Thing 000809 (Sawing a Lady in Half. How is it Done?)

Beginning in 1911, Horace Goldin was engaged in developing the illusion under the name Sawing a Woman in Two. He had conceived the act some years before, known as Vivi Section, which consisted of an illusion by which various parts of the human body were apparently severed therefrom and subsequently joined together. As the result of his experience with this act, Horace Goldin conceived the idea that the illusion would be more effective, if an entire body were apparently separated into two parts, and, after devoting a great deal of time and thought, he finally, in the year 1919, perfected this illusion. A woman is placed within an oblong box, with head, hands, and feet protruding, and the box sawed in half, the woman apparently being severed into two parts. Goldin has publicly presented in theaters in the U.S, either in person or through other performers, to whom he delegated the right to use the apparatus. The act was first offered to Ringling, who was organizing circus shows, as well as stage illusions. Since April 1921, Horace Goldin entered into a contract with the leading vaudeville theaters in the United States under the direction of Keith, for the production of this illusion on stage. The remuneration Horace Goldin received under his contracts amounted in some weeks to more than $2,000, and he had reason to believe that he could secure bookings for the act for an unlimited period of time, as it was in great demand, due to its drawing power and the apparent inability of audiences to grasp or explain the so called mystery. Goldin deposited a film recording of the performance at the copyright office in the U.S in 1921. In 1923, Horace Goldin also deposited a patent in relation to the devise used for the illusion Sawing a Woman in Two.

Alexander Film exhibited in 1922 in the state of New York and elsewhere a Clarion Photoplays 35mm black and white film made by the Weiss brothers under the title Sawing a Lady in Half, How is it Done?. The film shows the illusionist John Coutts doing an illusion of sawing a person into two parts, and exposed the manner in which the said illusion is accomplished.

As the result of the motion picture, visitors lost interest in the illusion Sawing a Woman in Two. Horace Goldin, tried to prevent the circulation of the film by Clarion photoplays on the basis of his copyright in the theatrical performance. On June 5 1922, a first court case Goldin v. Weiss Brothers and Clarion Photoplays took place in New York. Goldin lost the case and then appealed. On July 14 1922, during the court case called Goldin v. Clarion Photoplays at the Supreme Court in New York Judge Dowling stated:

Clarion Photoplays claimed there is no novelty in the illusion, because in the British Museum there is an Egyptian papyrus which contains an account of a magical séance given by a certain Tchatchaemankh before King Khufu, 3766 B. C., and wherein it is stated of the magician: “He knoweth how to bind on a head which hath been cut off” and in proof of this they refer to a publication called Magic, written by one Albert Hopkins, and published in New York City in 1897. But, while the author of the book suggests that the first of these alleged feats was accomplished by hypnotism, and adds, “The decapitation trick is thus no new thing,” he offers no explanation as to how it was accomplished. Clarion Photoplays further refer to pages 48 and 49 of the same publication wherein a trick is shown, known as Decapitation; but this is accomplished by means of a dummy head, and bears no analogy to the Horace Goldin’s illusion, nor is the other act described therein, apparently performed upon the body of a clown, in any way as complete a mystification, nor carried to as successful a conclusion, as the Horace Goldin’s act. Great stress is also laid upon the description by Robert Houdin, in his Memoirs, published in English in Philadelphia, in 1859, of an illusion produced by one Torrini in Constantinople in the 18th century, known as the Two Pages. But, similarly, there can be found no resemblance between the methods employed to accomplish the result in the variations of this illusion which Houdin described and the means resorted to by the Horace Goldin. [...] The Clarion Photoplays further contend that their moving picture is not intended to expose the method by which Horace Goldin performs his illusion, but that it is a repetition of a method used by one Coutts, who claims to be an owner of an act which he has performed in vaudeville, known as Sawing a Lady in Half; but he has not shown that he has preceded the Horace Goldin in the creation of the act in question, or that it is anything save an imitation of Horace Goldin’s act, with points of difference intended to save him, if possible, from the consequences of his simulation. While the Clarion Photoplays strenuously deny that Horace Goldin originated the act in question, it appears that Coutts’ modification or imitation of Horace Goldin’s methods is an adaption of the method resorted to by one Selbit to produce the illusion in question, and Horace Goldin has already obtained an injunction against Selbit to prevent his reproducing the act in question. Furthermore, Horace Goldin produces certain affidavits which seem quite convincing that Horace Goldin really originated the illusion in question. [...] The act has always been produced by Horace Goldin under the title Sawing a Woman in Two, or Sawing a Lady in Half, which he himself devised and first used, and these titles have become identified with Horace Goldin’s name to such an extent that theater managers and the public immediately connect the two. [...] Clarion Photoplays have simply sought unfairly and unjustly to profit by Horace Goldin’s success, by adopting the name which he gave to his illusion. [...] It is shown that, as the result of the motion picture in question attempting to expose or explain the manner in which Horace Goldin performs his illusion, it is deemed by the management of the Keith theatre circuit, whereon Horace Goldin has exhibited the same for a long time, to have the effect of depreciating the value of Horace Goldin’s act to such an extent that, as they have advised Horace Goldin in writing, it would render Horace Goldin’s act absolutely valueless, since the very mystery or trick of the act would be gone [...] Upon the facts disclosed by the affidavits herein, [...] the illusion in question, which has achieved a great success under the title devised by him of Sawing a Woman in Half, or Sawing a Lady in Half, and that his creation of the illusion has been so universally recognized that the title thereof is in the public mind associated with his own name. [...] The defendants have availed themselves of the very same title as that devised by plaintiff, and have made use as well of an imitation or modification of his act [...] The affidavits lead irresistibly to the conclusion that the defendants have simply sought unfairly and unjustly to profit by plaintiff’s success, by adopting the name which he gave to his illusion, and by copying his methods in an unfair competition and unreasonable interference with plaintiff’s rights, which the courts should and will prevent. [...]

Although Clarion Photoplays was forced to change the title of the film because of unfair competition, the court concluded that the film, which exposed the illusion, was not a copy of Horace Goldin’s theatrical performance.