Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (copy)

Note: This is written for North Mississippi newspaper audiences. I do not want to start another challenge!

Is money tight and options for travel this summer limited? Why don’t we wander all over the world through books? For the next two months, let us globe trot on the cheap. Pull out a world map and push-pin the many places visited without burning gas or running up huge room service bills. Do not forget the starting point (Somewhere, Mississippi) and then join them with string.

I gain a huge head start with Ann Marie Fleming’s graphic memoir of her great-grandfather in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. This story took me to China, Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia.

Long Tack Sam is virtually unknown to American audiences today, but in the 20’s and 30’s his vaudeville and magic act were world renown. Fleming puzzled how someone so famous could be completely forgotten in history. She, even as a close relative, did not know the extent of his fame, fortune and the exploits of his troupe. The book unfolds as she discovers the Long story.

Born in 1885, Long Tack Sam ran away from his home in the Shangdung Province of China to join the circus. This area of China is known for providing many schools in acrobat training. He became an apprentice to a magician and expanded his act with magic. Along the way he perfected the Goldfish Bowl Trick that consist of a little dance, forward tumble into a standing position then raising arms to reveal a bowl full of goldfish. He last performed this trick at age 73.

Long Tack Sam began to accumulate money and fame at a young age. While still traveling with the circus he met his future wife in Austria. He needed soap and toothpaste and behind the counter stood Leopoldine Roesler. Love at first sight? Well, this is how genealogy works. We can assume they liked each other enough to marry, have three children and live together until Long died. To add romance without fact would be misleading, but it was Poldi who became his financial manager and the force behind his touring as leader of his own troupe.

Fleming is a director and The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam first appeared as a documentary in 2003. The graphic memoir was produced in 2007 after the successful movie. It is apparent, Fleming has an inherent humor for the arts like her great-grandfather who became an acrobat, magician, comic, business owner (restaurants and theatres), impresario, teacher, and according to the comic George Burns, “the greatest act in the history of vaudeville!”

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