The Mighty (Wrestling) Cheese
Designer: P.T. Selbit
Builder: Henry Bates
Selbit developed the Mighty Cheese alongside “The Shadow People” illusion. Henry Bates, a well-known British magical mechanic, built the Mighty Cheese for Selbit. The Mighty Cheese is viewed as more of a “fun” piece rather than an illusion. Interestingly, David Allen and Sons, the London lithographers, were used to create a comical image of a group of men trying to (unsuccessfully) manhandled the Mighty Cheese.
In PT Selbit: Magical Innovator, the authors described the cheese as a disc about 18 inches in diameter and 7 inches thick with tapering edges. The back side was a reddish color and the whole thing looked like a giant piece of cheese sealed in wax.
Selbit once had two famous wrestlers named Gotch and Hack to test their skills against the Wrestling Cheese. When “celebrities” were unavailable, Selbit could use a committee of five or six strong men to wrestle the cheese. The cheese would be wheeled out and remained standing on edge even when no one was aiding it. Selbit would let the committee know that this was “the strongest cheese on earth” and challenged the committee to lay it flat on the stage, offering a reward of ten shillings to anyone who succeeded. The only movement the cheese would be forced to make was to roll. Sometimes the gyrations were so forcible that the wrestler would be sent flying.
Selbit invited two volunteers (actually two of Selbit’s assistants) to use roller skates to carry the cheese away, but they tumbled in all directions due to the forcefulness of the cheeses movements.
Selbit explained, “Seriously, the only way to move it is with a hoist.” A rope and pulley was used and several men finally succeeded in lifting the Cheese some four or five feet high; but then the Cheese asserted itself and descended back to the stage, pulling the men into the air.
Australian illusionist Les Levante, later purchased a model of the apparatus and changed the mechanism to be even stronger in force. Levante ran a few trials but concluded it had no entertainment value and eventually sold it to Jim Conley, a retired illusionist from Los Angeles, who also never used it. In the Publisher’s Note from PT Selbit: Magical Innovator written April 1, 1989, Mike Caveney mentioned his friend Jim Conley had acquired Selbit’s Might Cheese. Jim had passed, but Mike tracked down Jim’s son Tom Conley who indeed had kept the cheese. PT Selbit: Magical Innovator continues with: As a rule, Jim was generous to a fault with his considerable knowledge of magic, but was reluctant to talk about the Cheese. When pressed he said it was a “lethal weapon” and it “could break a person’s leg.”
Selbit may have agreed and passed the rights to other magicians.
It is unknown how many “cheeses” that Bates created for Selbit, but the Great Nicola (who bought one from Selbit), claimed there were just two. Perhaps there were only two at the time of his purchase, but it is fairly certain there were more as Selbit arranged with Gamage’s of London to offer models for general sale and it was also advertised alongside Selbit’s other illusions.
One other model known to be in existence around 1989 was owned by “Silent” Tait, but it’s possible that this was just a copy made by someone else.