Disembodied Princess (aka Mystery of Princess Karnac; Girl without a Middle)
Designer: P.T. Selbit; later improvements by Carl Owen
The Disembodied Princess debuted in 1925 and has seen many different names. It originally was produced as “The Man Without a Middle” and later performed as “The Man with a Gap.” The reason is because Selbit used a man dressed as a Russian soldier because the apparatus itself looked like a sentry-box. Later performers used ladies, one of these being Maurice Rooklyn who used a lady wearing a soldier mask. The more modern version of the illusion was created by Carl Owen for the great Howard Thurston, Thurston having paid rights to Selbit and agreeing that he would only perform it in America. It was an immediate sensation; because while the previous illusions of the type had used stage traps or mirrors, Carl’s “Disembodied” obviously did not. When Dante took over for Thurston, Dante performed the illusion in England (having made no such agreement with Selbit) and Selbit protested and threatened legal action. Dante suggested they meet when he came to Reading, but Selbit passed away (in 1938) before the meeting took place. (PT Selbit: Magical Innovator)
A woman enters an upright cabinet which, when closed, shows only her legs. The box containing her head is opened to show that her head is still in place. The center and back of the cabinet is opened to show that her body has vanished. Only her legs and head are visible. The cabinet is closed and when reopened, the assistant emerges unharmed.
According to PT Selbit: Magical Innovator, in Selbit’s original version, the man would enter the box and two large broadsword blades were thrust through slots cutting the man into 3 parts. As a clincher after the front door was opened (revealing his missing body), the entire center section of the cabinet was then removed leaving the head box supported only by thin rods.
Many variations and improvements have been made since the original design. Lance Burton performed one version in which he uses himself in the effect and his head is apparently in view throughout the entire effect.