Skip to main content

Ling Soo, Chung, 1861 - 1918



  • Existence: 1861 - 1918


Chung Ling Soo was an American magician called William Ellsworth Robinson born in 1861.

William’s induction into performance started with his father, a vaudeville performer of Scottish descent, whose specialty acts included impersonations, ‘dialect singing’, hypnotism, ventriloquism and magic tricks.

William started to travel the vaudeville scene at fourteen, as ‘Robinson, the Man of Mystery’. At twenty six he adopted his first persona as ‘Achmed Ben Ali’, which help him add exoticism to his act and set him apart from the competition. His major act as Chung Ling Soo, did not come to fruition until later on, after he answered a called for a Chinese magician at the Folies Bergère in Paris in 1900. His act was inspired by an actual Chinese magician called Ching Ling Foo, with whom William maintained a professional rivalry throughout his career.

William performed an elaborate personal transformation to fit within his Chinese character, he wore traditional Chinese clothing and modified his physical look to appear Chinese in race. His stage name at that time was ‘Hop Sing Soo’, which together with his act eventually evolved into ‘Chung Ling Soo’.

As Chung Ling Soo, William achieved fame around Europe and became one of the highest-paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. One of his most famous acts was called ‘Condemned to Death by the Boxers’. This illusion consisted of catching bullets fired at him on stage. This very act would lead to his death in 1918 when a malfunctioning gun fired a life bullet into his chest. He is buried in East Sheen Cemetery, London.

Found in 5 Collections and/or Records:

Bill Barnes Collection

Reference code: NFA0172
Scope and Contents

Programmes, posters and photographs mainly related to the Poole family's travelling Myriorama show.

Dates: 1881 - 2017

Harry H. Hamilton's Excursions Programme, c1880 - 1889

Reference code: 178K53.22
Scope and Contents Chung Ling Soo, Hyde Park, Westminster, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, the King's Guests, London Bridge, The London Docks, The Union Castle, Southampton Waters, Porstmouth, The Transvaal, Kimberley, Rhodesia, New Zealand, The Chinese Empire, The Chinese Imperial family, A Chinese wedding, Hong-Hong, Formosa, Korea, Japan, Ceylon, America, The Missisippi, The Hundson river, Dominion, Montreal, New York, Tom Birchmore comedy act, Bertha Greahame comedy act, Suli and...
Dates: c1880 - 1889

London Hippodrome Programme, 29 July 1907

Reference code: 178K53.62
Scope and Contents

Variety programme, listing various acts including Chung Ling Soo, with programme in centre including Macate Sisters, Leonard Gautier's performing ponies, The Four Magnanis, Alfred Loyal, The Chrono Megaphone, Clown Pinta, The Black Hussars, Leipsig, Johnny Watson, The Globe of Life, Paul Conchas and the American Bioscope. Also contains commercial advertising. Light blue covers with white type, 10p.p.

Dates: 29 July 1907

O'Beirne Collection

Reference code: NFA0146
Scope and Contents

Amateur Super8 cine reels filmed by Thomas O’Beirne, black and white and colour photographs and slides, circus and theatre posters, a watercolour and a small amount of other ephemera.

Dates: 1950 - 1975

Programmes , 1881 - 2016

Reference code: 178K53
Scope and Contents

Pre-Film and variety and music hall programmes mainly related to the travelling shows of Joseph Poole and Harry Poole, Harry H. Hamilton, Mapleston Brothers and Adams but it also includes other showmen.

Dates: 1881 - 2016