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Chinese magician and acrobat Long Tack Sam with his company of artists

Date: 1936
Medium: Emulsion on nitrate film.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Nitrate negative
Object No: 00020658
Place Manufactured:Sydney
Related Place:Sydney,

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    This photograph depicts the Chinese acrobat and magician Long Tack Sam (seated centre), his daughter Nee-sa Long (to his left) and his company of artists reading 'The Telegraph' newspaper. The photograph was possibly taken during the group's March 1936 visit to Sydney.
    SignificanceThe Samuel J Hood photographic collection records an extensive range of maritime activity on Sydney Harbour, including sail and steam ships, crew portraits, crews at work, ship interiors, stevedores loading and unloading cargo, port scenes, pleasure boats and harbourside social activities from the 1890s through to the 1950s. They are also highly competent artistic studies and views - Hood was regarded as an important figure in early Australian photojournalism. Hood’s maritime photographs are one of the most significant collections of such work in Australia.
    HistoryLong Tack Sam and his troupe of performers were international stars who toured Australia throughout the 1920s and 1930s. On 7 January 1936, Adelaide's 'News' reported that Hoyts Theatres would host the 'world-renowned magician' 'with his large company of versatile artists, including his daughter, Miss Nee Sa Long, will present an extraordinary stage attraction at Hoyts Regent'. The troupe comprised jugglers, plate spinners, trapeze artists and an acrobatic team. They toured England and the rest of Europe, along with the United States of America.

    Lung Te Shan, as Long Tack Sam was originally known, was born in Wuqiao County, Shandong Province in Northeast China. There are many versions of Sam’s early life, however what is known for sure is that he became part of and eventually director of a group of acrobats called the Tan-Kwai.

    As the popularity of Sam and his company of performers soared, myths about the magician proliferated. Some said he spoke many languages from French to German and even Yiddish. A man his great-granddaughter, author and filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, calls ‘a citizen of the world’, Sam adapted as he toured doing comedy shows, impersonations and acrobatic feats of endurance.

    During the 1920s and 1930s, Sam and his family decided to travel to Australia and New Zealand, bringing his act to new audiences. Fleming described Sam’s grand introduction to Sydney in her graphic novel, 'The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam'. On one hot summer’s day: 'He promoted his show by skydiving into Bondi Beach, dropping leaflets offering free tickets to that evening’s performance.'

    Sam and his ‘wonder workers’ performed in countless theatrical spaces across Australia including Sydney’s State Theatre, Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre, Adelaide’s Regent Theatre, Hobart’s Prince of Wales Theatre, Perth’s Ambassadors Theatre and Brisbane’s Wintergarden Theatre. The ‘smiling entertainer’ and his company in 1931 included, among others, his two talented daughters Nee-sa and Mi-na, ‘Bertini, a vagabond violinist’ and Van Zulecam, “the mad Dutchman”’.

    During the time the museum’s Sam Hood photograph was taken, motion picture entertainment dominated the market and the popularity of the variety show fell into a steady decline. But though this was the case in the United States, Australian audiences still prized Sam’s act and the pace at which he adapted to audience demands. As an ‘unrivalled’ ‘first-class entertainer’, Sam was valued because his shows were ‘exceptionally lively and interspersed with novelty numbers’ and matched ‘the trend of public taste.’

    In 1936, the year Hood photographed the great magician, daughter Nee-sa and the rest of the troupe, he appeared at the Hoyts Regent Theatre in Adelaide. As a ‘distinct addition’ to motion picture, Sam blended his unique brand of entertainment with the very medium that was threatening his industry. Hoyts’ general manager at the time advised Adelaide’s News that it was, ‘by far the costliest stage attraction engaged for any picture show in Adelaide to date.’ The 35-minute act was one that had to ‘be seen to be believed’ and ‘left a packed audience gasping with amazement’ as Sam performed his famous bowl of water trick and Nee-sa played the violin while doing the splits.

    [Source: Nicole Cama, 'East meets West: The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam', ANMM Blog, 27 May 2014]
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    Web title: Chinese magician and acrobat Long Tack Sam with his company of artists


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