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Destiny Charts Their Course

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Siegfried’s show onboard the ship become so popular that the captain added a second one to accommodate everyone who wanted to see it: one for the first class passengers and one for the tourist class. “And so, in the great tradition of magic,” he says, “I introduced rabbits and doves into my act. Now I had animals, props, lighting cues, music. It was too much for one person, so I decided to ask a steward—anyone would do— to help me. One night, I was running very late. As I hurried upstairs, I bumped into a young boy whose cabin was right across the hall from mine. Rather than taking the time to search for one of the stewards I knew, I asked him to assist me that night. It was the first time I had ever said as much as hello to Roy.”

Siegfried doesn’t really remember much about the show that night, but after the show he offered to buy his new assistant a glass of beer. Roy joined him in a drink, but said very little. Finally, Siegfried asked him, “Well, what did you think of the show?” Roy didn’t answer, so Siegfried repeated the question: still no answer.  When he finally did, his answer completely caught Siegfried off guard. Roy said quietly, “Well, the audience really liked you. And it’s great that you can do all those tricks. But quite honestly, I didn’t like the show all that much. The magic seems so predictable.” Taken aback, Siegfried could feel the anger rising up. “No one had ever said that to me. Clearly he’s some smug little punk who didn’t know any better.”

“I liked the show better than I had let on,” Roy replied. “Dancing canes floating around his body, shimmering gold pieces, a scarlet red scarf, with birds appearing and disappearing from it—what’s not to like? But I couldn’t let him know that. I had a plan.” Once Siegfried calmed down he asked Roy how he could improve the act. Of course, Roy had the answer. “If you can make a rabbit and a dove appear,” Roy asked, “could you do the same with a cheetah?”

Siegfried just stood there, staring at Roy. For perhaps a minute neither spoke.  Not to be out done by Roy’s preposterous suggestion, Siegfried finally answered, “In magic, anything is possible.” Siegfried didn’t see Roy for the rest of the trip. On the following voyage, Roy knocked on his door a few days from port. “Roy raised his fingers to his mouth,” Siegfried explains, “and said with a hush under his breath that he had a surprise for me.”

A surprise, indeed: there, in Roy’s cabin, was a live, hissing cheetah! “I wish I had a photograph of Siegfried’s face,” Roy recalls. “There they were, eyeball to eyeball—only one showing his teeth. Chico was tame with me, but was still essentially a wild exotic animal, and reacted like one to this stranger.” Roy had been given Chico by his uncle at the zoo, smuggled him onboard in a laundry sack, and kept him hidden in his room until they were out to sea. “After I got over being scared to death,” Siegfried adds, “I thought about what it meant to have a wild animal onboard and knew we were in big trouble. Roy kept asking, ‘What do you think?’”

What Siegfried thought was that he and Roy would both surely be thrown off the ship. But Roy kept his cool and insisted that they could do a magic trick with Chico. “I had to admit,” Siegfried says, “Roy’s challenge was exciting.” But their show was in three days. He went to the ship’s carpenter and they built a box. Then remembering a stuffed leopard in the gift shop, he bought it for the show, cut the head, legs and tail off, then re-sewed each piece so the stuffing would come out.

Word had gotten out that Siegfried was going to do something new, and everyone, including the captain, came to the show. Siegfried did his act as usual that night until the end, when Roy brought out the large box. “Roy went offstage and got a basket with the stuffed leopard. I began to tear it apart limb by limb and toss it into the box. And then, as if the trick were done, I closed the lid. The ship’s band reached a crescendo, the drummer gave a timpani roll, the spotlight tightened…” With impeccable timing, Siegfried opened the lid and Chico jumped out—restrained by a chain. “Chico looked straight out at the disbelieving audience. Hissing and snarling, he jumped out of the box and walked to the end of the dance floor. Roy, who was as stunned as anyone, dropped the chain. Instead of leading Chico out, Roy followed behind. They climbed the grand staircase, and when Chico reached the top, like a prima donna, he turned and regally faced the audience. It was my and our first standing ovation.”

“Sure enough,” Roy says, “Captain Rossinger called us both into his office, and told us that if the American president of the North German Lloyd hadn’t been on board, he would have stopped the show. We were, of course, fired. “I didn’t feel so bad for me, I had little to lose,” remembers Roy, “but I did feel terrible for ruining Siegfried’s career on the ship. The next day, I was walking down the hallway of the first-class apartments and a very attractive, clearly sophisticated American couple stopped me. They were none other than Mr. and Mrs. Nagle. The loved the show and called it the best entertainment they’d ever seen on a ship. ‘Such an act deserved a bigger audience,’ Mr. Nagle said. And he proposed that we work on one of the firm’s Caribbean cruise liners. With a hearty American pat on the back, he told me that Siegfried and I had a big career ahead of us, and to visit him at his office in New York.”

Following their show, Siegfried, Roy and Chico became the talk of the ship. In true entrepreneurial spirit, they set up a photo stand and nearly eight hundred passengers paid $2.50 to have their picture taken with Chico. “Considering what we were being paid as stewards,” Roy explains, “we weren’t paid to perform—we felt entitled to the extra money. Our only reward was a bottle of Blue Nun wine that we split after the show.” The Captain, however, felt otherwise and was furious. But with their popularity continuing to increase, he upped their wine to a bottle each.

The next time they were in New York, they went to see Mr. Nagle and asked if they could get paid extra for performing. He agreed to give them twenty-five marks—almost ten dollars. “Siegfried and I considered that quite a coup,” Roy says. “Before Roy and me,” Siegfried adds, “the ships hadn’t had live entertainment—only Bingo, dancing, and movies. We paved the way the way for a new standard of oceanic entertainment. And true to his word, Mr. Nagle put us in the Caribbean cruises.”

 

This meant they had to come up with more material. “Because of this,” Siegfried continues, “I reached a new level in my magic. On the ship, we didn’t have the luxury of a stage and worked surrounded by people. It was difficult to do certain illusions, so I had to stretch way beyond the limits of my imagination. It taught me to create wonderment and fancy out of the barest of essentials.”

It also taught Roy about a whole new world. “When Siegfried said, ‘In magic, anything is possible,’ Roy explains, “those became the most important words in my life. He was, very simply, the key to a different world for me. His was the world that I wanted to escape to, live in, and enjoy. It was an extension of the make-believe world I’d lived in for so long. Siegfried realized that Chico had one master­: me! In order to keep him in the show we had to become partners. My ambition was simple: I wanted Siegfried to become the greatest living magician of our time. And I vowed to help him do it—to give him that goal.”

“Chico made us different,” Siegfried says. “A magician needs a signature. Even if people couldn’t remember our names, they would surly remember ‘the two fellows with the cheetah.’” Chico was special, and so was Roy. Together, with Roy’s undaunted belief, courage, and determination, and Siegfried’s talent, drive, and skill these two very different individuals began creating their dreams. As Roy so eloquently puts it, “Out of it all came our destiny.”