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Jean Hugard: The Dean of Magicians

Jean Hugard, born John Gerard Rodney Boyce on December 4, 1871, in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, was a renowned professional magician and author. Over his illustrious career, he authored several influential books, often collaborating with Frederick Braue. Among his most notable works are The Royal Road to Card Magic, Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, and Expert Card Technique.

Early Life and Career

Hugard was the third son of John Alexander Boyce and Anne Brown. He received his education at Toowoomba Grammar School and later joined the staff of the Queensland National Bank. Despite his late start and a background far removed from the theatrical world, Hugard ascended to become one of the world’s foremost stage magicians, earning the title “Dean of Magicians.” He is considered the last in a distinguished trio of magicians and authors, following in the footsteps of Robert-Houdin and Hoffman.

Inspired by a Haselmayer show in 1880, Hugard began his professional career in magic in 1896. Before fully committing to magic, he left the bank in 1898 to co-found Burketown’s Endeavour Meatworks, a venture aimed at solving the challenge of marketing Gulf Country cattle. While initially successful, the business ultimately failed due to drought, economic recession, and challenges in the tinning process. Hugard returned to Toowoomba, taking on various temporary jobs, including serving as secretary of the Toowoomba General Hospital, where he organized fundraising entertainments and showcased his growing skills as a conjurer.

Transition to Magic

In 1912, Hugard left his family and moved to the United States in 1915. By 1916, he was performing in vaudeville, with notable acts including “Birth of the Sea Nymph.” He became known for his silent Chinese act and the daring bullet catch routine, “The Great Rifle Feat,” which he was the first to perform with modern-day guns.

From 1919 to 1929, Hugard owned and performed in a magic theater at Luna Park in Coney Island. He also made a Broadway appearance in 1928 at the Forrest Theater in the show “The Squealer.”

Literary Contributions and Later Life

After retiring from performing, Hugard moved to Brooklyn, where he focused on writing and editing magic publications. He authored more than 30 books on magic, cementing his legacy as a significant figure in the magic community. Some of his most influential works include:

  • The Royal Road to Card Magic: Co-authored with Frederick Braue, this book is a comprehensive guide for beginners in card magic. It covers fundamental techniques and classic tricks, making it a staple for aspiring magicians.
  • Encyclopedia of Card Tricks: This book is a treasure trove of card magic, compiling a vast array of tricks from various sources. It serves as an essential reference for magicians of all levels.
  • Expert Card Technique: Also co-written with Braue, this book delves deeper into advanced card magic techniques and routines. It is celebrated for its detailed explanations and illustrations, providing valuable insights for seasoned magicians.
  • Greater Magic: Hugard was tasked with completing and expanding this unfinished manuscript by John Northern Hilliard. The resulting 1,000-page volume is considered a masterpiece and a comprehensive resource on magic, praised by contemporaries like Henry Hay as “one of the best and largest books ever written about magic.”

Starting in 1943, Hugard edited Hugard’s Magic Monthly, a periodical that disseminated his vast knowledge to the magic community. In 1951, he was named the fourth Dean of Magicians by the Society of American Magicians. Despite losing his sight due to cataract surgeries, Hugard continued his work in the magic field from his home in Brooklyn until his death on August 14, 1959, at the age of 87.

Jean Hugard’s legacy lives on through his significant contributions to the art of magic, both on stage and in writing, earning him a lasting place in the annals of magical history.