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Oscar Eliason - The Original ‘Dante the Great’

Chapter 6 - After Dante
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The late Dante.
Sydney Mail, December 12, 1899

Consider this - Oscar Eliason was born in the same year as the great Howard Thurston. By the time Thurston appeared in Australia in 1905 he was heading towards the top of his field and he made a huge success of his tour. Yet Thurston worked in the shadow of Eliason; his reviews, though good, do not convey the same excitement that prevailed in 1898. (Thurston's manager was Edwin Geach, and curiously he had just had some contractual difficulties with a certain M.B.Curtis!)

Could Oscar Eliason have become as great as Thurston? We can never know, but Howard Thurston had no doubts. In the 1920's he signed a contract with Harry Jansen to take out his second show unit. A condition of that agreement was that Jansen should henceforth be known by a new name - Dante.

In the large "green trunk" publicity book issued by Harry Jansen can be found this statement:-
    "The Great Jansen's success had already reached the stage where there were no less than three Jansens falsely using the name of Jansen, as well as his printing, and exploiting themselves to Managers with their wares of inferior quality. Mr. Thurston had knowledge of this and within the next few days, when negotiations were completed, pointed out this fact and expressed his liking for the name DANTE, and further said that he himself would have adopted it in 1906 it had it not been almost simultaneous with the death of Oscar Eliason who was acidentally shot in New South Wales, Australia, after having gained a reputation under the name of DANTE the Magician. However more than fifteen years had now elapsed and no one had perpetuated the name of Dante as a Magician, so Mr. Thurston as well as the Great Jansen thought this the opportune time and the logical title for the coming Master of Magic to be. Hence Dante the Magician Inc. came into being with Howard Thurston as the owner of the title."

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madamdante
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Three images of ‘Madame Dante’ (dressed at left as Mephisto)

 

The Dante show did not close down after Oscar's death. Frank Eliason, having been the show's right hand man, took over the name Dante and, with Edmunda, started a New Zealand tour, commencing on January 10, 1900. After shows in the goldfields they returned to Sydney in early March, possibly because Edmunda was due to give birth. Her new son was named Oscar, but was called Jack as he grew up.

Frank went out on the road alone, and was seen in Brisbane from September 29, 1900 with the 'Royal Burlesque and Specialty Company'. Until late 1904 he was travelling in Queensland and New South Wales with his magic, and later returned to America via a lengthy tour of Manila and Burma. He was last noted in Chicago, 1910, preparing to visit Australia with a vaudeville show, but no record can be found of this taking place. [Further details of Frank's whereabouts can be found in the "Addendum" chapter].

Edmunda stayed in Sydney for some time, then took to performing as 'Madame Dante'. She was seen in Brisbane at the Opera House from December 12, 1900 until January 7, 1901, supported by a Mdle.Rougier and a company of sixteen. She then passed over to the Harry Rickards Tivoli circuit and appeared between September 28 and October 5, 1901, performing her Fuller dances at the Sydney Tivoli. A newspaper reference of 27 March 1901 refers to an impending tour of Tasmania. In the first half of 1902, Madame Dante was featured with Dix's Gaiety Company in New Zealand before returning to Australia in October. Around mid-1903 Edmunda returned with her children to the United States, reportedly to take up a nine month engagement, and in April 1907 she was married to a Mr. Charles Belcher.

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LoisPolanshek
1999-EliasonCentenary (16)

Visitors to the Eliason grave at Waverley:-
Left - Magician Howard Thurston, during his tour in 1905.
Middle - Mrs. Lois Polanshek, niece of Oscar Eliason, visiting from California.
Right - Sydney magicians gather to commemorate the centenary of Dante's death, 1999. Author at far right.

 

Dante's gravesite became a regular place for visiting magicians to be photographed; one such visitor was Chung Ling Soo in 1909. Will Dexter's book, 'The Riddle of Chung Ling Soo', says that 'it was Soo, when he was Billy Robinson, who taught Dante his first trick.' Whether or not this is so, Robinson must have pondered the tragedy of a fine magician cut down so early in his life - little knowing that in 1918 his own life would be taken away by a bullet.

The sorrow of Oscar Eliason's life was that he was never allowed to complete his career of spread his fame around the world. The joy was that for seventeen months before the turn of the century, audiences were amused and amazed by a remarkable young man whose talents fully entitled him to be called DANTE THE GREAT.

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