(I go in the circle and say—)
Now gentlemen, whatever may happen to you... whatever you may see or feel or hear, I ask you in the name of the High Priest, and for your own safety and the safety of the young lady hold tightly to each other's hands and do not break the mystic circle and watch, watch.
In all our lives from our childhood, there are certain events that stand out in our minds that we cannot forget. I am to show you something now, ladies and gentlemen, that you will remember as long as you live. If anyone should describe to you and tell you what you have seen here this evening unless you had seen it with your own eye, you could not believe it. For it cannot be performed except in the mystic circle. Join the mystic circle.
(I place the hands of the men together and step inside of the circle and say—)
Now, gentlemen, hear me while I talk. You are all strangers to me and I want you to watch carefully and closely and learn if you can, something of the strange power that surrounds this stage. See what becomes of the young lady. Watch, watch, I say, and if you discover any secret I will give you one thousand dollars. You, sir, at her head, and you at her feet, and you in the circle. Look up, look below, look everywhere. Behold a miracle.
Surakabaja, Surakabaja, Abdul, Fernanda, Allah, Allah, GO!
Edited Excerpt from Hugard's Magic Monthly
As soon as I read this presentation I realized what was happening. The ritual Thurston is explaining in the Levitation of the Princess Karnac is not just a presentation to him.
It is his life!
Surakabaja is not gibberish, it is a magic word.
The spell he is trying to cast is real.
And he believes in it's power.
He repeats the magic words,
I love you,
I love you,
I love you,
Just like in the his story. He believes that the words have power. It is something that he believes so passionately in that he acts it out, real-life imitating fiction every night, trying to cast a spell over his audience.
In his show, the words are a false explanation of the magical effect while in reality they are the secret to his success and his magic.
The magic words work...
All because he believed, practiced them in secret, and remained faithful to them...
The spell had been cast...
Magic is real.
Now ladies, if you ever see me off to a distance and my lips are moving, know that I'm not whispering "Surakabaja, Surakabaja, Surakabaja" but "I love you, I love you, I love you" in the hopes that you'll love me too.
I perform wonders without hands and walk the earth without feet.