Buzz Saw (aka A Living Miracle)
Designer: Horace Goldin
Goldin developed “A Living Miracle” (the Buzz Saw illusion) in 1931 as a variation on P.T. Selbit’s Sawing a Lady in Half. He replaced the original bow saw with a buzz saw and also developed a method to completely remove the box around the assistant. In his updated version, the assistant would be placed upon a table in full view and a large circular saw would cut her in two. This became known as the Buzz Saw illusion. Three of the most famous practitioners of this illusion were Harry Blackstone Sr and Jr, and Richiardi. Harry Blackstone Sr performed the illusion with the assistant lying on her stomach.
An assistant reclines on a table and is restrained. A giant buzz saw then saws through her mid-section. The assistant then arises unharmed.
Actor and magician Orson Welles used a Buzz Saw in his Mercury Wonder Show magic performances. He originally performed it on his wife Rita Hayworth until Columbia Pictures banned her from participating in Welles’ show. He then regularly performed it on Marlene Dietrich and, later, on an up-and-coming young actress named Marilyn Monroe.
In 1956, Indian illusionist P.C. Sorcar used a buzz saw to cut his wife in two during a televised performance. Just when he had divided her the host quickly signed off and the show ended. This caused horrified viewers to believe she had accidentally been killed. In reality, it was a live broadcast and time had run out. – From A.E. Dawes Making Magic, published1993.
Peruvian magician Richiardi Jr’s performances with the buzz saw are some of the most horrific presentations of a sawing illusion. Richiardi used a buzz saw but added shock value by incorporating fake blood and entrails, which were sprayed over the stage (and sometimes beyond it) as the saw cut through the assistant. The audience would then be invited on stage to view the carnage and as they took their seats, the assistant would rise and show she had been magically healed.
David Copperfield purchased the Orson Welles’ buzz saw at auction in the 1990s. He restored it to working condition and performed it with his then-wife, supermodel Claudia Schiffer. He has also performed the illusion on a number of other guest celebrity assistants including actress Penélope Cruz and TV presenter Cat Deeley. In Copperfield’s version, the assistant’s waist is bared and the saw can be seen cutting into their exposed skin. He also inserts the wooden strip into its holder before the assistant is placed on the table above it.
“Even though I’d been sawed in half lots of times before, it was still quite scary, because the saw blade was huge and all too real. And, with no box over me, I was able to look down and see the saw going right through my bare waist and into the wood underneath me – I could even see my skin rippling as the saw cut through it. But it didn’t really hurt, just tickled a bit, and it was quite an honor to have the chance to do it, as David doesn’t usually use it in his shows and just saves it for special occasions.” – Cat Deeley.
Interestingly, Goldin appeared to have learned his lesson about filing patents on his illusions because he did not file a patent or follow up with any litigation against people who tried to copy or use his buzz saw. He had learned (from his previous sawing illusion debacle) it didn’t pay to protect his secrets that way. (See Sawing Through a Woman)
Photos: Assistant on table with head to the left (Richiardi), Magician with turban (P.C. Sorcar), Assistant suspended & Assistant on table with head to the right (Goldin)