Sawing A Girl in Half

British magician P.T. Selbit is credited with first performing the illusion of sawing a lady in half in January 1921 at the Finsbury Park Empire theatre in London. Subsequently, American magician Horace Goldwin presented a version the same year which sparked a ‘war’ and rivalry between the magicians. For more info on the history of this illusion, read the excellent wiki article here.

In this entry, I will explore various modern-day presentations and variations of this classic illusion plot. I have tried to put the video clips in some kind of chronological order. I am specifically exploring illusions that can be performed live and not just made for TV.

The first clip is the traditional presentation for the Thin Sawing model that most illusionists do even to this day. This is just to get you familiar with the illusion because I know that there are many who have heard of the illusion over and over again, but never actually seen it.

Channing Pollack performed a presentation of the Double Sawing in half which is credited to Alan Wakeling. Essentially, two girls wearing different coloured costumes are cut in half. Their halves are switched and restored so that the girls bodies are now mismatched. Subsequently, Doug Henning, Andre Kole, Kirby Van Birch and others performed it. If you are interested, you can see Brad Ross & Fred Moore perform it on a Disney show here:

This is an excellent example of how to make a ‘standard’ illusion your own by adding to it without actually changing the core illusion itself. Siegfried & Roy do the traditional Thin Sawing but what they do before and after the Thin Sawing to get in and out of the illusion is remarkable and great magic.

A huge evolution in the Sawing in Half came in the form of David Copperfield’s “Death Saw”. As with many quantum leaps in illusion innovation, Copperfield’s team broke new ground with the illusion. Besides the cutting edge illusion design and method, it is the the motivated presentation that makes this illusion performance in a league of its own. Nuff said!

“Clearly Impossible” was created by Jonathan Pendragon and was another innovation in the thin sawing as it uses clear boxes. It is extremely baffling for audiences (I was completely fooled the first time I saw it… and many times after that). It is now performed by many illusionists worldwide since it waas released to the market several years ago. Here is a video of U.K.’s Barry & Stuart performing it.

Brett Daniels used to perform the classic “Thin Sawing” before he updated the illusion to this version. It is in a way a visual combination of Copperfield’s “Death Saw” and Pendragons’ “Clearly Impossible”. I personally do not really like it but I know many do.

In a previous entry, I shared Mark Kalin & Jinger’s wonderful presentation of Alan Wakeling’s sawing which was designed to follow Selbit’s original presentation using audience participation. From the above-mentioned Wiki page, whilst Wakeling performed this illusion and perfected aspects of it, the general configuration and method have been attributed to an earlier magician, Virgil Harris Mulkey (1900-1989), aka. “The Great Virgil”, who first performed it in 1942 and later passed on the idea to Wakeling. Kalin & Jinger’s current presentation is copied by many magicians around the world today and I republish it here again if you did not see it.

Criss Angel performs an open version which I believe is an open sawing created by Ken Whittaker & Paul Haynes (Someone can correct me if I am wrong). But, he suspended it with chains which gives the illusion a very raw feel.

However, I have never seen a video of this illusion actually being performed live. Below is a clip from his older stage show (which he performed in the old WWE restaurant basement in New York) but this clip was obviously made for TV and has multiple edits. The one in his MindFreak TV show is also made for TV so not representation of a live stage illusion. I’m quite sure he performs this in his Vegas “BeLIEve” show but he does not get restored in the end.

Kevin James developed a very unique open sawing that was worked and reworked over several years. (Criss Angel did a similiar style illusion for his MindFreak TV show where he visibly pulls a girl apart that was purely made for TV.) I should mention that the version that is shown on various TV shows like America’s Got Talent was edited. I found a clip of the actual live performance… still great!

Just for the sake of completeness, I thought I would include some innovative variations of “Modern Art”. Created by prolific illusion designer, Jim Steinmeyer, “Modern Art” is a practical vertical sawing a girl in half. We used to perform this illusion in 2007 and early 2008 until Ning demanded to remove the illusion from our show because it was too common. But I digress.

John Bundy & Morgan do a great Halloween-themed illusion show called “Spooktacular”. As such, all the illusions presented in the show are Halloween themed and in costumed character. In his version, his prop is in the form of an upright coffin which really makes sense from the motivated prop design point of view.

Stuart & Jayne out of the U.K. work under the stage name Safire Illusionists and have an original design for a “Modern Art” type illusion. It looks great and is quite unique.


Dan Sperry performs a variation by Bryan Gilles called “Tilt” that is pretty neat. While, I doubt the average lay audience will appreciate the difference, magic geeks will.

How could end this entry without giving J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning a plug 😛 I redesigned, rebuilt 95% & restaged Gerry Frenette’s illusion for own unique version of the sawing a girl in half illusion. There are probably less than 5 of these in the world currently and only one with our design and exact workings.


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
This entry was posted in Illusions, Books, Products and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s