Theodore Annemann (1907-1942)

Theodore Annemann was one of the most respected mind readers the world has ever seen; a prolific writer and inventor (or re-inventor) of creative, practical and direct mentalism effects and another ‘giant’ for whom remarkably little is documented regarding his illustrious, yet short-lived life.

Often referred to as the person who had the biggest impact on popularizing mentalism, Annemann was a hugely creative master of both magic and mind reading effects with a panache and performing style credited with changing the course of mentalism. He possessed the uncanny ability to demonstrate mental or intuitive abilities and was a specialist in telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, mind control, memory feats and rapid mathematics. His manner and style reflected that of an ordinary person, with extraordinary powers, which related to the audiences of the time, leaving them stunned by the effects. Annemann has been referred to as the Van Gogh of the magic world, a creative genius whose life was besieged by personal problems including a fragile and frail personality, anxiety and severe depression.

Anneman was born Theodore John Squires in East Waverly, New York on 22 February 1907. At two years old, Theodore’s father Fred Squires, left him and his family and Annemann’s mother, Flavilla, remarried soon after to Stanley Anneman; the family took on their step-father’s last name and the young Theo became, Theo. J. Anneman (he would not add the extra ‘n’ to his name until 1930).

 

Theo was fascinated by magic from the age of 10 when a school friend showed him the ‘Ball and Vase Trick’. He was so captivated by the effect that he immediately purchased his own and would constantly display his magic powers to any one who would watch. And so began his obsessive fascination with magic. He was hooked and studied the art day and night and spent all the money he earned delivering the Elmira ‘Star Gazette’ (at one time up to 400 copies daily) at the magic dealers. At the age of 14 he was able to purchase his first full A.C. Gilbert magic set for $1.25. He would often skip school and his mother was forced to accompany him each morning and noon; it got so bad that the chief of police threatened to lock up Mrs Anneman if Theo didn’t attend. His mother was so concerned by his obsession with magic and lack of interest in getting a formal education; that she burned all of his magic books. The setback didn’t stop Annemann from pursuing his passion and about 15 years later; he sent her a bound copy with the first 50 issues of The Jinx with a note

“Dear Mama, when you look through these pages, I hope you remember when you burned my magic books in the furnace. That made me try and write one myself. Have you got a match for this? Theo”

 

As a teenager he rebelled against the ordinary. He favoured strange haircuts including asymmetric styles with shaved sides and pompadours before settling on an exaggerated widows peak. He looked like an oddity, mysterious, slightly dangerous, someone who looked like he might actually be able to read minds and it was at that time he began performing magic around Waverly. He was a voracious reader of magic literature, be it books, manuscripts or secrets in general and by the age of 17 he was competent and knowledgeable enough to start contributing a number of articles to The Linking Ring and The Sphinx – his first contribution being “An Additional Effect of the X-Ray Eyes” by Theo J Anneman (the first and only time he used his middle initial in connection with his publishing). Although the effects he created often utilized old principles, his methods were original, emphasizing bold and subtle approaches and presentation rather than complex routines or sleight-of-hand. Annemann knew instinctively, it was the effect that counted above all else.

During his boyhood days Theo was rather quiet and preferred solitude to the company of his schoolmates and devoted most of his time to his passion of magic. His first experience in show business included being a tenor singer and then a magician’s assistant before becoming successful performer in his own right. His first shows as a teenager consisted of a series of ‘magic’ effects including Wine & Water, 20th Century Silks, Colour Changing Silks, Torn & Restored Paper and The Brahmin Rice Bowls. One of his feature tricks became the Substitution Trunk, and, not having a regular assistant ne would enlist the help of his younger brother, Leland. However, Leland had no particular interest in magic and so, he made Theo pay him handsomely for his help. After leaving school he was encouraged to seek ‘proper’ job and worked in the Lehigh Valley Systems Shops in Sayre, Pa, before moving onto qualifying as a railway clerk (passing the examinations with flying colours); he soon moved on and at 17 took on the role as an assistant to a man with a Dove Act; various other assistant roles followed whilst at the same time performing himself. His interests soon turned to mentalism and he channeled his formidable creative energies in this direction to emerge as one of the leading mentalists of his day, billing himself as Annemann ‘The Enigma’.

One of Annemann’s foresights was to understand the audiences of his time and he sensed that they had become too perceptive to believe in crystal ball reading with a performer in odd-looking costumes trying to look mysterious. Instead, he developed a very practical, and at the time extremely modern approach to mind reading. His methods and ideology interestingly reflected the belief that people wanted to hear something personal. His performance philosophy and personal approach was very appealing. Three direct quotes reflect his approach to his trade:

“if you act like a normal person with an abnormal faculty, people like you much better. If you act like an abnormal person you become freakish and people will be afraid to ask you home to dinner”

“Today the audience seems to ‘go for’ the mental type of trickery more than ever, It is more of a ‘grown-up’ phase of magic and mystery and there seems to be a greater element of wonder when one can reveal unknown knowledge or something personal about his audience”

“My idea and conceptions differ a great deal from those of some with whom I am acquainted. It is my theory that any effect to be successful must first be founded upon a simple method and then performed with direct to-the-point presentation. It is my contention that the moment one deviates from this straight line, he is not doing what a genuine magician or mind reader would do”

When not performing, Annemann was prolific creating magic and mentalism effects, and writing about them. The first book dedicated to his magic was “The Cabinet of Card Miracles” published by Burling Hull. Two years later in 1931 Theo would publish his first and last hardcover book, “The Book Without a Name”. In 1934, he began editing and publishing what was to become a long-running professional magazine ‘The Jinx’. Although the publication focused primarily on mentalism, it also included some excellent magic effects. He became a revolutionary giant in the field of mind reading and psychic performance, publishing over a dozen books and thousands of articles. His book Practical Mental Effects (Holden Magic Shops) is one of the finest collections of mental tricks ever published, covering everything from Billet Switching, Publicity Effects, Book Tests, and Blindfold Readings, to Secret Codes. He invented the Window Envelope, Flat Rabbit and the Seven Keys to Baldpate effect and was particularly well known for his version of the famous ‘Bullet Catch’ illusion – the notoriously dangerous trick that had claimed the lives of numerous other magicians before him, including Chung Ling Soo.

He wore an onyx stone ring with a silver question mark on top, which some suggested reflected his mixed personality. Although talented professionally, his personal life was fraught with problems. It was said he was a troubled man, very moody, nervous with a neurotic anxiety and prone to depression and dark moods, and an escalating dependency on alcohol (and some say marijuana); he also suffered from stage fright and was fearful as engagements approached – yet simply marvelous on stage, leaving the audience stunned by his effects.

He had married Margaret (Greta) Abrams on April 23rd 1927 and in 1935, the couple had a daughter together, Mona Lee. Ted and Greta divorced in November 1937. In January 1938 he married Jeanette Parr but they were estranged at the time of his death.

By 1941 Annemann had terrible financial problems and a serious addiction to alcohol. He had become reclusive and few had seen him for two years. Despite these problems he decided to attempt a two-night performance titled “Annemann the Enigma” at the Chanin Building Rooftop Theater in New York City, where he was scheduled to perform his bullet catch indoors for the first time. Tickets were printed and sold for the full evening performances scheduled for January 26 and 27, 1942 – but the show never took place. On January 12, 1942. At the young age of 34 Annemann committed suicide – the same day of the year his stepfather, Mathew Stanley Anneman, had died in 1914…and at the age of 34. When the final curtain fell, his body of work in the field of mentalism remains unparalleled. He is credited by many as the one man who probably did more to popularize this branch of entertainment than any other.

Annemann’s Journey. Todd Karr – The Miracle Factory
The Life & times of a Legend. Annemann. Max Abrams
The Mind Readers; William V Rauscher