Amac’s Three Card Monte (aka The Elusive Lady)
Designer: Robert William MacFarland
Robert William MacFarland (stage name: Amac – which stood for “A Most Amazing Conjurer”) invented the Three Card Monte illusion (which he called The Elusive Lady) in the early 20th century, using it in his vaudeville act throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
A batten stretched overhead about 7 feet off the stage floor. Three small stools were evenly spaced beneath it. Three giant playing cards were then hung from the batten obscuring a female assistant who stood on the center stool. The audience could see the stools beneath the cards but any assistant standing on top of the stool would be hidden. The cards would be rearranged and the audience would try to figure out where the lady was. They were always wrong. One variation had the card slid on the floor, the audience thinking she was sneaking behind it. But when the cards were removed, she was shown to have completely vanished.
Steinmeyer’s The Complete Jarrett explains that in Amac’s finale, he offered to explain the secret. The scenery would be raised and the trick repeated. Amac claimed the lady used a cloak of invisibility which simply a large piece of red silk which she held in front of herself to obscure her body from view. When Amac suddenly reached for this “cloak,” it collapsed in his hands turning into a hat and cane and the lady would instantly disappear.
The illusion played on the Keith and Orpheum circuits in 1923. Cecil Lyle is known to have acquired the performance rights from Amac in the 1930s and Charles Carter, David Bamberg and Nicola were also known to have performed the illusion (but it is unknown whether they properly acquired the rights or not). Nicola performed the illusion as “The Great Jail Breaking Mystery” and used the three cards painted like jail doors and the lady was dressed in a striped prison costume.
Sources: Steinmeyer, Jim, The Complete Jarrett, Hahne, California, 2001.