From Harry Houdini and David Copperfield to Raymond Joseph Teller of Penn & Teller, the history of magic is populated by Jews. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise, then, that the newly appointed president of the Magic Circle is Jewish too.
Marvin Berglas, 64, is following in the footsteps of his German-Jewish father David, 97, who presided over the prestigious, internationally recognised society from 1989 to 1998, and invented “the Berglas Effect”, a world-renowned card trick.
They are the first father-and-son duo to have both held the post — one of the most highly regarded roles in this arena — making them magic’s foremost dynasty.
“To make history feels amazing,” says Berglas, who was elected by the society’s membership earlier this month.
Berglas impressing Arsenal stars Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale with a card trick (Photo: Sky Sports)
The society comprises elite magicians from around the world including Copperfield — whom Berglas deems “the greatest magician of our time” — though there are some more surprising members too: King Charles was admitted in 1975.
A member of the Circle since 1991, Berglas has worked his way up, growing his fanbase and performing for heads of state including former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
Despite growing up the son of the so-called “International Man of Mystery” — his father was one of the first magicians to appear on British TV and had his own series in the 1950s — the younger Berglas had a “relatively normal upbringing” as a Jewish boy in Finchley. “He didn’t really perform magic at home,” Berglas says of his father.
However, as the elder Berglas started to become a sensation abroad, Marvin and his brother, Peter, went to watch the showman in action in the Netherlands:
“When we went over, it was quite strange as a kid to watch the show — the attention he was getting, and we were getting, was crazy.”
Still, the young Berglas remained more interested in football than magic. He played for the Maccabi Youth and would go on to join Arsenal’s ex-professional and celebrity team before becoming the football club’s resident magician.
It wasn’t until he was drafted in at the last minute to help his father at a magic convention in Lille, France, aged 16, that he discovered his own passion and skills for tricks and showmanship.
As he demonstrated his father’s special card tricks, the teenager suddenly realised a huge crowd had gathered around him. “I was able to do all these fancy flourishes and I thought, ‘Wow, this is powerful stuff. Just with some talent and ability, people seem to love what you can do with magic.’ So I got bitten by the bug.”
Berglas believes that magic has such a positive impact on people, especially youngsters, that it should be taught in schools. He points to research that suggests learning to perform magic tricks can promote both physical and psychological wellbeing in children: “It inspired the kids and also made them engaged,” he says.
“It really does help with presentational skills, builds confidence, inspires imagination and helps develop communication as well as social skills. It’s the opposite of computer games because it’s interactive.”
He adds: “I really do think it won’t be long before there’s a big push for this type of thing because it’s helpful for the teachers and for the kids.”
Teaching tricks in schools might be good for business too. Berglas’s company, Marvin’s Magic, sells magic sets in 60 countries, and has a huge global following of young magicians, including, the entertainer says, Jewish children.
“Everyone gets a magic set once in their life and it’s up to us to make sure it’s the best it possibly can be to encourage them to go on to the next thing,” he says.
It is partly this entrepreneurial streak that distinguishes Berglas from his famed father; the pressure to live up to the family name was what motivated him to do things his own way.
“I didn’t want to be compared — his style is so unique. If your dad is David Beckham or Bobby Charlton, it doesn’t mean you play for England. It means you’ve actually got to try twice as hard because you have comparisons. So I made my own way with my own style.”
As the president of the Young Magicians Club, the Magic Circle’s youth initiative, Berglas has witnessed a positive shift in terms of diversity.
“Going back 30 years, it’s had a bit of an old boys’ feel to it, but now I’m really encouraged to see so many youngsters and women and people of all ethnicities. It’s become an incredibly diverse, exciting and vibrant place.”
The tricks are diversifying and modernising too. Whereas you might once have associated magicians with top hats, rabbits and vanishing, now you are more likely to see these showmen and women brandishing everyday technology such as their mobile phones.
“You’ve got people who specialise in different types of magic from card magic sleight of hand to illusions to inventors. A lot of these inventors are very young. There are amazing kids doing stuff with apps… There’s a lot of great innovation.”