Robert Heller Talks Trash

What would a tabloid be without some celebrity talking trash about their competition. So here are some excerpts from an interview with Robert Heller (1826-1878) given when he played Baltimore in October, 1878. In the interview Heller takes aim at both his contemporaries and some of the greats that were still in the public’s mind.

Compars Herrmann (1816-1887) and Antonio Blitz (1810-1877)
“Take for instance, Blitz or Hermann. With them it was oranges, money, a glass of water, and a couple of eggs, and so on, and then it was a couple of eggs, a glass of water, money and oranges. On these they played an ever-changing tune, until the thing became monotonous. Blitz was the most clever plate-spinner I ever saw, and his canary birds were remarkably well trained. The good old man catered particularly to children. He was their idol. But, bless my soul, you can buy today, for a couple of dollars, in any big toyshop, all the tricks that the Signor ever performed.”

Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896)
“Then Hermann who is now playing – a brother of Theodore and the young man who formerly acted as his assistant – is exceedingly clever with eggs, oranges, watches and all that sort of thing, but the minute he opens his mouth he actually ruins the entertainment. He has no stage presence, and he is the best of the class.” (Note: Alexander Herrmann’s older brother was Compars and not Theodore as stated above)

John Henry Anderson (1814-1874)
“Then there was Professor Anderson, the ‘Wizard of the North.’ His great trouble was gin. He never performed without a glass of water by his side, from which he frequently drank. The audience, of course knew that it was water, but this illusion vanished when he stepped down among them and they got a scent of the raw gin he had been imbibing.”

Wiljalba Frikell (1818-1903)
“Frikell, a Pole, who travel through England was also famed in modern times. He belonged to the severe school of legerdemain – and the proper school, too – in which the performer relies rather upon his own natural skill than upon ingeniously constructed apparatus. Frikell was very clever with his hands, and he made a fortune in the profession, but he has got into financial difficulties lately, and there is some talk of his returning to the platform.”

Bernard Marius Cazeneuve (1839-1913)
“We must not forget the dapper little Frenchman. As a public performer he was a failure. Fred Zimmerman the incomparable manager, lost a large amount of money upon him. He could not talk the English language, and, with a few exceptions, his tricks were not intended for a large hall. As a parlor performer he would create a sensation. His card tricks are simply marvelous – they cannot be equaled.”

“He went from here to Havana, and from there he went back to Toulouse. From Havana he sent me the medal of the Order of Progress, a sort of association composed entirely of artists and others who advanced their interests. Cazeneuve is the chief, and from that position he deserves his title of ‘Le Commandeur.’ He is a very vain little fellow.”

“One evening he and his wife took supper with me and my sister in the Fifth Avenue hotel in New York. His anxiety to show his skill even before us was very amusing. The moment he entered the room he picked a pack of cards from the mantel and began manipulating them. Just then a servant announced dinner and we all walked out, but Cazeneuve would not give up the cards.”

“At the dinner table, between mouthfuls of soup, he flirted these cards in every way, and when his mouth was filled with his mouth was filled with fowl he would drop and his knife and fork and, still masticating, perform some wonderful tricks. He wanted to show his skill, but still he was very entertaining. The only trick he performed outside of cards is the trunk or Indian Mail mystery, and the tying cabinet trick. The latter he has publically expose in all its simplicity, and the trunk trick which he advertises as his own, really belongs to Maskelyn & Cooke, spiritual entertainers, of Egyptian Hall, London…..To return to Cazeneuve’s imitation of Maskelyn & Cooke’s trick; I must say that he manages it very clumsily. Several minutes intervene from the time the trunk is bound until Madame Cazeneuve is found concealed in it. Will show a similar trick here, and from the time my sister appears on the stage until she is discovered in the box thirty-five seconds intervene.”

The article was published in the December 14, 1878 issue of the Lowell Daily Citizen and News. It originally appeared in an earlier issue of the Baltimore Sunday News, probably around October 1898 when Heller performed in that city. This was one of the last newspaper interviews given before his death in Philadelphia of pneumonia on November 28, 1898.


  1. James

    My, my, Heller certainly dished the trash! Of course, the Herrmanns were his competition, so I take what he said with a grain of salt. One of Alexander’s strong points was his stage presence and comical repartee with the audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *