The Radium Girl
aka "Vera 'the radium girl'" (because you can see right through her!)
Bayard Grimshaw said "...probably the most sensational of all the 'penetration' illusions", Goodliffe said "...one of the most impossible in a line of impossible penetrations" and John Fisher "...without question, the most incomprehensible rods-through-a-girl effect ever devised".
Val designed and built 'Radium Girl' in the basement workshop situated under the stage at Maskelyne's St George's Hall during one of his residencies there during 1919/20. The act is completely self contained and can be performed 'in the round', that is to say that you can have audience all around the cabinet without giving anything away.
The attractive assistant is fitted with leather straps locked to her neck, waist, wrists and ankles. The cabinet is shown with the front and back removed. It sits raised high on wheels and is spun around so that it is clear that the underspace is visible. The rear panel is fitted and the girl steps into the slim cabinet. Each of the straps are secured with short chains, some secured from the outside, to the sides of the cabinet and the front panel fitted. Eight solid hardwood rods are quickly pushed right through the cabinet, securing the assistant at the neck, waist , knees and ankles. The magician then inserts six wide metal blades, slicing up the box in to seven small compartments. Then, just for good measure, another twenty two rods are inserted, each one no more that five inches from the next!
The finale is the insertion of a square, polished metal tube, about eight inches square, passed completely through the centre of the cabinet and a flaming torch passed through. The cabinet is again revolved to show the rods and blades have passed right through, then as fast as possible, all the rods plates and tube are pulled out and the front panel removed to reveal the assistant filling the cabinet, restrained as before.
Val incorporated the Radium Girl (sometimes called 'Vera 'The Radium Girl'') in his stage act for several seasons around 1921. Later on he made a second cabinet and licensed it to Gladys and Burton Lester who at one time took it to Blackpool and also showed it at Birmingham's Edgbaston Reservoir. It was at this time that Val decided he should protect his illusion by Patenting it. This Patent (No.440,504) was granted 1st January 1936. From then on, the illusion was copied in both Europe and America with many magicians unknowingly performing 'rip-off' versions, including, David Nixon, Tim Dill-Russell and Billy McCombe!
In 1968 Val was pursuaded to make another cabinet for Jeff Atkins to present at that years Ring Convention in Weymouth. Jeff performed the act several times and after his death the cabinet was purchased by Tad Ware who has restored and now treasures the cabinet in Minneapolis.
It is important to note Val designed and built ALL of his own illusions. He was a time served engineer and an extremely capable metal and cabinet worker.
A very interesting side note: P T Selbit was at Maskelyne's at the same time as Val and they became good friends. Val tells in his memoirs and in an article in Abra (16th Nov 1968), that "PT Selbit watched it (Radium Girl) in rehearsal and sometime later asked if I minded him using the basic idea for a different effect, which I certainly did not. It was his 'Sawing Through a Woman' that emerged, using the identical cabinet dimensions." This is a description of the original Selbit 'sawing': "Two small wooden platforms supported a long, rectangular wooden box. An assistant was bound with ropes tied about her wrists and ankles. The ropes were fed through holes in the box and then tied with knots preventing her movement inside the box. Three sheets of glass were then shoved into the top of the box, and two metal sheets were shoved into the sides. The woman was unmistakably divided into eight sections. Lastly, a large cross-cut saw was used to saw the box in two. This long saw was real and truly cut the wooden crate in half. It took a while to cut through the thick wood of the box. However, unlike the modern versions, the boxes were never separated. Instead, the blade was left below the two cut boxes. The lid was opened, ropes cut, and the girl would emerge unharmed."
A Recording of Jeff Atkins presenting the Radium Girl on the Paul Daniels Magic Show