Friday, February 13, 2015

Meet the amazing Chickie Lee

Here's a performer who has been lost to time, but might actually hold an important place in the history of women in magic and escapology. Charlotte "Chickie Lee" performed as an escape artist and stunt performer in circuses and vaudeville during the l930s. Even though she was only 4'11" and weighed a mere 94 pounds, she allowed blocks of cement to be cracked on top of her, and also acted as a target for a blind-folded knife thrower.

In October 1935 Chickie performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the Palace Theater in Albany, New York. She did the stunt as a tie-in with the film, Charlie Chan in Shanghai, which was paying at the Palace and in which Chickie appeared in a small role.



Chickie told reporters she had worked as Houdini's assistant and learned how to do the escape from the master himself. That claim is questionable as she would have only been 14 when Houdini died. However, she might indeed have a place in magic history as the first woman to perform a suspended straitjacket escape. The papers also claimed Chickie performed the stunt while hanging from an airplane, "but that's against the law now."


These amazing photos and info comes from Lore Disalvo who is working to uncover the story of the elusive Charlotte Chickie Lee. If you have any information on Chickie, please feel free to share it in the Comments below, or contact me and I will forward it onto Lore.

Chickie flying high!

Thank you Lore Disalvo.

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11 comments:

  1. Chickie Lee (real name: Mrs. Carl Johnson) worked with Rajah Raboid, about whom Diego Domingo has done much research. Lore should contact Diego.

    Also worked with hypnotist Dr.Robert Pauline.

    Feel free to forward my email address to Lore; I've found a couple of old newspaper articles about her that I can send.

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    1. Great. Thanks, Bill. She actually did the knife-throwing act with Raboid.

      I've sent Lore your email.

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  2. I sent this info. to friend, Diego.

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  3. Does anyone know if she is really the first woman to perform a suspended straitjacket escape? As far as I know the women during Houdini’s time like Minerva, Miss Undina, and Miss Trixy did not. After Houdini’s death, may require more research, but she certainly is in the running and currently has my vote.

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    1. I've not mounted any kind of search for another, but she's the earliest I've yet encountered. Letting her wear the crown unless someone turns up an earlier performer.

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  4. I must say hiwever what s by e is wearing does not look like a regulation straightjacket. Houdini had to reach behind him while upside down to release the buckles around his neck and the crotch strap in order to be able to pull the jacket over his head. This entailed being able to do so with his fingers through the stiff leather/canvas. The jacket pictured here I can imagine would pull quickly over the head.

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  5. Another interesting point is just a decade earlier Houdini would attract thousands...the street below would be filled performing the same stunt. Here just 10 years later the public is far less interested.

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    1. One wonders how many were coming to see Houdini's escape because it was HOUDINI -- a chance to see a legend, history. Might have had a lot to do with it. I also expect Houdini advertised better and made sure he did his escape at noon or the busiest time he could find.

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  6. FYI, I've now found a newspaper clipping about a Madame Stefanik doing a suspended jacket escape from the Union National Bank Building in Mount Carmel in December 1925.

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    1. Thank you John Cox for the research information. Do you know up to what year Madame Stefanik performed the suspended jacket escape? I'm curious if Chickie Lee aka Mrs. Charlotte Johnston could have been the only one doing the act in the 1930s? Charlotte did the act at Long Point Park. Conesus Lake in 1937. In 1933 she was performing with The Great Pauline and doing acts all over Livingston and Steuben County in New York. Thank you for your reply in advance. ~Lore DiSalvo

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