On July 8, 1933, world-renowned magician Dante gave the first performance of his Brisbane season at His Majesty’s Theatre, a poster for which is pictured above. Dante (real name Harry Jansen), born in Demark in 1883, had moved with his family to the United States at the age of six and made his stage debut at 16. He had previously visited Brisbane in 1912 under the stage name The Great Jansen.
A promotional magazine from His Majesty’s Theatre, in the State Library of Queensland’s collection, touted Dante’s impressive feats as well as spruiking local products. One such advertisement featured Dante striking a pose, complete with hypnotic gaze, and the caption: “Dante recommends XXXX”.
Among Dante’s many illusions was “the enchanted barrel”. The Sunday Mail described the act, saying Dante produced “three dozen glasses and two large pots of beer from an empty barrel with tissue paper ends”. In matinee performances when children were present, the beer was substituted with orange juice that could be sampled. There was also the “Chinese water scene”, where the magician made water gush in “graceful curves” from various objects, including his assistants’ heads and his own hand.
Sadly, Dante’s Brisbane season would end in personal tragedy. On July 28, his 21-year-old son William Jansen was killed when his motorcycle collided with a light pole in inner-city Gregory Terrace. Following a funeral service at St Peter’s Church in West End, the casket was conveyed to Melbourne by train, to be interred at Springvale Cemetery. The remainder of Dante’s performances at His Majesty’s Theatre were cancelled.