For Female Magicians, The First Trick Is Being Accepted

Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan talks to female magician, Dorothy Dietrich, on the struggles of being a female in a male dominated magic world.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE")

OLIVIA WILDE: (as Jane) That's me and my grandmother. She was a showgirl. I used to come visit her in Vegas, and that's when I first saw your show at the Golden Nugget. It was so good. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do magic.

STEVE CARELL: (as Burt Wonderstone) Really?

WILDE: (as Jane) Yes. Do you know what time it is?

CARELL: (as Burt Wonderstone) It's - very good. Give it back, please.

WILDE: (as Jane) I already did.

SULLIVAN: That was a clip from the movie "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." And it shows us something that's very rare in the magic world: a female magician working. And by working, I mean not as the leggy assistant or getting sawed in half, but a female magician creating the magic. It's not something you see very often. So we set out to find a magician of our own and found ourselves a female Houdini with a magical story.

DOROTHY DIETRICH: This is Dorothy Dietrich. I am a female magician and an escape artist. I grew up with six brothers and two sisters. And I was a very girly girl. I was not tough at all. So they'd only let me play if I was going to play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers, and I'd be the one that gets tied to the tree or tied to the chair. And I would always escape, and I never thought that was unusual at all. So one day, my aunt was visiting and she said, who do you think you are, Houdini? And I said, who's that? And so I got the book and read it, and I couldn't put it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIETRICH: I saw a magician at the grade school. The music went on and the magician started performing. And I was like, wow. I was not only impressed by the magic, but I was impressed that everybody in the room was totally into the show - absolutely and totally into the show. So I was going around doing shows at birthday parties and family parties, and that was really what gave me the idea that I could actually do this. That I could go and amaze a crowd, and they were all happy at the end, and I got good tips at the end. So I said, OK, this is probably a great thing for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK MAGIC WOMAN")

SANTANA: (Singing) I got a black magic woman.

DIETRICH: The agents in New York, the bookings they had for females, you know, there's these guys in the room and they're at the desk, the big wooden desk, and they're smoking a cigar at you. The one agent actually said to me, he says, you know, a girl doing magic? I don't know. I don't see it. I don't know if an audience could even, you know what I mean.

He said, you know what, if you could take your clothes off, I could get you booking nonstop. Why, I could get you all the work you could imagine. You're gorgeous. Yeah, let's do it that way. And I said, OK, no. In fact, I absolutely don't want to be anything like that. So if you are interested, if you could believe in me and give me some work, you will love what you're going to see. And I had to do that talk with every one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK MAGIC WOMAN")

DIETRICH: Wherever there was a magic meeting announced, you know, I'd go and show up and ask someone to teach me, who does lessons and all that. And they'd all go, like, here, here, honey, pick a card. And I'd pick a card and remember it, and there's the trick, it's over, and I'd say, oh, could you teach me that? That's a terrific trick. Could you teach me that?

They'd say, sure, sure. Here, pick another card, and show me another trick, you know? And they never wanted to teach me. They really honestly didn't think there was any reason to teach a female any magic secrets. They just couldn't even see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK MAGIC WOMAN")

DIETRICH: And even today - even today, when I show up with my props, if they don't know who I am, if it's just somebody in the community or whatever, they'll say, oh, are you going to be sawed in half today? And I go, oh, no, I might saw someone in half, though.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK MAGIC WOMAN")

SULLIVAN: That was Dorothy Dietrich, founder of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Dorothy is one of the first female escape artists and has performed death-defying stunts all around the world. This story was inspired by an Atlantic article called "Why Are There So Few Female Magicians?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK MAGIC WOMAN")

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