“He is known all over Australia as a clever magician who catches pigeons from the air, rabbits from nowhere, and other animals from everywhere, and about the time your eyes stop blinking… these self same pigeons have gone glimmering into ether, space, nothingness… Gee Wizz, he makes things happen in a hurry.”
Thus begins one of many ebullient articles published during his lifetime about William George Alma, one of the most popular magicians in Australia of the last century. Today, his fantastical collection of tricks and traps, which enthralled tens of thousands of show-goers throughout his lifetime, lives on in the form of the William George Alma Estate…. Yet the man who dedicated his life to the unreal and flamboyant was also a generous philanthropist whose estate, managed by Equity Trustees, continues to keep alive the magic that defined his life.
The Amazing Alma
Born in 1904 in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, William was abandoned as a child by his magician father, who moved to the United States to build his career there. His mother forbade the young William from following in his father’s footsteps, but after acquiring a copy of ‘Magic Made Easy’ by English magician David Devant, he began to practice covertly. At age 15, he performed publicly for the first time as part of an amateur talent contest held at a church near his home, and gave an impressive enough performance for his mother to subsequently accept his pursuit of a career in magic.
And it certainly took off. A 1926 Prahran Telegraph article gushed that the 22-year-old Alma “did things incomprehensible” and that “his three-card trick was a real beauty”. By 1930, the ‘Amazing Alma’ was known Australia-wide. That year, the Morwell Advertiser stated “Alma’s performance is different from all other magical entertainers… You will be mystified, puzzled, tickled, thrilled, tricked, charmed and generally made happy”, concluding that “If you miss him you will regret it all your life”.
Alma probably reached the pinnacle of his career in the 1950s, performing not only across Australia but the world, including for troops in the bitter cold of Korea as well as in Tokyo, Manila and Hong Kong. In 1954 Alma became a Member of the Magic Circle, a long-running British organisation of magicians, and four years later, in London, he received the honour of becoming Gold Star Member of the Inner Magic Circle. That same year, he organised the Seventh Convention of Magicians in Australia and received a standing ovation in Sydney.
Alma eventually retired in 1978 after suffering a heart attack, but continued to indulge his passion for magic by curating a collection of ‘magicana’ that would later become the WG Alma Conjuring Collection. He passed away in 1993.
AN AMAZING LEGACY
Alma was not just an accomplished performer; he was equally successful as a producer of the props and apparatuses that made gasp-inducing illusions possible. The Alma Magical Company that he founded manufactured devices that have been used throughout the world, making possible such ‘impossible’ acts as The Buzz Saw Illusion, The Elastic Lady and The Electrocution Mystery. Indeed, it was in this capacity that Alma accompanied Leslie George Cole – better known as ‘Levante’, widely regarded as one of the greatest illusionists in history – on his Australia/New Zealand tour as his technician and technical adviser.
Many of these devices can be found at the State Library of Victoria as part of the WG Alma Conjuring Collection, maintained as part of Alma’s estate which he left in the trusted hands of Equity Trustees. The Collection comprises thousands of artefacts – books, magazines, photographs, posters and contraptions – some dating back as far as the 19th century, and including the book that started it all, Alma’s childhood copy of ‘Magic Made Easy’. The collection is highly valued by historians, magicians and anyone with an interest in the world of magic – but not everyone! Forever faithful to keeping secret the underlying workings of magic, Alma specifically instructed that only bona fide magicians and researchers be granted access to certain models and descriptions of how they work.
Since inception, the William George Alma Estate has granted a total of $208,911 towards the preservation of this exceptional conjuring collection for the education of generations of new magicians. A wonderful case of someone who, having dedicated his life to the unreal, continues to make a very real difference beyond his lifetime.